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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Soddy Daisy Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching Single-family Soddy Daisy rental home leases often 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. Landlords and property owners need to know how to handle the situation in compliance with local laws when that happens. If your tenant decides to make their own changes, here are some ways you can navigate unauthorized tenant alterations.

Tenant Alterations

Sometimes, a tenant will alter their rental home even without getting permission from their landlord or property owner. Even when your lease agreement prohibits it. There can be also times when a tenant just wants to try 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.

One of the most common ways a tenant makes unauthorized changes is by painting one or more interior walls. For some property owners, this becomes a free paint job –especially if it is done well– but the actual problem is that not all tenants do a good job or the paint color they choose is one that makes it harder for you to rent out your rental property to the next tenant. Even if you like what your tenant did or not, you have to know what to do in case you find out that your tenant has made unauthorized alterations.

Repairs vs Improvements

It is important to know the difference between repairs and improvements when you approach a tenant about unauthorized alterations. Generally speaking, repairs are done to keep a property in good operating condition. On the other hand, an improvement is added to a property’s existing value, prolongs the life of the property, or adapts the property in some way.

If ever you have not been making the requested repairs, it’s not surprising if your tenant takes matters into their own hands. That would be very different from a tenant who digs up the entire backyard to plant a vegetable garden. One maintains the property in living condition, the other changes the intended use of the property. Not all alterations are as clear-cut so you should ask more questions before you take steps to address the situation.

Fixtures and Property Condition

One of the biggest legal questions a judge will ask about the alteration is if it is permanently attached to the property or not. It is important to establish this because anything permanent your tenant does will typically be 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. If they did make any changes, they are legally and financially responsible for changing it back.

Essential Lease Clauses

To effectively enforce a lease clause in court, you must have the proper language in your lease. While preparing your lease documents, make sure you include clauses that explain when and what type of improvements are allowed and the consequences for unauthorized “improvement” or “repair” that devalues the property.

Your lease can state that the tenant forfeits all or part of their security deposit to cover the cost of restoring the property to its original state. Another statement you can include in your lease is that if you decide to keep any changes 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 go to court, the judge will take the tenant’s intentions and the changes made into consideration when determining whether the alteration is a fixture you can 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 Soddy Daisy 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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