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What can I change in a rented residential property?

There are plenty of things you might want to improve in your residential rental, like paint color, carpeting, light fixtures, or maybe even a bathroom or kitchen remodel. The sky's the limit. Often, what can and cannot be changed might be found in your rental agreement. And if the agreement does not say anything about it, it may be a good idea to ask your landlord in advance before making any changes. 

Major changes that would likely require advanced approval are alterations or enhancements (often called fixtures) that cannot be taken with you when your lease expires and you move out. When suggesting an improvement to your landlord, it helps to provide as much detail as possible. For instance, you can describe what you would change, what materials you would use, and who would work on it and pay for it.

In addition, your landlord will likely want some control over permanent changes to the rental. It may be a good idea to keep the landlord informed along the way if you discover hidden problems. And when hiring a contractor, make sure the landlord signs off on the plan, including who is responsible for picking up the tab.

These are some examples of improvements tenants often make to rental properties after getting permission from their landlords:

  • Installing new door locks.
  • Replacing flooring.
  • Painting walls.
  • Installing new light fixtures and window treatments.
  • Adding a flower bed, garden space, landscaping, or fence.
  • Changing appliances.
  • Installing a security system.

For many of these changes, a landlord will likely require a licensed or certified contractor to do the work. Some things, like painting, or gardening, however, are often done by tenants themselves. 

What happens if a tenant does not get permission for rental improvements?

No matter how much a landlord likes or dislikes a rental improvement, tenants who change the rental property may be breaking their Lease Agreement. This may or may not be grounds for eviction. It depends on the Lease Agreement, state and local laws, and the attitude of the landlord. If the landlord doesn't like the change, a likely scenario is that the tenant would be shouldered with the expense of returning the property to its original condition. 

Again, tenants typically may not make major changes to their rental units unless they get the landlord's permission in writing. Still, any improvements to the property, with or without the landlord's consent, usually becomes the landlord's property when you move out.

It is wise to think carefully before mounting anything on the wall or floor that is important to you, without talking to the landlord first about your intentions. Depending on what they say, you may have to promise to return the property to its original state when you leave, cover the cost of doing the work, or you might have to leave behind what you mounted.

When a disagreement between you and your landlord arises, courts tend to look at a few factors, including: 

  • How the object is attached to the property, and if it can be removed without damage. 
  • If it changed the look or use of the rental property.
  • If the landlord gave consent.
  • If there were any agreements or conversations between you and your landlord.

Reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice if you have a dispute with your landlord, or want advice on how to avoid one.

Can a tenant be reimbursed for improvements made to a rental property?

The best chance of getting your landlord to pay for improvements is to ask them in advance. If you do not talk to your landlord about changes, you may end up owing the landlord money when you move out.

If you paint the walls dark colors or drill holes to install a wall-mounted air conditioner that you plan to remove when the lease is up, your landlord probably will not be thrilled about it. You likely will have to restore the paint to its original color and patch up the holes in the walls left by the air conditioner, or the landlord may charge you for returning the property to its original condition after you leave.

When it comes to improvements, anything that does not appeal to a wide range of tastes may hurt the rental value and upset your landlord. Ask about making improvements after you have shown a good history of paying on time and being an easy tenant. Landlords usually want to stay in good standing with their tenants, so they often allow changes that are not costly for them. Some landlords may even provide limited reimbursement for improvements when repairs or maintenance arise.

For example, if an appliance stops working and needs to be replaced, the landlord may provide a stipend for the tenant to select their own replacement, subject to the landlord's approval. This allows the tenant to pay more for an option they value more. The landlord benefits from having a nicer appliance installed, and the tenant benefits from being able to use the appliance of their choice, for a reduced cost, while they remain a tenant. The catch for the tenant is that the appliance belongs to the landlord once it is installed.

Sometimes, a tenant can get fair payment for improvements to the leased property, even if they did not get consent for the improvement. This can be legally complicated to navigate, and a tenant may benefit from discussing their specific situation with a lawyer.

Can a tenant hire their own contractor to make improvements to their rental?

Landlords are often responsible for making and paying for the necessary repairs on a rental to make it livable, such as fixing broken air conditioning or heating systems, leaky faucets and roofs, broken water heaters, dishwashers and you name it. If your landlord is not making necessary repairs, it is a good idea to send a complaint to your landlord.

But when it comes to improvements, landlords generally are not responsible. The best course of action when it comes to rental improvements is to work with your landlord in advance. They might agree to cover your improvements or they might agree to greenlight them at your expense.

In addition, the landlord may agree with the contractor you choose, or they may want to choose their own. Negotiate with your landlord, and put your agreement in writing. It is the best practice. 

Who pays for improvements made to a rental unit?

In most leases, improvements to a rental property requires prior approval from the landlord. During that process, landlords and tenants typically agree who will pay for what. Landlords are usually more receptive to making improvements when tenants are willing to pay for at least a part of the improvement.

If your landlord pays for rental upgrades, that may or may not lead to an increase in your rent down the road. Often, tenants will pay for improvements so that they may benefit from those improvements while there. This can often make sense for tenants who plan to stay in their rental for several years.

To avoid paying for an expensive improvement and not benefiting from it, you may ask your landlord to lower your rent for a period of time or until the cost of the improvement is covered. For example, if you upgrade your apartment for $2,000, you may ask for a $100 discount on your rent each month for 20 months. Unless this is negotiated beforehand and put in writing, however, landlords may not be as receptive to these types of arrangements after an improvement is completed.

When is a landlord required to pay for a tenant's contractors?

If the landlord hired the contractor, subcontractor or supplier, the landlord is responsible for paying them. If the tenant hired the contractor, subcontractor or supplier, the tenant likely is on the hook for the bill, and not the landlord. When there is a tenant improvement allowance, where the landlord agrees to pay for upgrades or reduce future rent, a landlord may have some responsibility depending on their involvement.

Generally, if the landlord did not sign an agreement, they may not be held responsible. Many contractors may require payment in advance when working for someone who does not own the property, as their rights may be limited in those circumstances.

Are you considering home improvements to your rental? If you have questions about how to approach your landlord, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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