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Property Management 101: Dealing with Unauthorized Tenant Alterations

Corpus Christi Tenant Using a Drill With His Dog Watching Most single-family Corpus Christi rental home leases usually include a clause prohibiting a tenant from altering or remodeling the property without authorization. Some tenants, however, 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. If your tenant decides to make their own changes, here are some ways you can navigate unauthorized tenant alterations.

Tenant Alterations

There could be times a tenant will alter their rental home without waiting for permission from their landlord or property owner. Even though your lease agreement says otherwise. Sometimes, the tenant tries to repair or fix broken features in the rental home. But in other cases, they want to customize the property in more permanent ways.

Most of the time, painting one or more of the interior walls is the unauthorized change a tenant makes. 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. Regardless of whether you like what your tenant did or not, you need to know how to deal with your tenant if you discover unauthorized alterations.

Repairs vs Improvements

When you approach a tenant about unauthorized alterations, it is important that you know the difference between repairs and improvements. Generally speaking, repairs are done to keep a property in good operating condition. On the other hand, an improvement is work that adds to the property’s value, extends the life of the property, or adapts the property in some way.

If ever you have not been making any requested repairs, it’s possible your tenant may 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 from any judge would be whether the alteration is permanently attached to the property or not. This is important because if your tenant does anything permanent, it is usually considered a fixture and cannot be removed. Unless you don’t want them to, such alterations automatically become part of the property. In most cases, a lease document states that it’s the tenant’s responsibility to restore the property to its initial state. If there were any changes made, your tenants are legally and financially responsible for changing it back to its initial condition.

Essential Lease Clauses

You can enforce a lease clause in court more effectively if you have the proper language in your lease. When preparing your lease documents, be sure to include clauses that explain the type of improvements allowed and what could happen if an unauthorized “improvement” or repair 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 could also include a statement in your lease that if ever your tenant makes any changes and you decide to keep it, they must leave any fixtures they’ve added behind.

Having clear lease language and good documentation of your communications with your tenant will be very helpful in case a dispute arises. 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 challenge to handle tenants who go ahead and make unauthorized changes to a rental property. That is why having a professional Corpus Christi 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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