Working with Tenants Who Want to Make “Improvements”

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Almost every time a tenant moves in, it seems they want to add their personal touch to the unit.  Often this is as simple as painting, taking a door off a room to open the space up, or drilling a hole in the wall for cable TV.  Although your goal as a landlord is to service the tenant, you need to draw the line somewhere at these requests.

The most common request I receive is to paint a room or two.  This seems like a reasonable request, but I always follow ask the following questions:

  • Who will be doing the painting?
  • What experience do they have painting?  (The last thing you want is a paint-by-numbers dropout splattering pink paint all over the new white carpet.)
  • What color is the paint?  I always ask the tenants to show me the color of the paint before they decide to pull a Michelangelo on your ceiling.  I am looking for neutral colors that I will not need to paint over when they move out, at the very least, or a paint color that will not require eight coats of primer to bury in the drywall.

Classic example of bad tenant redecorating:

You should consider is how much time and money it will cost you to restore the unit back to the condition it was in before the tenant signed the lease.  I have had tenant request to install fans, replace bathroom sinks, and even install hardwood floors.  Before you say “ok” to these types of tenant projects, figure out if the “improvement” to your unit is easy to reverse and what the cost in terms of time and money is to you.

Who Should Pay For Upgrades?

Don’t be afraid to divide the cost of the project between you and the tenant.  If the tenant is insistent upon getting a vanity, I will offer to pay for the half the cost and they get to pick which one gets installed.  In order for this to happen, I need to be on the verge of replacing it anyway and I have final approval the vanity they pick out.

If the tenant request is too egregious, don’t be afraid to say “no”.  It is your building and you ultimately need to look out for your best interest.  However, there will be that time during your final walk through when the lease is over and you will discover a giant neon green wall in a bedroom, so don’t be too alarmed when it happens to you.

Do you agree with this article?  Do you think my views on landlording are outrageous or dead on?  Share your thoughts below.  Thanks for reading and commenting.
Photo: Matthew Huchinson

About Author

Mark Purtell

Mark G+ owns multiple residential rental properties. For over a decade, he has worked a full-time job in an unrelated field, managed rental property with no nightmare tenants, and received rent checks every month without hassle. Mark is the owner of a site dedicated to helping landlords.


  1. When signing the initial rental agreement, I always tell tenants that if they want to make any “improvements” including painting, be sure to check with us first as we have workers who will usually do things for less cost than people they will find on their own. This encourages their calls. I also tell them that anything they do needs to be up to code for their safety as well as the protection of the building.

    We have gotten some really nice upgrades from tenants including hard surface counter tops and hardwood floors. Typically, I don’t offer to pay any of it when it’s simply something they prefer.

    When tenants call to ask, I definitely try to work with them because I’m thrilled that they bothered to ask. The problems ultimately come from the tenants who never make the call and you find their “surprises” when they move out…

    Thanks, Mark, for the article.

    • I recently had a tenant who replaced a bathroom sink with his own funds. He ran it past me before buying it and had it professionally installed. I know I will remember that when his lease comes up for renewal.

      If a tenant calls and asks for something, I am more than willing to work with the tenant to help them get the “improvement” installed in the unit. If I say “no”, the next time they decided to “add value” to the unit, they will not call and it could be a nightmare for me to restore the “upgrade” when they move out.

  2. Good morning Mark,
    Perfect timing for this subject.
    You are absolutely right. Asking the right questions is so important. “What color is the paint” ? And who is going to pay for it? If it is a neutral color most landlords don’t mind sharing the expense, not when it is Blue for the boys room, Pink for the little girls room and a RED kitchen. My recent tenants did exactly that. Their lease contract now says they will be responsible to have it professionally painted back to the neutral color OR allow landlord to deduct $1,000 from their security deposit. They agreed.
    Also showing the place to future tenants is not easy when you have custom colors.
    Your views on land lording are not outrageous! Dead on is what I say! This is another Blog, but I would also make sure the contract has flexbility for showings to future tenants during weekdays and weekends.
    Jaz Cook

    • I have found that if you have an issue with your tenants, like a RED kitchen, talk to them as soon as possible. Don’t wait until they move out to address issues that should have been discussed eight months ago. By addressing the issue, both you and tenant are in agreement with how it should be handled.

      Regarding tenant showings, check your local laws. Often a landlord can enter the property given enough notice and a justified (e.g. showings or repairs).

  3. Mark
    Nice article. I work with tenants on new fences, and etc and have also found some nice win-wins. I pay for materials and get a fence and higher rents, they give free labor and get a nice back yard that fido and or their children can run free in while they live there. On many occasions I have had tenants with even better repair and construction skills than I have, but not in every case. That has made for some funny stories and one fence post at a
    20 degree angle “Derek’s post”.
    With paint, I have been allowing them to paint custom colors that I approve, but require them to paint it back to the neutral color they found. They pay for the paint in the first instance, they get what they want, a personalized unit, I get a fresh unit at transition time.
    Thanks for the post..

  4. hello: my tenant wants to add solar panels to the house, he says he will pay for the whole cost. iniatl cost is about $18,000 but after rebates and icentives, will be around $8,000. I want to write a document stating all conditions and protect me from any liabilty is there anything i should be worried about? what is important to write on the document?

    • Are you comfortable with having solar panels on your house? Good chance the solar panels will be there longer than the tenant. Before you agree to ‘free’ solar panels, think about you would do if you were installing them with your own money.

      Given the signficant cost involved, I would write up an agreement with the tenant stating that the solar panels are yours upon installation (to keep the tenant from claiming he is taking them with him when he moves). Make sure that you also reserve final approval of the type of panels chosen, the contractor who will install them as well as addressing any liability concerns that you have in this document. After you write this document up, take it to an attorney to make sure it is legally sound, THEN take it to the tenant to sign.

  5. I tell tenants that ANY change must be approved in writing by me, ( no verbal OK’s). If they want to paint, they need to give me a sample of the color for approval. I collect a $150 painting deposit each room that is refunded if they return it to a neutral color and it is done well. I also ask for the new color paint to be left so that I have it for touch ups in the future. People like to make their home feel personalized, and I understand that white walls can be boring. If they make the place feel more at home for them, it’s a win-win situation. I just make sure that I have a deposit to use in case they don’t paint before vacating.

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