CAN A TENANT PLANT THEIR OWN GARDEN

In the spring when the weather warms, everyone with a green thumb starts getting the itch to plant things and spend time outdoors in the dirt. When it comes to gardening, landlords and tenants often encounter tension on what exactly is allowed on the rental property.
While tenants may want to put in a garden and reap the benefits–including growing their own food and making the place more homelike–landlords might disagree. Landlords are mostly interested in protecting their investment from damage and changes, even a garden. While some landlords may not mind at all, other landlords might be extremely opposed to a tenant taking a shovel and digging up the backyard.
When it comes to a vegetable garden, tenants and landlords need to communicate and compromise in order to make both parties happy.

What Does The Law Say?

Tenants are not allowed to alter or change the landscaping of a rental property without the landlord’s permission, but what about putting in a garden?
The law supports landlords in determining that any alteration to the landscape, even with the intent to improve it, is not allowed without express permission. Many tenants might argue that a garden is an improvement to the property and may even add value. When it comes to putting in a garden, however, landlords have the law on their side, and any tenant who starts digging is violating the lease agreement.
It’s a good idea to emphasize in the lease agreement that any changes to the landscape of the property is a violation of the lease agreement, even if it may seem like an improvement, such as planting a tree, cutting down trees or shrubs or putting in a garden. The clearer you are in the lease agreement, the less likely your tenant is to misunderstand.

Room for Compromise

As a landlord seeking to enhance the property and make it a nice place for your tenant to live, consider compromising when your tenant is asking you for a garden. There are several options besides simply letting your tenant do whatever they want when it comes to a vegetable garden.
Here are three ideas for small to moderate gardens that would satisfy a tenant and not alter the rental property too much for the landlord.

Compromise #1. Flower bed garden

If the rental property has flower beds near the house or in the yard, consider letting the tenant use these areas as a garden. Because they are already part of the landscape, it’s not a big deal for the tenant to prepare the ground for planting. Even if you already have flowers or shrubs there, you could allow the tenant to use space in between, or forego planting flowers so the tenant can have that space.
Once the tenant moves out, it’s not hard to reclaim that space for flowers once again. If you don’t want to allow all your flowerbed space for a tenant’s garden, consider designating one or two at least.

Compromise #2. Container garden

Terracotta Composting 50-Plant Garden Tower by Garden Tower Project
Container gardens are just what they sound like, fruits and vegetables grown in large containers. Tubs, pots, barrels and more can house flowers and food in a limited space. Perfect for the small yard, balcony or rental property, container gardening is never permanent, but can satisfy a tenant’s desire for a garden.
Work with the tenant on container gardening by allowing containers along the sunny side of the yard along the fence or agree to install a window box or hanging basket. With the right combinations, container plants can enhance the property’s curb appeal and make your tenant very happy without too many permanent changes.

Compromise #3. Allow a garden on your terms

If you don’t mid allowing the tenant to put in a garden, make sure that you have very clear communication about your expectations. Specify where the garden will be, taking into consideration the sunlight and shade of the property. Be detailed about the size you’ll allow and any fast-growing invasive species you don’t want, like mint.
Whatever compromise you agree to, make sure that you put it all in writing. Include information like who will do the work, what materials the tenant may use to do the work, specify how the tenant will remove the work if necessary, and any other relevant details for your particular situation.

Pros and Cons of Tenant Gardens

A garden can be a real asset when it comes to keeping a tenant happy, and as a landlord, you may even be the beneficiary of a particularly productive zucchini or tomato plant. It may be worth it to allow a good tenant to invest something of themselves into the rental property to foster a greater sense of responsibility for the place.
Many municipalities have regulations about gardens on private property, so make sure before you or your tenant break ground that you are following your city’s laws on gardens. For example, many cities don’t allow gardens in the front yard of a property, while other cities are passing increasingly restrictive codes about landscaping choices in general, and gardens specifically. If the tenant fails to tend the garden, it could potentially decrease the property value and cause you to receive a citation from the city.
When it comes down to allowing a tenant to have a garden or not, you simply need to look at all the factors in the decision, from the type of tenant you have to what your property might allow without too much trouble, and what your city regulations are when it comes to gardening and landscaping.
Have you ever had a tenant ask you about putting in a garden? What did you decide to do and why? Please share this article and let us know your experiences in the comments section below.
Garden Tower Project

25 Comments

  1. If I put plants in the yard I am renting and decide to leave — are the plants I purchased and planted my property or the landlords’? What about potted plants that remain on the terrace? Please provide a link to NYC law on this.
    Many thanks,
    Molly

    • Sarah, I’m not sure of the specific ordinance to reflect this, but I would say it depends on what would be defined as a “fixture”. So a potted plant can be taken with you because it sits on the terrace. It can moved. But a garden box a landlord may have allowed you to build cannot be moved.

