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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Brownsburg Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog WatchingA lot of single-family Carmel rental home leases include a clause forbidding tenants from altering or remodeling the property without a permit. Nevertheless, occasionally tenants will begin and do unauthorized changes anyway. When that occurs, landlords and property owners need to realize how to manage the situation professionally and according to local laws. If your tenant has or desires to make their own changes, here are some points to help you navigate unauthorized tenant alterations.

Tenant Alterations

Occasionally, a tenant will alter their rental home without asking permission from their landlord or property owner. Even when your lease agreement specifies doing so is not permitted. Once in a while, the tenant attempts to repair or fix worn or broken features in the rental home. Though in other circumstances, they desire to customize the property in more permanent ways.

Painting one or more interior walls is one of the most common methods a tenant will make changes without asking permission. Although other property owners may find this as a free paint job – and if it is accomplished correctly, you can definitely keep the changes – the concern is that not all tenants do a good job or may pick a paint color that will make your rental property more difficult to rent to your next tenant. Whether you require what your tenant did or not, you need to recognize what to do if you see that your tenant has made alterations without your permission.

Repairs vs. Improvements

When approaching a tenant about unauthorized alterations, it’s crucial to learn the difference between repairs and improvements. In general, repairs are accomplished to keep a property in great operating condition. On the other hand, an improvement is work that adds to the property’s value, prolongs the life of the property, or adapts the property in various ways.

Suppose you are not making requested repairs and your tenant takes matters into their own hands. If so, that is a very different situation than if you determine your tenant dug up the entire backyard to plant a vegetable garden. One maintains the property in a livable condition, while the other substantially alters the intended use of the property. Not all alterations are as clear-cut, that’s why there are a few more queries you should ask prior to taking action 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 for the reason that anything permanent your tenant does is typically considered a fixture and cannot be removed. Such alterations necessarily become part of the property – unless you don’t want them to. In most instances, lease documents should specify 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 denotes they are legally and financially responsible for changing it back to the way it was before.

Essential Lease Clauses

By all means, enforcing a lease clause in court is only effective if you have the proper language in your lease. As you prepare your lease documents, be certain to include clauses that clarify when and what type of improvements are allowed (if any) and what will happen if an unauthorized “improvement” or repair devalues the property.

You may like 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 likewise want to add 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 case of a dispute, having clear lease language and good documentation of all of your communications with the tenant can be a useful part of winning your case. If the issue does end up in court, normally, the judge will consider both the tenant’s intentions and the changes made and learn whether the alteration is a fixture you get to keep or not.


It can be tedious to deal with tenants who opt to make unauthorized changes to a rental property. This is exactly why employing a professional Carmel property management company to do it for you can be an 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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