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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Bixby Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching Most single-family Bixby rental home leases usually include a clause prohibiting a tenant from altering or remodeling the property without authorization. Tenants, however, will sometimes just go ahead and make unauthorized changes. As a landlord and property owner, you need to know how to handle the situation according to local laws if that happens. 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. Sometimes, the tenant tries to repair or fix 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. While this would seem like a free paint job to some property owners, the problem is that not all tenants do a good job of it or the paint color is one that makes your rental property harder to rent out 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. On the other hand, an improvement is work that adds to 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 is maintaining the property in a livable condition, the other one significantly changes the intended use of the property. However, not all alterations are as clear-cut, which is why it’s good to ask more questions before taking any steps to address the situation.

Fixtures and Property Condition

One of the biggest legal questions a judge will ask is if the alteration is permanently attached to the property or not. This is important because if your tenant does anything permanent, it is usually considered a fixture and cannot be removed. Alterations like these become an automatic part of the property — unless you don’t want them to. 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 means they are legally and financially responsible for changing 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 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 could also include a statement in your lease that if ever your tenant makes any changes and you decide to keep it, they must leave any fixtures they’ve added behind.

In case of a dispute, clear lease language, good documentation of your communications with the tenant can help you win your case. 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 be a challenge to handle tenants who go ahead and make unauthorized changes to a rental property. That is why having a professional Bixby 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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