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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Miami Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching Most single-family Miami rental home leases usually have a clause that prohibits a tenant from altering or remodeling the property without authorization. But there will be times tenants will go ahead and make unauthorized changes anyway. When this happens, landlords and property owners need to be able to handle the situation professionally and in compliance with local laws. Here are some tips to help you manage unauthorized tenant alterations if your tenant has or wants to make their own changes.

Tenant Alterations

At times, a tenant will alter their rental home without asking permission from their landlord or property owner. Even if the lease agreement specifically says not to. There can be also times when a tenant just wants to try to repair or fix worn or broken features in the rental home. But in other cases, they want to customize the property in more permanent ways.

A common way tenants make changes without asking permission is by painting one or more interior walls. 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. Even if you like what your tenant did or not, you have to know what to do in case you find out that your tenant has made unauthorized alterations.

Repairs vs Improvements

It is important to know the difference between repairs and improvements when you approach a tenant about unauthorized alterations. 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 a livable condition, the other significantly alters the intended use of the property. Not all alterations are as clear-cut so you should ask 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. Unless you don’t want them to, such alterations automatically become part of the property. Most lease documents state that it is the tenant’s responsibility to restore the property to the condition it was when they 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

To effectively enforce a lease clause in court, you must have the proper language in your lease. When you prepare your lease documents, make sure to include clauses that detail what type of improvements are permitted and what happens if any unauthorized “improvement” or repair 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 can also include a statement in your lease that your tenant must leave any fixtures they’ve added if you decide to keep them.

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 gets brought up to court, the judge will consider both the tenant’s intentions and the changes made. This will help the judge determine if the alteration will be a fixture you get to keep or not.

 

It can be a real challenge handling tenants who decide to make unauthorized changes to a rental property. That is why having a professional Miami 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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