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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Spring Branch Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching Most single-family Spring Branch rental home leases usually include a clause prohibiting a tenant from altering or remodeling the property without authorization. But there will be times tenants will 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 you have a tenant who wants to make changes, here are some ways you can handle unauthorized tenant alterations.

Tenant Alterations

There could be times a tenant will alter their rental home without waiting for permission from their landlord or property owner. It can happen even if it is explicitly stated in your lease agreement that doing so is not allowed. The tenant may also just want to try repairing or fixing worn-out or broken features in the rental home. But in other cases, they want to customize the property in more permanent ways.

Painting all or some interior walls is usually one of the most common changes a tenant makes without asking permission. While some property owners may see this as a free paint job –especially if it is done well– the real problem is that not all tenants do a good job or the paint color they have chosen makes your rental property harder to rent to your next tenant. Whether or not you like what your tenant did, you need to be able to handle your tenant if you discover they had made alterations without your permission.

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. 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.

Suppose you have been neglecting requested repairs and your tenant decides to take matters into their own hands. That is a very different scenario than if you find out your tenant has dug up the entire backyard and planted a vegetable garden. One keeps the property in livable condition, while the other significantly alters the intended use of the property. You have to remember that not all alterations are as clear-cut, which is why you have to ask a few more questions before you take 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. If there were any changes made, your tenants are legally and financially responsible for changing it back to its initial condition.

Essential Lease Clauses

Of course, if you have proper language in your lease, it becomes easier to enforce a lease clause in court. 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.

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 could also include a statement in your lease that if ever your tenant makes any changes and you decide to keep it, they must leave any fixtures they’ve added behind.

In case a dispute arises, having clear lease language and good documentation of the communications between you and your tenant can be an invaluable part of 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.


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