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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Sandy Springs Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching Most single-family Sandy Springs 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. As a landlord and property owner, you need to know how to handle the situation according to local laws if that happens. Here are some ideas that will help you should your tenant decide to make unauthorized tenant alterations.

Tenant Alterations

At times, a tenant will alter their rental home without asking 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.

One of the most common ways a tenant makes unauthorized changes is by painting one or more interior walls. While this would seem like a free paint job to some property owners, the problem is that not all tenants do a good job of it or the paint color is one that makes your rental property harder to rent out 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

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. An improvement, on the other hand, is work that adds value to the property, prolongs the life, 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 is maintaining the property in a livable condition, the other one significantly 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 is if the alteration is permanently attached to the property or not. Establishing this helps as anything that your tenant does that is permanent is usually considered a fixture and cannot be removed. Alterations like these automatically become part of the property, that is, unless you don’t want them to. 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. This makes them legally and financially responsible, if they made changes, to change it back to the way it was before.

Essential Lease Clauses

Enforcing a lease clause in court is only effective 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 can also state in your lease that your tenant’s security deposit gets forfeited to cover the cost of restoring the property 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 ends up in court, the judge will consider both the tenant’s intentions as well as the changes made, and decide if the alteration is a fixture you get to keep or not.


It can really be a challenge to handle tenants who make unauthorized changes to a rental property. That is why having a professional Sandy Springs 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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