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Can a tenant make improvements to a property?

By Rolf Howard
10 October 2019 | 10 minute read
Rolf Howard reb

If you’ve ever had a tenant make unauthorised changes to a property you own, you may be wondering what your rights are. What kind of improvements to a property are tenants allowed or not allowed to make? And when do they need to seek your permission?

In many instances, tenants will be perfectly satisfied with the state of the apartment or home they are renting and not need to make any personal home improvements. But in some instances, renters may want to make the space more to their personal liking. The types of improvements that renters often want to make include:

  • Putting hooks in the wall for wall hangings 
  • Adding window treatments and accompanying hardware 
  • Connecting phone/internet lines 
  • Installing satellite dish television accessibility or other forms of pay television 
  • Adding additional safety mechanisms such as an extra chain lock on the front door or safety features for small children or the elderly 
  • Planting flowers or vegetables 

All of these small changes are usually considered reasonable and within the realm of acceptable personal living alterations. It is rare, and often unnecessary, to get the landlord’s permission to make these small adjustments to a rental home. 

However, there are other changes that a tenant might want to make that are more significant in both altering the home and cost. In these instances, it is best for the renter to seek permission from the landlord before attempting to make the following changes:

  • Changing interior or exterior paint colours 
  • Replacing a mounted light fixture 
  • Repairing or replacing appliances 
  • Installing any type of new flooring 
  • Erecting play structures for their children 
  • Removing and replacing locks or a security system (however, it is important to note that in the case of an emergency, such as a burglary, the tenant may be entitled to proceed with changing the locks prior to notifying the landlord) 

It is imperative that tenants seek the landlord’s permission prior to embarking on these kinds of projects. It is best if the tenant makes their request in writing, giving as much detail as possible about the types of changes they would like to make. These details should include:

  • New paint colours, including a sample of the colours, the cost of the paint, the brand name of paint and who will be doing the work 
  • Informing as to which fixtures or appliances need repair or replacement and requesting the landlord come by and view the current condition of the items
  • Which party will bear the cost of the requested changes or purchases 
  • The responsibilities of the tenant and the landlord with regard to returning the property to its original condition upon the vacancy of the lease 
  • The party expected to keep any of the new fixtures or appliances purchased to improve the rental upon the vacancy of the lease 

As a landlord, it is very important that your original lease agreement speaks to all of these issues and that the agreement is reviewed and understood by both parties. Then, in the event that the tenant proceeds without permission, or in violation of the lease agreement, you will have legal recourse against the tenant. Some of the possible remedies for a landlord include: 

  • The tenant bearing the cost of returning the property to its original condition 
  • The right to keep any security deposit necessary to cover the cost of any missing appliances, fixtures or damage to the property 

Finally, as a landlord, it is important to remain reasonable when responding to a tenant’s request to make a change to their rental space. Most of the time, the changes a tenant is requesting are small and relatively insignificant, merely making their living area more comfortable for themselves. If the landlord can remain reasonable in their response to their tenant, it can go a long way in ensuring an ongoing positive relationship between themselves and their tenant. 

By Rolf Howard, managing partner, Owen Hodge Lawyers

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