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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Riverview Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching Most single-family Riverview rental home leases usually have a clause that prohibits a tenant from altering or remodeling the property without authorization. However, tenants will sometimes go ahead and make unauthorized changes anyway. When this happens, landlords and property owners need to be able to handle the situation professionally and in compliance with local laws. If your tenant decides to make their own changes, here are some ways you can navigate unauthorized tenant alterations.

Tenant Alterations

Sometimes, a tenant will alter their rental home even without getting permission from their landlord or property owner. Even when your lease agreement prohibits it. The tenant may also just want to try repairing or fixing worn-out or broken features in the rental home. But in other cases, they want to customize the property in more permanent ways.

Most of the time, painting one or more of the interior walls is the unauthorized change a tenant makes. 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. Regardless of whether you like what your tenant did or not, you need to know how to deal with your tenant if you discover unauthorized alterations.

Repairs vs Improvements

When you approach a tenant about unauthorized alterations, it is important that you know the difference between repairs and improvements. Generally speaking, repairs are done to keep a property in good operating condition. An improvement is any work done that increases the property’s value, extends the life of the property, or adapts the property in some way.

If ever you have not been making any requested repairs, it’s possible your tenant may take matters into their own hands. That is a very different scenario than if you find out your tenant has dug up the entire backyard and planted a vegetable garden. One maintains the property in living condition, the other changes the intended use of the property. Not all alterations are as clear-cut, that is why you should ask more questions before taking steps to address the situation.

Fixtures and Property Condition

One of the biggest legal questions a judge will ask about the alteration is if it is permanently attached to the property or not. Establishing this helps as anything that your tenant does that is permanent is usually considered a fixture and cannot be removed. Unless you don’t want them to, such alterations automatically become part of the property. 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. If they did make any changes, they are legally and financially responsible for changing it back.

Essential Lease Clauses

To effectively enforce a lease clause in court, you must have the proper language in your lease. 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.

You can also state in your lease that your tenant’s security deposit gets forfeited to cover the cost of restoring the property to its original condition. You can also include a statement in your lease that your tenant must leave any fixtures they’ve added if you decide to keep them.

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 gets brought up to court, the judge will consider both the tenant’s intentions and the changes made. This will help the judge determine if the alteration will be 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 Riverview 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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