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Renting and the law: Does yardwork make renter an employee?

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  • Renting and the law: Does yardwork make renter an employee?

    Renting and the law: Does yardwork make renter an employee?
    Kelly Klein
    October 8, 2005 RLAW1008
    Q In a recent column, you said landlords can't require tenants to mow the grass unless the landlord provides compensation.

    But if the landlord compensates the tenant, he has established an employer-employee relationship. As such, the rent reduction becomes taxable to the tenant, and a W-2 form and the applicable quarterly reports must be filed. Also, the landlord would have to carry workers' compensation insurance and pay the applicable FICA, Medicare, FUTA and SUTA taxes on that compensation.

    Landlords aren't always villains. I own a duplex, my only rental property. For me, buying that duplex was the only way for me to own a home.

    If I provide good service and a good product to my tenants, they will stay and I will not have a problem getting renters.

    However, I disagree with the laws about maintaining the outside of a rental single-family home or duplex. What's the difference in requiring a tenant to keep the inside of the living space in a clean and orderly manner, vs. requiring them to keep the outside clean and orderly, which could involve shoveling snow or mowing grass? Is it simply the fact that grass and snow is not put there by the tenant and thus is not their responsibility?

    I follow the law and either hire the work out or do it myself, but I disagree with it.

    I feel that a landlord should be able to make mowing the grass and shoveling snow part of the lease agreement with the tenant. If both parties agreed to it, then it should be OK without a rent reduction or other compensation.

    A long time ago the Legislature decided that it was easier to make landlords responsible for properties, as opposed to tenants, for two reasons. First, if the work isn't done by the landlord or the tenant, the only real option a municipality has is to threaten to take the property. The landlord is the owner and ultimately responsible, so it falls to him or her.

    Second, if the landlord weren't held responsible, every lease would require the tenant to maintain the property, including major appliances, and landlords would have no reason to maintain a property, and housing values probably would drop.

    Paying the tenant to mow the lawn or shovel snow does not create an employee-employer relationship. Most tenants are considered independent contractors. There are certain tax regulations that relate specifically to caretakers, but as a general rule, tenants who simply mow the lawn for $50 per month are considered independent contractors and not employees. A landlord doesn't have to pay unemployment taxes for independent contractors, and workers' comp isn't available. You should discuss these issues with your accountant, but most landlords just send the tenant a Form 1099 for the earnings at the same time they send the Certificate of Rent Paid form.

    Personally, I wouldn't feel strongly if the Legislature changed the law so that tenants could be required to mow. But because the law reads as it does, I must answer the question based on the statute.

    News source;
    Last edited by muppet; 09-10-2005, 09:32 PM.
    "There's one way to find out if a man is honest-ask him. If he says 'yes,' you know he is a crook." Groucho Marx