This is a story about a couple who lived in a small, unconventional home with a beautiful backyard oasis. When their landlord sold the property and a new landlord took over, they were harassed constantly and ordered to remove all modifications from their yard. In response, the couple reverted the yard to a dirt strip and were taken to small claims court by the landlord. However, with evidence of their agreement and diligent record-keeping, they were able to win the case and get their full security deposit back.
I’m 27M and live with my boyfriend, 28M. The house in question was our first place together that we’d been in for 5 years. It was the only place we could afford, and wasn’t the most aesthetic when we moved in. It’s shaped like a shipping container and not much bigger than one, plus it’s surrounded on 3 sides by 2+ story homes and on the remaining side there is a parking lot for all of said homes which opens onto a major road. In the “backyard” there was a tiny shed which fits a staked washer/dryer and was otherwise a thin strip of dirt the length of the home boxed in by the shed and the privacy fences of the other homes. Our yard itself was not fenced in, we had to use the front door and walk around the home then through the parking lot to access the laundry shed/yard (no backdoor).
The original landlord was very receptive to us making improvements to the house. We painted, refinished the cabinets, tiled the bathroom, etc. In the backyard I built raised garden beds, installed a small pond and bird fountain, as well as other landscaping so that it became a bit of an unexpected oasis. We had an outdoor table and chairs so we could sit out there in the morning and share a cup of tea.
As you may have put together, the original landlord sold the home and our lease transferred to the new owner. We had plans already in the works to purchase our first home together, so we only intended to stay to the end of the lease anyway and figured it shouldn’t affect us too much. Almost immediately the new landlord began to harass us nearly daily, often about issues entirely out of our control such as “cars being parked in the lot sideways”… cars which were first of all our neighbors cars and were merely slightly crooked, certainly not sideways. Once he showed up at the front door at 8:30pm on a Friday, we had two friends over to play board games and have dinner, and he asked, “are you going to wind up the party anytime soon, boys? Because people are going to get the wrong idea, you know.” We did our best to appease the landlord for the remaining months, but it became extremely grating and honestly made me feel like I was being watched constantly.
The final straw was when a technician came to fix the washing machine in the shed and the landlord noticed the table and chairs in the backyard. We received an email that evening telling us, yes in all caps, to “REMOVE ALL MODIFICATIONS OF THE YARD. NO PATIO FURNITURE IS PERMITTED.” Mind you, this isn’t even visible from the road, but whatever.
So I responded, just to be sure, “Apologies for the mistake. To confirm, you would like us to remove all modifications we have personally made to the yard since our move in date of xx/xx/xxxx?”
The answer? “YES. REMOVE IMMEDIATELY AT THE SOONEST CONVENIENCE.”
You got it, chief! We were just about in our final month of the lease and preparing to move to our new home. I had planned to leave the raised beds, plants, and an empty pond behind, obviously, but I decided I was going to revert the place to a dirt strip out of spite. So that’s what I did. I collected my bird fountain/pump, my fish, the flower bulbs and other plants, I even took the dirt I purchased for the raised beds to our new home. We filled in the pond and made sure to remove all the grass so it was one sad strip of dirt again.
The landlord was extremely angry to find the yard in that state, he was threatening to sue us for destruction of property because we “ruined his pond.” He tried to keep our security deposit and he did take us to small claims court over “the damage”. However, we were diligent when we had moved in and had photos of the original yard, plus the email instructing us to “REMOVE ALL MODIFICATIONS OF THE YARD.” He tried to say we had done other damage to the home, all of which was regular wear and tear after 5 years of occupancy which any landlord should expect and is responsible over basic maintenance for such as repainting. Not to mention we could prove we left the place nicer than it was originally, with approval from the original landlord at the time we did the projects. I’m sure the judge saw though him immediately, he was quite rude and continued to interrupt her to which she reprimanded him several times. That is to say, we got our security deposit back in full even having “trashed” the yard.