Remodel bathroom with tenant in place

14 Replies

We're days from closing on an out-of-stateproperty that has a tenant in place. Going in we knew that the bathroom will need to be redone. My questions are:

1-since it's the only bathroom in the house, what should we suggest the tenant do?

2-should we style the bathroom according to our (California) standards or research local standards? 

3-this is our first rental so what am I missing in this situation?


Redoing the single bathroom of a residence with the tenant in place has never been a good idea for us or anyone we've ever known in the business. Find a way not to have the tenant live in the property during the renovation. It may cost you a few nights' stay in a hotel. And this is out of state? Pulling off a simple yet fast bathroom remodel handled remotely by locals is already an ambitious undertaking. Worry less about fashion and style issues and more about logistics. Good luck to you whatever you choose to do. 

You need to know the market the rental is in to remodel. If you use CA standards you will likely spend far more than is necessary for the market.

As for the remodel what makes you believe the remodel is necessary. If that is based on your own personal standards the reno is likely not required. If the tennat is already in place only do what is absolutely necessary to maintain the property and wait for tenant turn over to remodel.  

My guess is you may be using your personal standards to make decision. This is a mistake when managing rentals. It is a rental and rentals should only be maintained to minimum/basic standards.

Use local standards. If the tenant is happy and paying market rent, leave it alone. Your renovations should be functional and durable. You don't want to make the mistake of a $6,000 renovation that only increases the rent $60 and will take ten years to recoup the cost.

@Brad S. Unless there is a safety issue, I wouldn't touch the bathroom until the unit is vacant. It's an inconvenience for the tenant and provides no return on your investment.

Always keep in mind you are operating a rental business, your personal needs and taste are irrelevant. You do not spend money unless it is absolutly necessary in regards to repair/maintiance and anything additional must contribute to a rental increase with a pay back of your costs ideally within two years.  When you spend money on cosmetic items it must translate into a comparable rent increase.

Unless there is a safety issue, avoid remodeling with a tenant in place at all costs. Especially bathrooms! If something absolutely must be done immediately, do the minimum to make it safe and functional and then remodel once it's vacant.

What you are possibly missing is the potential for problems in this situation:
  • Jobs always take longer than planned, sometimes much longer.
  • Fixing one problem often uncovers others which must now be addressed. (Hence the comment above.)
  • Remodeling is disruptive and dirty, not just in the room being worked on. Tenants aren't happy about that.
  • Security can be a problem. The tenant will probably not want to be there during the work, but may not be happy about strangers in their home while they are not there. There could be accusations of theft that you will have to deal with.

Thanks for all the suggestions. It is necessary as there are tiles falling off the walls, visible mold, and possible mold behind the walls. The tenant wants to stay and it CF well.

@Brad S. In that case, price out one week (or however long your contractor promises) at a local moderately priced hotel. Offer the tenant a flat rate off the rent as compensation. Write up an agreement. You are not going to reimburse for meals out, etc. Be sure your contractor is ready to go on time and does not drag out the process. Bathroom remodels take at least 3-4 days because the new mud needs time to dry and you probably have some subfloor damage. The tenant will probably stay with friends or family and pocket the money. Be sure your contract with your contractor specifies a completion date.

Uggh, I just when through this a couple of months ago, and even though the tenants were able to shower in their brother's apt downstairs while I gutted the failed tile tub surround and retiled, it was still a nightmare. Any chance they'll be taking a vacation soon, even Christmas?

@Brad S. I put a new roof on the house with a tenant occupied recently. That was just 3 days of work and I ended up giving rental credit for broken planters that the roofers left in pieces. Tenant sent pictures of broken porch light that the roofer taped back together, the flowers trimed down to the stubs because the roofers flatten out the flower beds. Hard to explain more. I learned not to do anything unless necessary. I would rather I be there for any given project and not the tenant. Next time, i will reno with no tenant inside.
@Brad S. If there is a tenant in place, I have to assume the unit is liveable and functioning? Now, it may need repairs like shut off Valves or supply lines, or what have you, but why do you need to rehab the entire bath? I’d keep the rent right where it is and when they eventually leave, rehab then and raise the rent accordingly. Here’s another way to do it which we have done, when the tenant is on vacation, go in there and rehab it - this way your fixing up the property on their dime.

Thanks for all the suggestions. This is an elderly, section 8  tenant. She's lived there two years and wants to stay 'as long as we let her'. I have a plan now. Thanks again.

@Brad S. - Sounds like it is just the shower that needs to be redone.  Once you make sure there is not mold, or you have gotten rid of the mold, just install an inexpensive bathtub insert right over the old tile.  It is much faster and is way easier for the elderly tenant to keep clean.

Clean up the visible mold, stick the tiles back on and call it a day. There is nothing more required.

There are numerous options non of which would involve recoating the bathroom. You will not be in business long if you spend your cash flow on unnecessary renovations.

Section 8...bare minimum.