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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Southburg Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog WatchingMany single-family Southport rental home leases include a clause banning tenants from altering or remodeling the property without clearance. However, from time to time, tenants will start and work on unauthorized changes anyway. When that comes about, landlords and property owners need to figure out how to address the situation professionally and according to local laws. If your tenant has or aims to make their own changes, here are a few simple tips to help you navigate unauthorized tenant alterations.

Tenant Alterations

From time to time, a tenant will alter their rental home without gaining permission from their landlord or property owner. Even when your lease agreement claims that doing so is not permissible. Now and again, the tenant attempts to repair or fix worn or broken features in the rental home. Notwithstanding, on other occasions, they choose to customize the property in more permanent ways.

Painting one or more interior walls is one of the most widely known approaches a tenant will make changes without asking permission. Granting that a lot of property owners may take this as a free paint job – and if it is fulfilled effectively, you can normally keep the changes – the complication is that not all tenants do a good job or may apply a paint color that will make your rental property more difficult to rent to your next tenant. Whether you appreciate what your tenant did or not, you need to get an idea of what to do if you know that your tenant has made alterations without your permission.

Repairs vs. Improvements

When approaching a tenant about unauthorized alterations, it’s critical to realize the difference between repairs and improvements. Mainly, repairs are fulfilled to keep a property in serviceable operating condition. On the flip side, however, an improvement is work that adds to the property’s value, prolongs the life of the property, or adapts the property in any way.

Suppose you are not making requested repairs and your tenant takes matters into their own hands. In that instance, that is a very different situation than if you discover your tenant dug up the entire backyard to plant a vegetable garden. One maintains the property in a livable condition, while the other dramatically alters the intended use of the property. Not all alterations are as clear-cut, so this being the case there are a few more concerns you should ask when acting in response to address the situation.

Fixtures and Property Condition

One of the biggest legal questions any judge will ask is whether the alteration is permanently attached to the property or not. This matters since anything permanent your tenant does is mostly considered a fixture and cannot be removed. Such alterations absolutely become part of the property – unless you don’t want them to. In most circumstances, lease documents should declare clearly that it’s the tenant’s responsibility to restore the property to the same condition it was in when they first started living there. If they’ve made changes, this states they are legally and financially responsible for changing it back to the way it was before.

Essential Lease Clauses

Definitely, enforcing a lease clause in court is only effective if you have the proper language in your lease. As you prepare your lease documents, make sure to include clauses that indicate when and what type of improvements are allowed (if any) and what do you think would happen if an unauthorized “improvement” or repair devalues the property.

You may choose to state in your lease that your tenant will forfeit all or part of their security deposit to cover the cost of restoring the property to its original condition. You may furthermore want to append a statement in your lease that if your tenant makes changes that you decide to keep, they must leave any fixtures they’ve added behind.

In the case of a dispute, having clear lease language and good documentation of all of your communications with the tenant can be a worthwhile part of winning your case. If the case does end up in court, usually, the judge will consider both the tenant’s intentions and the changes made and decide on whether the alteration is a fixture you get to keep or not.


It can be complicated to deal with and correct tenants who choose to make unauthorized changes to a rental property. For this reason, getting a professional Southport property management company to do it for you can be a real advantage. [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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