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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Winston-Salem Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching Several single-family Greensboro rental home leases include a clause hindering tenants from altering or remodeling the property without authority. But in fact, at times, tenants will start and do unauthorized changes anyway. When that happens, landlords and property owners need to ascertain how to deal with the situation professionally and according to local laws. If your tenant has or aspires to make their own changes, here is some advice to help you navigate unauthorized tenant alterations.

Tenant Alterations

At times, a tenant will alter their rental home without acquiring permission from their landlord or property owner. Even if your lease agreement states doing so is not acceptable. Every once in a while, the tenant attempts to repair or fix worn or broken features in the rental home. Although in other situations, they wish to customize the property in more permanent ways.

Painting one or more interior walls is one of the most conventional measures a tenant can make changes without asking permission. Even though several property owners may perceive this as a free paint job – and if it is executed accurately, you can probably keep the changes – the problem is that not all tenants do a good job or may select a paint color that will make your rental property tougher to rent to your next tenant. Whether you want what your tenant did or not, you need to perceive what to do if you detect that your tenant has made alterations without your permission.

Repairs vs. Improvements

When approaching a tenant about unauthorized alterations, it’s significant to find out the difference between repairs and improvements. In general terms, repairs are executed to keep a property in mint 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 some new ways.

Suppose you are not making requested repairs and your tenant takes matters into their own hands. In this case, that is a very different situation than if you know your tenant dug up the entire backyard to plant a vegetable garden. One maintains the property in a livable condition, while the other extremely alters the intended use of the property. Not all alterations are as clear-cut, for this reason, there are a few more questions you should ask before taking measures 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 due to the fact that anything permanent your tenant does is commonly considered a fixture and cannot be removed. Such alterations surely become part of the property – unless you don’t want them to. In many cases, lease documents should clearly state 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 definitely means they are legally and financially responsible for changing it back to the way it was before.

Essential Lease Clauses

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

You may prefer 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 equally want to put in 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.

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


It can be difficult to handle tenants who want to make unauthorized changes to a rental property. Therefore hiring a professional Greensboro property management company to do for you can be a benefit. 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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