Am I responsible for maintaining property that I was unaware of?

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Am I responsible for maintaining property that I was unaware of?

I have a lease with my landlord that states I am responsible for cutting the lawn on a regularly scheduled basis. That would include trimming, weed-whacking etc. I have hired a lawn service to take care of the lawn on a bi-weekly basis. My yard is completely fenced in with a privacy fence. I received a call from the landlord today stating she received a notice from Baltimore City stating she was in violation because the bushes were overgrown. Apparently there is about a 10 foot space behind a privacy fence that is overgrown. I have been living at the residence for 7 months (4 of which were winter months) and was unaware of the area behind the privacy fence. My landlord wants me to be responsible for hiring, scheduling and paying for the clearing of the area. This area is definitely overgrown and has been neglected for a long time, probably years before I moved in. I have a couple of concerns: 1. I was not aware of this additional property behind my privacy fence. The landlord also communicated to me she was unaware of this property. 2. I have contacted the neighbors and they have never seen anyone monitor or maintenance this area. 3. This area is clearly overgrown and has been for some time. This is not something that could have happened in the time I have lived here. The bottom line is am I responsible for any part of this problem?

Asked on July 14, 2010 under Real Estate Law, Maryland

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

There is no easy way to answer your question. You are responsible for what you have agreed to be responsible for in the lease. The problem is, if the lease is ambiguous as to what that is. First thing, look to the lease and see if there is any guidance in it--for example, if it says you are responsible for trimming, etc. "your" lawn or "the unit's lawn," that would imply that you are responsible only for the area within the privacy fence.

If there's no guidance in the lease, then the question becomes what did the parties--you and the landlord--contemplate at the time the lease was signed. Clearly you feel that it was only the fenced in area. If there is other evidence that that's the case, you should stand on good ground; so, for example, if you have only cared for the fenced in area for some number of weeks or months and the landlord never corrected you or told you that your responsibilities also included the other area, that would be good, if not 100% dispositive, evidnence that the parties both meant that your responsibilities ended at the fence boundary.


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