    • Don’t count on getting your potted plants back when you move out of a rental unit, especially if your landlord actually LIKES what you have done. My landlord took thousands of dollars worth of potted roses from me and I was only able to wrest a small portion of them free before she sank the rest into the ground. Now get this: The landlord in question, sad to say, family. There’s nothing I can do without rocking the boat.

      • Anon, sorry to hear you’re in tough spot with family. In most cases, the potted plants would not be considered a fixture or permanent upgrade and therefore the landlord would not have the right to keep them. It’s not like you planted them in the ground and them dug them up when you left, that would be different. So in the future, I don’t think you’d have to worry too much about having potted plants taken from you, but clearly a family member took advantage of your good taste.

  2. I recently came home to find my vegetable garden ripped out and replaced with flowers. I’ve been amending the soil for awhile and was not about to waste it on flowers. So I ripped them all out and threw them out. They also removed an empty chicken coop with out a notice. I plan to deduct the cost of the coop from my rent

    • Good communication is key Mark – before you deduct anything from your rent I would be sure that everyone is on the same page. Even if you weren’t given that courtesy (which you should have been) you’ll be helping your own case by doing things the right way.

  3. My landlord told me when I moved in that I could plant flowers in pots, but I did not know he would choose the pots, plants and arrangement. I am so angry because he has been nothing but controlling about everything. I feel like I cant go out in the yard and now what is there to do anyway!! He gave me bulbs I don’t even know what they are! I am so sorry I moved to a place with the landlord as my neighbor, and his son lives in another house next door! They intrude every time we are outside. Do I have to use the things he has brought over, it is not in a lease because he didn’t even give us a lease.

    • Valerie, don’t lose hope just yet! I don’t know the landlords side, but let me just play Devil’s Advocate for a moment to give you a different perception.
      What if the landlord had 2 previous tenants before you. The first tenant asked if she could paint the bedroom, and the landlord agreed. A year later, after she moved out, he finds that the room has been painted black. Painting over it was a nightmare and he vowed to never again give such freedom to choose options that would cause him such grief down the road.
      Tenant #2 seemed okay with the neutral colors on the walls. But she was a single mom with 2 young children and asked if she could set up a kiddie pool in the yard. The landlord agrees because he wants the tenant, and her kids to be happy. Unfortunately after the summer he moved the pool only to find the grass underneath had been destroyed. A hundred dollars and a Saturday afternoon later, the landlord fixed the bare spot and vowed to learn from his mistakes.
      Both scenarios are things I’ve heard from actual landlords. A lot. So my point is that maybe it’s nothing against you that the landlord appears to want to be controlling. It could be a series of hard-lessons learned that inspired him to not leave decisions up to tenants, that in the end wind up costing him money and time. Or maybe I’m completely wrong and he was just trying to be a nice guy and got you everything you’d need to spruce up his property. Key word being – his – property.
      Either way, this situation needs good communication before it festers into something it might not have to. You need to be honest and forthcoming in saying that you would like some say in what flowers are planted, or whatever else is on your mind. You never know, he might say sure! Or he might politely explain that he’d like to chose the flowers because he’s been down this road before, and he’s the one spending sweat and time to change things over after you leave.
      You can’t go wrong with good, honest communication. Only one of only two possible outcomes will emerge. 1. you and the landlord learn more about each other and find that you can get along. Or 2. your initial reaction was right and your landlord is a controlling jerk. In which case you should find a new place. Preferably one where the landlord says you have total control over the flowers.

