Landlords and managing agents: trees, a blessing or a curse?

4th March 2020

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Whether you’re a landlord, or a landlord’s managing agent, one of the most important factors in your commercial mind must be the question of how to keep your costs down in order to keep your profits up. For instance, as a landlord you go to great lengths to choose the right agents who will interview, select and reference tenants to minimise the chances of finding yourself saddled with the unruly kind who are more likely to cause damage which will increase your costs. The same goes for trees in the gardens of your properties, because they can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you deal with them.

As a managing agent, above all else you want two things for your landlords: 1) to be able to quickly find the right tenants, and 2) to keep maintenance costs to a minimum throughout the tenancy. Trees pull in both directions, because a lovely leafy, secluded garden will make a property more desirable and, therefore, easier to rent out, but a property with trees will require higher maintenance costs.

The ultimate responsibility for tree safety and maintenance at a property falls at the landlord’s door, so I thought we’d do a quick summary piece about what those responsibilities are and how you can live up to them.

  1. Responsibility to your tenants

Every landlord has a duty of care to ensure that the trees in their gardens are safe. If left to grow unchecked, a tree may eventually become susceptible to the risk of toppling over, or individual branches can extend too far or be weakened through wind, illness or infestation. If a tree or branch falls on a tenant or their property, and you are unable to evidence a clearly scheduled maintenance programme with a reputable firm of tree surgeons, then you may well find yourself liable for damages, or worse.

  • Responsibility for your own property and that of any neighbours

Your tree grows above ground and it also grows below the surface, with roots snaking off in all directions to support the tree above and to suck up moisture and minerals from the soil. The bigger the tree, the more water it pulls from the ground and the more extensive its root system. If the roots grow under your property or that of any neighbours, the water removed from the ground could (depending on the species of tree and the weather extremes), in extreme circumstances, destabilise foundations, causing subsidence. However, the better your pruning schedule above ground the less the root system will need to grow, so stay on top of your tree’s maintenance or you may find costly damage to property and neighbourly relations will result.

  • Responsibilities of your tenants and neighbours

You may think that you can leave tree maintenance to your tenants – after all, aren’t they responsible for looking after the property as a whole while they’re living there? While you may have built garden maintenance into your tenancy agreement, should things go wrong related to your trees, the buck stops with you. So don’t rely on tenants; take responsibility for tree maintenance yourself as to not do so could cost you dearly in legal or building fees.

  • Responsibility to your insurers

Insurance companies are notoriously analytical when it comes to paying out. If you breach any of the terms of your policy you may find them less than cooperative. If you allow your trees to grow unchecked to a point where they are likely to cause damage to your property then you may well be breaching your duty under your policy. Check your policy today to see whether it specifies tree maintenance and if it does, then you must stick to the letter of this responsibility. If your policy is unclear on this point, maybe it’s time to speak to a good insurance broker and see whether you can find a better policy, one with clearer instructions and less opportunity for your insurer to reject a claim when you need them most.

  • Responsibility of your managing agent

A good managing agent will take the time to arrange regular visits to the property (once or twice a year) to make sure it is all in good order and to further their relationship with your tenants. As part of these visits it’s important that they assess the maintenance needs of your trees to see whether there are any safety issues that need to be dealt with. Should they be left in charge of selecting a firm of tree surgeons to deal with maintenance, keep in mind the story of an investment firm and its MD who have just been required to pay out over £120,000 for breach of health and safety regulations when a tree surgeon in their employ lost his life. Choosing to work with cowboys will cost you far more than you think you’re saving in the short term and both landlord and managing agent have a duty of care to the tenant to ensure that they select only the most reliable of tree surgeons.

  • Responsibility in law

Do any of your trees have TPOs (Tree Protection Orders) on them? If so, even maintenance will require permission from your local authority. Do not trust a tree surgeon who tells you it won’t be a problem (yes, they do exist). Always check when you buy a property whether there are any TPOs on the trees, then ensure that you maintain them in accordance with the stipulations set out by your local authority.

  • Responsibility to your pocket

We started off talking about keeping costs down to ensure that your property assets are profitable, so it seems the right place to finish. Your building insurance company will assess the risk your trees pose to your property (and others), and should they feel there is a higher than normal risk they will increase the cost of your insurance. They may also ask for you to have an Indemnity Report produced by a firm of arborists, so be aware that these do expire and you’ll need to pay for an updated report every two to three years. Also, should you feel that your insurance company has slapped a particularly high figure on your insurance due to risk, you might wish to pay for an Indemnity Report anyway because, if favourable, it may convince the insurance company to reduce their policy costs.

Proper maintenance of your trees by a reputable firm of tree surgeons and arborists will cost you, but this will be nothing compared with the fines, legal fees and damages that could be heading your way should you not maintain your trees and something goes wrong.

To summarise:

Do you have a tree maintenance schedule?     Each property you own or manage should have a tree maintenance schedule, assessed by a reputable arborist and managed by a team of qualified and reliable tree surgeons.  
Pruning can prevent subsidence     Regular maintenance and pruning of your trees will slow or stop root growth, reducing the chance of damage being caused or subsidence resulting.
An Indemnity Report could save you money     If your insurance company is nervous about a tree, get an arborist to write an Indemnity Report and this could result in lower insurance costs.  
Only use ARB Approved Contractors   The Arboricultural Association is the UK’s leading authority on tree surgeons. Go to their website to find an ARB Approved Contractor.  

To book a free survey and consultation with one of our ARB Approved arborists for advice on your trees or to book our tree surgeons to prune/maintain or fell your tree(s) and remove the stumps, call us on 0208 292 8992.

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