Tenant Improvements Without Authorization

13 Replies

We have tenants that have signed a four-year lease.  They've been somewhat high maintenance so far, with 1-2 maintenance requests every month since they moved in three months ago, but so far they have been reasonable and actual maintenance issues that are our responsibility to fix.

A few weeks ago they asked if they could paint an unheated utility room - the only room we never painted when we renovated the place after purchasing. I agreed and brought them a gallon of good quality exterior paint. I went over there this weekend to change the air filter and asked if I could see the paint job. It looks good, but in the process they also took out two older cabinets that were hanging on the wall and installed metal shelves. They claimed the cabinets were falling off the wall (they seemed secure last time we were working in that room), and stated that you know, they'd be there for four years, and were happy to leave the shelves when they go, but they could also take them down when they move if we wanted them to.

I also noticed that they've installed a few bookshelves in the house that are not freestanding but attach into the wall. I'm not crazy about them drilling into the walls and am especially not crazy about them throwing away cabinets without asking first (although the new shelves do look good).

Would you consider shelves/bookshelves that are attached to a wall falling under the normal wear and tear clause, that they have to remove and patch holes when they move, or are these more substantial improvements that they should be requesting approval for?

Our lease states "The Tenant is not permitted to paint, make any alterations, improvements, or additions to the Leased Premises without first obtaining the written permission of the Landlord. The Landlord's permission to a particular painting, alteration, improvement, or additional shall not be deemed as consent to future painting, alterations, improvements, or additions."

These tenants haven't been shy about submitting maintenance requests, and did ask about the paint, but I'm frustrated that they didn't then ask about the cabinets. I'd appreciate your suggestions on how to handle this situation.

Its done now they have to leave the shelves. Let them know verbally what is allowed as well as refering to the lease. You will get some items attached to walls, i know few people who will live somewhere long term without putting nails in the wall. Why ever did you agree to a 4 year lease? I see the value of a lease but not beyond a year. You are stuck with them and they can walk away and a court would likely not hold them accountable for more the a month or two.

They violated your lease.  If I were you, I would take back control of the situation or it's going to be long four years.  Reinforce the rules for alternations and for making maintenance requests.  As @Colleen F. mentioned, you can do it diplomatically this time.  But don't mince words; be clear about what they agreed to be signing the lease and what your expectations are.  It's your house.  Good luck!

I can’t understand why you would sign a four year lease with new tenants. Since they are new and already making requests I would come down hard on them and inform them that you will be having new cabinets installed and billed to them with their next rent bill. I would also remind them of the lease clause which prohibits alterations without your approval.

In the future when they make a request which is not a necessity, even if they offer to do the work, deny it. Remind them they rented it in its current condition and they will need to live there in its current condition.

I have a different perspective than the first couple of responses. First, heck yeah to the four year lease! Way to go! The BIGGEST expense I have as a SFH landlord is turnover and vacancy. The work to find new, credit-worthy tenants and the work to get the home ready again...jeez, even just switching the utilities can be a pain. So, GREAT, you have tenants that want to stay and pay rent to you for four solid years. And, they seem to care a lot about the property, which even though it's a pain to get the service request (believe me I know!), it means overall they will probably take good care of the property.

Now, you do need to have a sit down and discuss the meaning of the terms of your lease. They can't go throwing out your fixtures without asking. And as for the shelving units they are drilling into the wall, they will need to remove/repair upon their departure. Just let them know that you need to be clear up front about alterations and improvements.

I bet you talk to them and end up having a solid four year rental. Just remember the upside and a little communication up front will go a long way. Good luck!

I'm with @Kat Horn. If they are good improvements, I'd be happy with it. In 4 years there will be a lot of wear and tear so if it looks good and keeps them happy, I would let it go. Explain very clearly that they must get approval next time. As for the holes, I include a repair sheet when tenants move in that has a list of the base cost for a bunch of repair items. Holes bigger than 1/4 inch in diameter are something like $5 each. Any hole 1/2" or bigger is $15. Most leases have a provision for "Landlord Rules" so you should be able to add something like this in after the fact. 

