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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Pelham Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching Single-family Pelham rental home leases often include a clause that prohibits tenants from altering or remodeling the property without authorization. Some tenants, however, will go ahead and make unauthorized changes anyway. As a landlord and property owner, you need to know how to handle the situation according to local laws if that happens. Here are some ideas that will help you should your tenant decide to make unauthorized tenant alterations.

Tenant Alterations

There could be times a tenant will alter their rental home without waiting for permission from their landlord or property owner. It can happen even if it is explicitly stated in your lease agreement that doing so is not allowed. There will be times the tenant attempts to repair or fix worn or broken features in the rental home. But in other cases, they want to customize the property in more permanent ways.

One of the most common ways a tenant makes unauthorized changes is by painting one or more interior walls. Some property owners may see this as a free paint job, the problem is that not all tenants do a good job or they choose a paint color that could make your rental property harder to rent to your next tenant. Whether or not you like what your tenant did, you need to be able to handle your tenant if you discover they had made alterations without your permission.

Repairs vs Improvements

Before approaching a tenant about unauthorized alterations, you must know the difference between repairs and improvements. Generally speaking, repairs are done to keep a property in good operating condition. An improvement, on the other hand, is work that adds value to the property, prolongs the life, or adapts the property in some way.

If ever you have not been making the requested repairs, it’s not surprising if your tenant takes matters into their own hands. That scenario is very different from a tenant digging up the entire backyard to plant a vegetable garden. One keeps the property in livable condition, while the other significantly alters the intended use of the property. Not all alterations are as clear-cut so you should ask more questions before you take steps to address the situation.

Fixtures and Property Condition

One of the biggest legal questions from any judge would be whether the alteration is permanently attached to the property or not. It is important to establish this because anything permanent your tenant does will typically be considered a fixture and cannot be removed. Alterations like these become an automatic part of the property — unless you don’t want them to. Lease documents usually state that it is the tenant’s responsibility to restore the property to how it was when they first started living there. If there were any changes made, your tenants are legally and financially responsible for changing it back to its initial condition.

Essential Lease Clauses

Of course, if you have proper language in your lease, it becomes easier to enforce a lease clause in court. While preparing your lease documents, make sure you include clauses that explain when and what type of improvements are allowed and the consequences for unauthorized “improvement” or “repair” that devalues the property.

Your lease can state that the tenant forfeits all or part of their security deposit to cover the cost of restoring the property to its original state. Another statement you can include in your lease is that if you decide to keep any changes your tenant makes, they must leave any fixtures they’ve added behind.

Having clear lease language and good documentation of your communications with your tenant will be very helpful in case a dispute arises. If the matter ends up in court, the judge will consider both the tenant’s intentions as well as the changes made, and decide if the alteration is a fixture you get to keep or not.


It can really be a challenge to handle tenants who make unauthorized changes to a rental property. That is why having a professional Pelham property management company do it for you can be an asset. Contact us online or call to learn how we help rental property owners with everything from drafting lease documents to property maintenance.

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