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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Palmetto Bay Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching It is common for single-family Palmetto Bay 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 you have a tenant who wants to make changes, here are some ways you can handle 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 if the lease agreement specifically says not to. 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. You need to know what to do if you discover that your tenant has made unauthorized alterations, regardless of whether you like what your tenant has done or not.

Repairs vs Improvements

When approaching a tenant about unauthorized alterations, you have to 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.

Let’s say you have not acted on requested repairs and your tenant decides to take matters into their own hands. That case is very different than if you find that your tenant has dug 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. 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 has to be established because anything permanent that your tenant has done is usually considered a fixture, meaning it cannot be removed. Alterations like these become an automatic part of the property — unless you don’t want them to. Lease documents usually state that it is the tenant’s responsibility to restore the property to how it was when they first 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. When you prepare your lease documents, make sure to include clauses that detail what type of improvements are permitted and what happens if any unauthorized “improvement” or repair devalues the property.

You can state in your lease that your tenant will forfeit all or part of their security deposit to cover the cost of restoring the property back 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.

Handling tenants who decide to make unauthorized changes to a rental property can be a challenge. That is why having a professional Palmetto Bay 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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