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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Batesville Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching Some single-family Batesville rental home leases include a clause keeping tenants from altering or remodeling the property without sanction. But in actuality, every so often, tenants will do unauthorized changes anyway. When that ensues, landlords and property owners need to figure out how to correct the situation professionally and according to local laws. If your tenant has or wishes to make their own changes, here are particular pointers to help you navigate unauthorized tenant alterations.

Tenant Alterations

Every so often, a tenant will alter their rental home without having permission from their landlord or property owner. Despite the fact your lease agreement affirms doing so is not authorized. Occasionally, the tenant attempts to repair or fix worn or broken features in the rental home. However, in other cases, they hope to customize the property in more permanent ways.

Painting one or more interior walls is one of the most familiar means a tenant will make changes without asking permission. Conceding that various property owners may regard this as a free paint job – and if it is conducted well, you can perhaps keep the changes – the dilemma is that not all tenants do a good job or may decide on a paint color that will make your rental property more complicated to rent to your next tenant. Whether you actually like what your tenant did or not, you need to understand what to do if you perceive that your tenant has made alterations without your permission.

Repairs vs. Improvements

When approaching a tenant about unauthorized alterations, it’s essential to understand the idea of the difference between repairs and improvements. Generally, repairs are conducted to keep a property in satisfactory operating condition. However, an improvement is work that adds to the property’s value, prolongs the life of the property, or adapts the property in quite a few new ways.

Suppose you are not making requested repairs and your tenant takes matters into their own hands. If that is the case, that is a very different situation than if you see your tenant dug up the entire backyard to plant a vegetable garden. One maintains the property in a livable condition, while the other exceedingly alters the intended use of the property. Not all alterations are as clear-cut, so because of this there are a few more questions you should ask prior to undertaking 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 owing to the fact that anything permanent your tenant does is basically considered a fixture and cannot be removed. Such alterations always become part of the property – unless you don’t want them to. In most situations, lease documents should say 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 indicates they are legally and financially responsible for changing it back to the way it was before.

Essential Lease Clauses

Needless to say, enforcing a lease clause in court is only effective if you have the proper language in your lease. As you prepare your lease documents, see to it to include clauses that disclose when and what type of improvements are allowed (if any) and what could happen if an unauthorized “improvement” or repair devalues the property.

You may wish 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 as well want to make clear 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.

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


It can be laborious to tackle and deal with tenants who make a decision to make unauthorized changes to a rental property. Consequently, contracting a professional Batesville property management company to do it for you can be a really good move. 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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