Buy-to-let boom blights the nation’s front gardens
©Justin Kase Zninez
Britain’s buy-to-let boom is blighting the nation’s gardens as the conflicting incentives of landlords and tenants leave the outside areas of properties unloved and overlooked, property and gardening experts warned.
The Royal Horticultural Society, which is gearing up for the annual showcase of gardening prowess at next week’s Chelsea Flower Show, said the declining state of Britain’s front gardens had worsened since last year, when it found one in three had no plants growing in them and three times as many were paved over compared with ten years earlier.
Sue Biggs, RHS director-general, said gardens in rental properties were generally not looked after, with neither tenant nor landlord wanting to invest in keeping plots attractive. “There is a crisis in our front gardens and one of the major strands in it is the growth in rental properties,” she said.
The proportion of households in the private rented sector nearly doubled from 10 per cent to 19 per cent in the decade to 2013. The surge in younger tenants, dubbed “Generation Rent”, was bigger still: some 48 per cent of households of those aged 25-34 were renting, up from 21 per cent ten years earlier, according to the English Housing Survey.
David Lawrenson, a landlord adviser at LettingFocus.com with multiple properties of his own, said most tenants were uninterested in keeping up the garden, even when given free rein by the landlord and provided with tools and materials. “There is less ownership of the garden and less desire to look after it,” he said.
RHS research suggested twentysomethings only became interested in gardening after they had taken their first step on the property ladder.
Contracts typically stipulate that tenants hand back the property in the state they found it in, or lose their deposit. But such clauses seldom cover the precise level of care or quality of the garden. “If they let the weeds grow ten foot high there’s nothing I can do about it,” Mr Lawrenson said.
Allowing a garden to run to seed may benefit bees and other wildlife but it also significantly prunes a property’s value, said Ed Mead, executive director at estate agent Douglas & Gordon. His rule of thumb values well-maintained garden space at roughly 50 per cent the rate of the floorspace: if the interior fetched £2,000 per square foot, an attractive garden might be worth £1,000 per sq ft.
But that formula did not apply in the rented sector. “A garden that’s looked after improves over time and therefore adds value with maturity. What happens with buy-to-let is that it’s likely the garden will stay in its immature phase.”
Landlords were also guilty of too often concreting or paving over a garden in order to eliminate the possibility that a tenant will fail to keep it up — even though this reduced market value, too.
If a garden disappears beneath the slabs, Ms Biggs said, that was no reason to throw away the trowel and dibber, since any tenant could grow low-maintenance plants in pots — which can then be taken on to the renter’s next home.
“People think it’s going to be very labour-intensive. It takes me half an hour twice a year to keep my front garden looking great,” she said