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Tenant Alterations: Can You Change a Rental Property?

When letting out a rental property to tenants a landlord can rightfully expect their investment to be returned in the same condition that it was in at the start of the fixed term. However, with many tenants looking to find their next home, some look to make their mark on their current accommodation. Whilst such changes can be synonymous with making a hose a home tenants must consider the terms of their tenancy agreement to avoid detrimental repercussions.

Can a Tenant Make Changes to the Property?

It is important to note that when hoping to make changes to the rental property, regardless of the extent of the work needing to be carried out, tenants should consider that their tenancy agreement will vary from others and the individual terms of their agreement should be consulted before any work begins or any changes implemented. With this being said, landlords will commonly include a term in the tenancy agreement that prevents the occupants of the rental property from carrying out any alterations to the accommodation. However, these tenant alterations typically regard changes to the buildings structural integrity, and could compromise the rental in various ways for the landlord.

On the other hand, if the tenant only wished to make small aesthetic or decorative alterations to the rental they may be able to proceed without having to first gain the permission of the landlord. When marketing their rental property owners often stick to a strict palette of neutral colours and minimalistic interior design to have a more far reaching and broad appeal.  This doesn’t mean that the new occupants don’t wish changes to make their new accommodation feel more like a home. This is still not a sufficient excuse for tenants looking to repaint their property in bolder shades however, as it is important to consider your tastes are not universal and any changes may impact the decision of future renters viewing the opportunity.  

Whilst hanging up a few pictures on the walls is far from a violation of the agreement if the tenant is planning on making alterations to flooring, replacing appliances, changing door locks or security measures, explicit permission should be sought.  Initially it is understandable to see how a tenant may believe that the changes they are implementing are actually a benefit to the landlord, but for the owner the rental is an investment, with great lengths being gone to, in order to achieve a habitable, environmentally friendly and safe environment for future tenants.

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What Should Landlords Do After Finding Tenant Alterations?

Rather understandably, if a landlord were to discover significant tenant alterations to their rental property during a mid-term inspection or when simply passing the rental thoughts of confusion as to why the work has been conducted and how to rectify the situation will of course be confusing. However, if tenants have carried out alterations to a rental property without your knowledge it is essential that you contact the tenants to address the situation.  It is highly recommended that landlords write to their tenants to inform them that carrying out such changes without first gaining permission is a violation of the terms of the tenancy agreement.  This written notice should further remind the tenants that there should be no further alterations made to the rental property, without the plans for such improvements being considered by the landlord.

Of course it is in the best interest of the landlord to make their rental property more accommodating for renters, so tenants should never feel that their suggestions will not be heard by their landlord, this is not to say suggested tenant alternations will always be approved by a middle ground could certainly be reached.

As can be expected not all landlords will be receptive of changes being made to their rental property, with fears of poor workmanship, failure to adhere to standards and the financial repercussions potentially resulting in severe consequences for the tenants. The landlord’s response to such changes will of course vary depending on the individual circumstance but they are able to request that the tenant immediately restore the property to its original condition, see on the outset of the rental period. It goes without saying that the costs of the associated remedial work to restore the condition of the property would be funded by the tenant responsible for the alterations.  Whilst this may be considered a heavy handed response by some, as the tenant has breached the terms of the tenancy agreement the landlord would be well positioned to issue the tenant with a notice of eviction proceedings.  Providing the correct terms are contained within the tenancy agreement the landlord may also be able to have the tenant forfeit the lease alongside seeking compensation for damage to the property.

When Can a Landlord Refuse Tenant Alterations?

Simply put, sometimes. This may not be the answer that many landlords were looking for, after all the property s their investment, why should they be able to oversee and manage any alterations, like most other aspects of their property portfolio. Section 19 of the Landlord and tenant Act 1927 details that the landlord will not be able to unreasonably withhold their permission for any proposed alterations is they are considered to be an improvement.  Whilst what can be considered an “improvement” to the rental property must be assessed on a case by case basis, it is widely accepted that if the alteration will improve the tenant’s time in their home then the alterations will stand regardless of the landlord’s perspective.  With this being said this is not necessarily a negative thing for landlords, yes this may initially seem like a loss of control but offers rental property owners an easy opportunity to make consistent advancements to their property for the benefit of its inhabitants, without having to deal with conducting extensive work in between tenancies, making the void period even more costly.

