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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Cedar Park Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching It is common for single-family Cedar Park rental home leases to 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 you have a tenant who wants to make changes, here are some ways you can handle 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. 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. Some property owners may see this as a free paint job, the problem is that not all tenants do a good job or they choose a paint color that could make 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. An improvement is any work done that increases the property’s value, extends the life of the property, or adapts the property in some way.

Let’s say you have not acted on requested repairs and your tenant decides to take 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, that is why you should ask more questions before taking 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. 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 automatically become part of the property, that is, unless you don’t want them to. In most cases, your lease documents must state that it’s the tenant’s responsibility to restore the property to how it was before. This makes them legally and financially responsible, if they made changes, to change it back to the way it was before.

Essential Lease Clauses

You can enforce a lease clause in court more effectively if you 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.

You could state in your lease that your tenant forfeits all or part of their security deposit to cover the cost needed to restore the property to its original condition. You may also include a statement in your lease that if you decide to keep any change 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.


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