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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Bedford County Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching

Plenty of single-family Bedford County rental home leases include a clause disallowing tenants from altering or remodeling the property without assent. But certainly, every once in a while, tenants will just go ahead and carry out unauthorized changes anyway. When that befalls, landlords and property owners need to understand how to settle the situation professionally and according to local laws. If your tenant has or seeks to make their own changes, here are a few effective tips to help you navigate unauthorized tenant alterations.

Tenant Alterations

Every once in a while, a tenant will alter their rental home without asking permission from their landlord or property owner. Although your lease agreement indicates doing so is not allowed. Every so often, the tenant attempts to repair or fix worn or broken features in the rental home. But, in many other cases, they need to customize the property in more permanent ways.

Painting one or more interior walls is one of the most prevailing practices a tenant will make changes without asking permission. Even supposing a few property owners may take this as a free paint job – and if it is completed efficiently, you can basically keep the changes – the complexity there is that not all tenants do a good job or may opt for a paint color that will make your rental property more burdensome to rent to your next tenant. Whether you really like what your tenant did or not, you need to understand 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 imperative to be aware of the difference between repairs and improvements. Usually, repairs are completed to keep a property in sound operating condition. Having said that , an improvement is work that adds to the property’s value, prolongs the life of the property, or adapts the property in some way.

Suppose you are not making requested repairs and your tenant takes matters into their own hands. In such a case, that is a very different situation than if you identify your tenant digging up the entire backyard to plant a vegetable garden. One maintains the property in a livable condition, while the other greatly alters the intended use of the property. Not all alterations are as clear-cut, so on this account, there are a few more questions you should ask before actions are taken 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 considering that anything permanent your tenant adds is really considered a fixture and cannot be removed. Such alterations really become part of the property – unless you don’t want them to. In nearly all cases, lease documents should mention 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 points out they are legally and financially responsible for changing it back to the way it was before.

Essential Lease Clauses

But take note, enforcing a lease clause in court is only effective if you have the proper language in your lease. As you prepare your lease documents, ensure to include clauses that specify when and what type of improvements are allowed (if any) and what happens when an unauthorized “improvement” or repair devalues the property.

You may need 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 even want to clearly include 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.

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


It can be toilsome to resolve and handle tenants who choose to make unauthorized changes to a rental property. Precisely why having a professional Bedford County property management company do it for you can be a great 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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