  4. I live in the country and have already worked up (with landlord’s agreement) a portion of yard for vegetable garden. My partner and I want to work more ground in front of the trailer – we take vegetables to market and need more space. Landlord knew this when we moved in and the relationship was good in the beginning. However he has become more and more difficult to deal with, using threats and bullying behavior and generally treating us like trash. Yesterday he came over unannounced, wanted to inspect the house, and told us we could not add any extra garden space. He refused to give an explanation although the new plot is nowhere near the septic field and we already have some of the ground worked up and planted. What can I do to deal with his rudeness and get what we need?! Thanks much

    • Carolyn, I believe there is always two sides to these situations. Especially if the relationship with your landlord has gone down hill from being good at some point. This tells me that you have done something (at least in the landlord’s mind) to make him feel threatened. I’m not saying that unannounced visits are okay, I’m just trying to understand what would drive a person to this point.
      So my advice would be to communicate with your landlord. Be very direct and open to conversation. Ask specifically – “is there anything that we did, or said that makes you feel we won’t be good tenants?”.
      And if you can already answer that question yourself, I think that would be a good start as to why he seems less accommodating.

  5. When I moved in my townhouse, the landlord told me that grass wouldn’t grow here. No problem I thought, I didn’t have to mow the grass. When the weather turned warm, she wanted to landscape. I work from home and she knows this. However, she was getting upset because I would not go outside and help her turn the entire yard into a rock garden. There was load after load after load of decorative rocks and gravel brought in. I told her: one, I am working during the day and I wouldn’t leave an office job to come help her landscape so I’m not leaving my desk at home to do it either. Second, the yard was like it was when I moved in so her choice to landscape is not my responsibility and I am not required to help her. She wasn’t happy about that. Her project has been ongoing for more than a month and I’ve not complained about her being here until 8 or 9 at night doing this and the yard being torn up and unusable. Am I obligated to help her? I just want it done so she stops coming here nearly every day!

    • Martha, I spend a lot of time responding to comments from tenants and I usually end up trying to get them to be open minded and see things from the landlord’s perspective. I feel a lot of time the tenant is upset because of unrealistic expectations.
      I have to say your comment gave me enough information to definitively say that your landlord is the one with the unrealistic expectations in this case. You are completely correct in that you have no obligation to leave your job and help with the landscaping. To be honest, that is something I’d feel awkward asking a good friend to help with, let alone a tenant that has zero responsibility to do so.
      Considering everything you’ve mentioned, here is my theory as to what is happening. I would guess that your landlord only owns this one rental property and there’s a good chance she even lived in this condo at one point. This story has all the characteristics of an emotionally attached landlord. And emotionally attached landlords tend to overlook the rights of tenants and focus on what’s right for the property. They have an unrealistic expectation that you should be invested in the property as if you own it.
      So, if I’m right (and I’m pretty sure I am) and this is an emotionally attached landlord, you can solve the issue only one way. And I’ll be upfront and tell you it may not be the most comfortable thing for you, but if you do this I can guarantee that at the very least, you’ll feel better. What NEEDS to happen is a very open conversation about how you’ve been made to feel and what you’re expectations moving forward are. Be sure to explain that you want to be a good tenant, not a home owner at this point. You rented the property content with the condition of the lawn and I’m sure you were also under the impression that you’d have a quiet environment to work, considering you work from a home office. Explain that you want to be, and will be, a great tenant that respects the property and appreciates all of the work being done to make improvements, but your responsibility as a tenant is not to do landscaping.
      During your conversation keep in mind that your landlord is emotionally attached to the property in one way or another. Either as a previous occupant, or as a new landlord with a single investment property that has a fear of failure. Keep bringing the conversation back to you being a good tenant, not a home owner. Hopefully the open communication will snap your landlord out of the delusion that you’re going to take time off of work to make improvements to the property with her. At the end of the day, you might find she was hoping you’d be a good friend more than a good tenant.

      • Thank you for your advice. You are correct – she lived here before. She definitely seems emotionally attached…right down to buying furniture and umbrellas she wants to see on the decks, repotting my plants, and rearranging my outdoor furniture and decorations to her taste. On the one hand, I could get upset about that. But if she’s buying the furniture, I don’t have to and I don’t have to take it with me if I move. I will have a talk with her about this though. I have only been here 4 months and have a ways to go before the lease is up. I’d like it to be peaceful.