If they mess up later and you end up having to evict them, you can add the shelves onto the damages but if it were me, I would let it go. Good luck. Congrats on a 4 year lease

First the length of a lease has zero to do with how long a tenant will stay. They leave when they choose. What it does is put them in control of your property and ties your hands as a landlord.

What you need to do is send them written notice making reference to the lease regarding requiring permission for all work. You also need to sit down with them and point out the work they have done as being in violation of the lease so that they understand what you are referring to.

Most tenants are either dumb as dirt or simply do not care about rules. SPELL IT OUT FOR THEM NOW if you do not want the next 4 years to be a landlords nightmare.

A 4 year lease is a major mistake but one you will now need to adapt to. Step one is having strict enforcement of all rules and make sure you do quarterly inspections. This is mandatory with this type of tenant.

Guaranteed they are going to take ownership of your property and this will not go well for you.  

I agree wholeheartedly with Thomas on this . Four year lease ugh .. that was dumb
One year is bad enough but four ?
All I Can say is
The Lord is going to teach you patience

Thanks for all the responses so far! I'm glad to hear I'm not alone in thinking this is going too far, and I will write them a very clear letter restating the lease terms and pointing out what is in violation of the lease.

I'm curious - what are the concerns with having a lease longer than a year? We included a clause that we can raise the rent up to a certain percentage per year, and if they vacate early I don't expect to have any trouble leasing it again - we've had a lot of interest from very qualified tenants each time it's listed. We use the air filter as our excuse to do quarterly walk throughs. On their end I think they wanted the comfort of not having to move anytime soon, and when I spoke with their prior landlord they had stayed there for several years as well with no complaints.

I do only month to month leases.  No possible way would I do a four year lease.  Leases tie YOUR hands much more tightly than the tenants.  If the tenants want to leave, they will.  If you get fed up with the unending maintenance request, guess what you can do?  Not a dang thing! They have you over a barrel.  Their true colors are showing now that they know they've locked you in.

While in theory you could evict someone over attaching shelves to the wall, good luck having that conversation in front of a judge.

Holes bigger than 1/4 inch in diameter are something like $5 each. Any hole 1/2" or bigger is $15. Most leases have a provision for "Landlord Rules" so you should be able to add something like this in after the fact. 

Would have been a good idea up front.  But, no, you cannot add anything like that at this point.  At this point I'd talk to them and tell them you want to discuss any changes to the property before you do them.  But I would not be concerned about shelves.  If they do stay four years, you're going to have a lot of make ready work.  Much of that won't be chargeable against the security deposit.  Flooring, for example, is unlikely to pass muster with judge if you charge them for that.  Even if it was brand new when they moved in and they completely destroy it, you might get, at most, 20% of the cost of replacing it.

Your three months in and they are already tearing the shelves off the walls and repainting the place . Imagine four years of this nonsense to deal with . Sounds like you are a glutton for punishment

@Aspen P. , it sounds like you at least have a rent escalation clause in your lease, so you won't be stuck with the same rent payment for four years.  I agree with the other comments, in regard to more firmly establishing the ground rules asap, i.e., what is, and what isn't, acceptable for the tenants to do with your property. And then, since the lease is already a done deal, don't kick yourself anymore, just move forward, and be positive. What's done is done.   

If they are a pain to deal with the only real tool you have to get rid of them with a 4 year lease is maximizing  your rent escalation. You just don't renew if the relationship isn't working if its only a year.  I am not a M2M fan like others but I wouldn't go as long as you have for a lease.  To me a  lease is a tool to influence when they give notice. They will move when then want to regardless of a lease but a lease locks you in. 

Keep in mind aside from what they do to you some tenants your neighbors won't want for 4 years. I hope you get then in line but just some food for thought. 

I agree that four years on a new tenant is a long lease. If they had already rented from you for a year and then you signed another 3 year lease, that would be different. 

I don't see the big deal about them "making improvements." Yes, they should probably ask first, but patching a few holes after someone living somewhere for 4 years, isn't that big of a deal. I probably wouldn't write a letter...I would just verbally let them know that they need to ask for permission before doing anything else, no matter how small the improvement may be. Let them know that you're willing to let them make it feel more like a "home" but you need to be notified/asked beforehand. If after that they don't listen, then a letter with the lease clause spelled out in it may be necessary.