Skip to Content

Get a FREE assessment of your rental property. Start here!

Get a FREE assessment of your rental property. Start here!

Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Mira Mesa Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching Single-family Mira Mesa rental home leases often include a clause that prohibits tenants from altering or remodeling the property without authorization. Tenants, however, will sometimes just go ahead and make unauthorized changes. 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 tips to help you manage unauthorized tenant alterations if your tenant has or wants to make their own changes.

Tenant Alterations

There might be times when a tenant will alter their rental home without permission from their landlord or property owner. It can happen even if it is explicitly stated in your lease agreement that doing so is not allowed. 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. 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. 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

Before approaching a tenant about unauthorized alterations, you must know the difference between repairs and improvements. 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 not acted on any requested repairs and your tenant takes matters into their own hands. That scenario is very different from a tenant digging up the entire backyard to plant a vegetable garden. One keeps the property in livable condition, while the other significantly alters the intended use of the property. You have to remember that not all alterations are as clear-cut, which is why you have to ask a few 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 whether or not the alteration is permanently attached to the property. This has to be established because anything permanent that your tenant has done is usually considered a fixture, meaning it cannot be removed. These kinds of alterations automatically become part of the property, unless you don’t want them to be. In most cases, your lease documents must state that it’s the tenant’s responsibility to restore the property to how it was before. If there were any changes made, your tenants are legally and financially responsible for changing it back to its initial condition.

Essential Lease Clauses

Of course, if you have proper language in your lease, it becomes easier to enforce a lease clause in court. As you prepare your lease documents, make sure you include clauses that detail the type of improvements that are permitted and what the consequences are for any unauthorized “improvement” or repair that 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. Another statement you can include in your lease is that if you decide to keep any changes your tenant makes, they must leave any fixtures they’ve added behind.

In case of a dispute, clear lease language, good documentation of your communications with the tenant can help you win 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 be a real challenge handling tenants who decide to make unauthorized changes to a rental property. That is why having a professional Mira Mesa 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.

We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.