It’s safe to say that most residential outdoor space is underutilized. Why? Because so few people plant vegetable gardens. A vegetable garden is a wonderful, functional addition to any residential space. Gardens teach people, young and old alike, the value of commitment and patience. Being able to garden is a valuable, fruitful skill in its own right. And speaking of, gardens also feed you, so what’s not to love about a vegetable garden?
Unfortunately, in the world of rental housing, it’s a little more complicated than that. A rental property is one person’s possession and another person’s home, so, naturally, there will sometimes be issues when the desires of tenants and landlords clash.
Can You Plant a Vegetable Garden as a Renter?
The short answer to this is no. The longer answer is maybe.
The wide majority of lease contracts stipulate that a tenant should by no means alter any features of their rental’s landscape, which includes the planting of a vegetable garden, without explicit permission from the property owner. This means that even though a renter does not have the legal authority to plant a vegetable garden, there’s nothing wrong with asking your landlord if it’s alright to do so.
However, if you decide to go ahead with your garden plans without consulting your landlord, you may be in for a rude awakening. Professional landscaper Cliff Bressler warns that if a vegetable garden is not continued with the next tenants, the pile of dirt that is left behind will need to be landscaped or sodded. Always remember: you are paying for the authorized use of someone else’s property, and while landlords may be required by law to give notice before entering your rental unit, there is no such mandate concerning the external grounds of the rental. Your spring vegetable garden may end up destroyed or otherwise removed, along with all your hard work and whatever progress you’ve made, if your landlord is not the most forgiving type.
Additionally, you might face more severe consequences. Unauthorized landscaping alterations may be grounds for fines or even eviction, as was the case when this British family decided to plant and maintain their own garden on the grounds of their rental. In a situation where your landlord is missing in action and unresponsive to phone calls, texts, and emails, have a good look at your lease agreement before you decide to take matters into your own hands. Gardens are great, but getting evicted isn’t.
Depending on where you rent, you can probably surmise whether your landlord will allow a garden or not. Regardless, there’s no harm in asking, but don’t get your hopes up too high. Pete Evering, of west coast property managing firm Utopia Management, says tenants shouldn’t be afraid to communicate such requests directly to their landlords, but they should have measured expectations.
“In general, tenants will have better luck getting approval for landscape alteration, and any other external alteration, if they’re dealing with a small ‘mom-and-pop’ landlord rather than a professional property investor,” says Evering. “If you’re living in someone’s backyard cottage or their converted garage apartment, chances are they’ll be more willing to accommodate a tenant’s garden than a larger landlord would. Ask yourself this: does your landlord feel neighborly, or like a stranger?”
If you happen to rent from a large-scale landlord — perhaps you live in a large multifamily housing complex or apartment building — it may be a good idea to consult your neighbors and build a garden coalition. If your landlord sees that a community vegetable garden is desired by a majority of their tenants, they may be more willing to allow it on the basis of it being an amenity that will keep current tenants happy and attract new ones.
Advice for Landlords
As for landlords, Evering has this to say: “Don’t rule out a vegetable garden, or any other tenant-driven landscaping alteration, just because it wasn’t your idea. Assess how a garden will affect the appearance and upkeep of your property. Is there reasonable room for one, and do you trust your tenants to maintain it? Is a garden potentially a great enough asset to your property’s overall value that you wouldn’t mind contributing to its maintenance yourself? Or will a garden hurt your property, and cause more trouble than it’s worth? Not every rental property looks great with a garden, and there’s a reason most landlords forbid it.”
At the end of the day, allowing a vegetable garden or not allowing one is your prerogative, and if you feel your property looks and operates better without one, make it crystal clear to your tenants that you will not authorize it. Clarity is key; it avoids headaches and heartaches, and saves both landlords and tenants from messy situations.