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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Sudden Valley Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching It is common for single-family Sudden Valley rental home leases to include a clause that prohibits tenants from altering or remodeling the property without authorization. However, tenants will sometimes go ahead and make unauthorized changes anyway. In cases like that, landlords and property owners need to know how to professionally handle the situation according to local laws. If your tenant decides to make their own changes, here are some ways you can navigate unauthorized tenant alterations.

Tenant Alterations

There might be times when a tenant will alter their rental home without permission from their landlord or property owner. Even when your lease agreement prohibits it. 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.

A common way tenants make changes without asking permission 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. Even if you like what your tenant did or not, you have to know what to do in case you find out that your tenant has made unauthorized alterations.

Repairs vs Improvements

It is important to know the difference between repairs and improvements when you approach a tenant about unauthorized alterations. 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 is maintaining the property in a livable condition, the other one significantly changes 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. These kinds of alterations automatically become part of the property, unless you don’t want them to be. Most lease documents state that it is the tenant’s responsibility to restore the property to the condition it was when they started living there. This makes them legally and financially responsible, if they made changes, to change it back to the way it was before.

Essential Lease Clauses

You can enforce a lease clause in court more effectively if you have the proper language in your lease. As you prepare your lease documents, make sure you include clauses that detail the type of improvements that are permitted and what the consequences are for any unauthorized “improvement” or repair that devalues the property.

You could state in your lease that your tenant forfeits all or part of their security deposit to cover the cost needed to restore the property to its original condition. You may also include a statement in your lease that if you decide to keep any change your tenant makes, they must leave any fixtures they’ve added behind.

If a dispute arises, having clear lease language and good documentation of all your communications with the tenant can increase the likelihood of you winning your case. If the matter does get to court, the judge will typically consider both the tenant’s intentions and the nature of the changes and also determine if the alteration is a fixture you get to keep or not.


It can be a challenge to handle tenants who go ahead and make unauthorized changes to a rental property. That is why having a professional Sudden Valley 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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