How to Request Alterations From a Landlord?

When requesting that any changes be made to the rental property tenants should make their intentions clear, outlining the work that they would like to have carried out, how this would benefit the rental. Tenants could go as far as obtaining a few quotes from reputable labourers to give the landlords a better understanding of if the changes will be cost efficient and any other effects they may have. Tenants should keep records of any attempts they have made to communicate with the landlord surrounding the suggested alterations, but if no response is gained this is not sufficient reasoning to have the changes implemented.

If the landlord agrees to have the alterations to the rental property carried out they are able to request that they are paid for any damage to the rental and its value, alongside covering the costs of any legal expenses incurred through establishing the agreed upon alterations.  Whilst the landlord can reasonably request these fees be covered by the occupants of the rental property, they cannot profit from granting their consent for these changes.

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What Is Classed as a Structural Alteration?

As can be expected, structural alterations do not comprise aesthetic changes to the rental property, such as giving the living room a new lick of paint; but the materials and components that support the building, such as load bearing walls, foundations, girders, partitions, alongside external walls and the roof.

Can a Tenant Make Structural Changes?

It is essential for a tenant to note that when dealing with such significant aspects of the rental property they may not exclusively need to seek the permission of the landlord in order for their changes to be upheld. For any major alterations to the rental property t is highly likely that planning permission will need to be sought from the local authority. This is typically required if the planned work to the property comprises extensive changes, such as an extension. It goes without saying that before the residents of the property make an application for planning permission the landlord should first be consulted, with their permission to do so being granted. However, if the tenants are found to have made the structural changes to the property without gaining planning permission from the local council they will be considered to have made a planning breach. In most cases, the council will permit applications for planning permission to be made after the event, but this doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the changes will be upheld.  Planning permission may be granted with specific conditions and caveats, if these were ignored, or building regulations not adhered to an enforcement notice will be issued. Once the notice has been served the local authority can demand that the rental property is returned to its original state, undoing the work the tenant had implemented, or to adapt the new structure to comply with building regulations. If these changes fail to be made the tenant can expect to receive substantial fines from the local authority.

Alongside planning permission it is essential for tenants to consider if they may also need to seek out building regulations approval in order to conduct the tenant alterations. Whilst this largely functions in a similar manner to that of planning permission it is no less important and is applied to a far greater range of potential changes to the property. Typically being applied to less extensive works than those seen with planning permission, if a tenant wished to alter aspects of the property comprising the windows, doors, loft and garden space the building control department of the local authority will need to be consulted. If either the landlord it the tenant fail to comply with these regulation or notify the local authority that such work is to be carried out, the occupants of the property can once again be ordered to revert the state of the property to its original condition. If this “request” by the council is ignored a notice will be served giving 28 days for the alterations to be made. If the conducted work is found to breach any building regulations the local authority is able to take legal action. If successful in their legal pursuit the tenants could be issued with a fine of up to £5000, with a £50 fee being charged for each day after the conviction that the charges are not rectified.  In addition to this if they see fit the council can also prevent the property being issued with a certificate detailing its compliance with the current building standards and regulations, making the rental far harder to sell when the time comes.

Risking Your Tenancy Deposit

Usually when a tenancy agreement is signed the tenant undertakes the responsibility to return the rental property to the landlord in a similar state to that it was let out at the start of the fixed period. Naturally, if the tenant has gone on to make numerous alterations to the property whilst neglecting to inform the landlord, this will off course make meeting this term of the agreement impossible. Additionally the changes made to the structure of the property may have adversely effected the energy efficiency of the rental, or perhaps even influenced its market price if the work was extensive, leaving the landlord to foot the costs of making the necessary improvements back to the property, being unable to let whilst doing so.  With this in mind the tenant should note that in these instances it is highly likely that they will not see the full amount given to the landlord for their security deposit returned, as this would contribute towards the necessary remedial works.

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