        • Excellent Martha!
          You seem level-headed so I’m sure you’ll handle this well. Hopefully a conversation brings her a little self awareness and she’ll give you some space.
          Good luck – let us know how it goes

  6. I rent out a cottage in an adjoining lot inside the city limits (rural). My tenant had 5 fruit trees stripped of fruit and donated it to a non-profit which serves the needy. I was furious because I wanted the fruit for my own needs, and because she didn’t get my permission to have harvesters on ladders in my trees. She is a good tenant otherwise. She just doesn’t want the fruit. I provide all the pruning and pay for water so that the landscaping stays in good condition.Whose fruit is it, anyway? Do I have a right to it? Does she have a right to bring in harvesters?

    • Residential rentals usually provide for exclusive use of the property by the tenants. For you to cultivate the fruit on the trees, you must have reserved this right in a written rental agreement. Check the rental agreement to see if it includes anything regarding the landlord’s reserved right to the fruit. Otherwise, the tenants own the exclusive right to the fruit, as their rent is paying for exclusive use of the property, and everything on it.

  7. This seems like an issue of misunderstanding and poor communication.
    I would think if you had a “good tenant” and she’s donating to non-profit organizations, she didn’t do this to you in a malicious way. If she had known that you planned to harvest the fruit I’m sure she wouldn’t have made arrangements for it to be donated.
    I see this as one of those “lessons learned” that you need to acknowledge and move on. Be sure to set expectations clearly and let the tenants know about your plans in the future. I’d say you still have a good tenant on your hands, so things could be worse.

  8. Sue it all depends on the lease. But I’d guess that the lease doesn’t specify that you have access to certain amounts of space – just space. So cutting down the backyard size is not anything that would be breaking the lease on their part.
    It’s more of an inconvenience to you and you’ll have to decide if it’s still worth living there. I’ve seen similar cases where a playground was build in a place that was once a garden. People who lived near the space complained because they preferred the quiet garden to the playground. And others with children appreciated the renovations.
    The property can be improved and as long as it’s not infringing on your rights, or space that has been outlined specifically in the lease, it’s an unfortunate inconvenience and nothing else.

  9. Thank you for your quick reply.
    You bring up a good point.. The lease does state this address. And currently this address includes the yard surrounding my home,which is gated, which I am responsible to maintain. As does the other 3 homes, each has a gated area of responsibility.
    So when I approach my landlord it should be based on current zoning per the lease and property I am responsible?
    The access he wishes to provide would be taking down my fence in the back yard.
    Thank you again! Sue

  10. Self centered because she took care of something that was hers, and someone else took it from her without asking?
    I get where you’re coming from with the fact that the fruit was donated, but the bottom line is the tenant didn’t have the right to give away someone’s property. Maybe the landlord was going to donate the fruit to a different charity? Or was planning on jarring it for family or whatever. I’m sure if the tenant asked the landlord would have politely explained the situation. And I’m sure the landlord wouldn’t slap fruit out of a needy person’s mouth. What’s done is done, but it’s the principle of not being asked and having something taken from you. I get it. And you would too I’m sure poopydoop.
    LOL hard to take you serious though with that name!

  11. I have a question sort of on the lines of this discussion…..my husband and I rent a space for our rv and live full time. We pay rent monthly that includes electric, water. I came home this afternoon and was told I could not use the water I pay for every month to water my plants…. can the park owner do this

  12. Hello – We live in CA and are renting a single family home with a yard. Part of the lease agreement is that we do landscape maintenance, but are not responsible for the irrigation system maintenance. We are under mandatory water restrictions and can only water two days a week. The lawn has suffered, especially in the sunniest spots. Every house in our area has the same issue with their lawns. Grass needs daily watering to be healthy. All the other plants, trees, and shrubs are doing fine because we spread mulch before the rainy season. Now we are about to move out in six weeks and the property manager has demanded we double the watering time. We have already increased watering times for summer. What he’s asking would mean watering each section of grass for over an hour (so 4 hours total just for the grass and around 6 hours for the whole property) subjecting us to fines from the water district for excessive water use since the water is billed to us. Is it legal for him to force us to break the law and the mandatory water restrictions? If the lawn has suffered due to mandatory water restrictions, can he charge us to replace the lawn? We did fertilize twice during rainy season, added drought tolerant seed, and paid for aeration, but the lawn still looks patchy and unhealthy just like all of our neighbors’.

  13. My daughter lives in a house which is in my name. She has two roommates. She has agreed to the roommates that the three of the plant trees and vegtables in the backyard. Will the roommates be legally entitled to the land of the backyard.? Can they claim anything when they leave?

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