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Alterations to Rental Premises

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Before embarking on any renovations as a tenant, even something as simple as a coat of paint, you need to obtain your Landlord's permission, preferably in writing.

If you're a tenant and want to spruce up your rented home over the Christmas break, then there are a few things you need to be aware of before you make any alterations to the premises.

The term ‘alterations’ refers to the installation of fixtures or fittings (such as air conditioning units for the hot summer months ahead), or making renovations, additions or alterations to a rented premises. 

You might need to do this in order to adapt the premises to your specific or changing needs, to increase your comfort level or address security concerns.

First take a look at your lease

Your lease will set out your rights and obligations to the landlord.  It may contain terms and conditions relating to alterations, so getting familiar with the provisions of your lease agreement is a good place to start.

Legislation

Your lease may also be governed by specific leasing legislation.  For example, residential leases are covered by residential tenancy legislation specific to each State.  Retail leases are covered by retail tenancy legislation specific to each state.

The legislation will generally set out procedures that govern how alterations to a leased premises are to be dealt with.

You will need to get the landlord’s permission

Making alterations to your premises will be a breach of your lease, unless you get your landlord’s prior consent (preferably in writing, to avoid any disputes or disagreements later down the track).

Unless you have specifically agreed otherwise in your lease agreement to certain alterations, you will need to request the landlords consent before you make any alterations to the premises.

Depending on the legislation applicable to your lease, the landlord may not unreasonably refuse to give his or her consent to alterations of a minor nature.  The legislation does not give any guidance or description on constitutes an alteration of a minor nature.

What if the landlord does not consent?

If the landlord does not consent to your request to install a fixture, or make a renovation, alteration or addition, you can make an application to the tribunal

If the tribunal decides that the landlord’s failure to give consent is unreasonable, and the alteration is of a minor nature, then the tribunal can make an order that the tenant can proceed with the fixture, renovation or alteration.

The landlord can refuse consent in some cases

The landlord is well within their rights to refuse their consent to an alteration in certain situations.  For example, if:

  • The work involves structural changes (such as knocking out a wall);
  • The work is not easily able to be rectified, repaired or removed upon the tenant exiting the property;
  • The work involves painting of the premises;
  • The work is against the law;
  • The work is inconsistent with the nature of the property.

Note:  If you are a landlord, and are refusing to give your consent, take the time to explain your reason to the tenant.  Put your response and reasons for refusing in writing and maintain open and honest communication with the tenant.

If the tenant views your refusal as unreasonable, he or she can challenge your refusal by making application to the Tribunal.  It is important to keep the lines of communication and negotiation open, to help ensure that everyone is happy, and limit stressful and time consuming Tribunal proceedings.

Rights of the landlord

The landlord can apply to the Tribunal for an order for costs against the tenant if:

  • any work done by the tenant was not done to a satisfactory standard, or to an agreed standard on which the landlord’s consent was conditional upon; or
  • if work is not fixed, it would be likely to detract from the landlord’s ability to rent the premises out in the future.

Who is to pay for the alteration?

The landlord is not required to pay for alterations or additions to the property that the tenant wishes to make, unless special circumstances are involved.  For example, the alterations are required to preserve the safety of the building or health and safety of the occupants.

Any alteration or addition that the tenant wishes to make to the premises, will generally need to be at the tenant’s cost, unless the landlord agrees otherwise.

The tenant should realise that the costs spent on alterations may be lost to the tenant, when the tenant eventually moves out of the premises.  These factors should be considered by the tenant prior to investing funds in any alterations, especially if the funds cannot be recouped on vacating the premises or if the tenant is not on a fixed lease, and so can be given notice to vacate at any time.

The landlord can agree to pay for the alterations

If you approach the landlord about alterations, the landlord may decide to pay for the cost and installation of the alterations.

This gives the landlord certain benefits, including:-

  • ownership rights to the fixture (the tenant will not be able to remove it and take it with them when they vacate the premises);
  • tax benefits (the work will be a tax deduction that the landlord can claim;
  • the ability to retain control over the fixture or alteration including how the work is carried out and by whom, and the workmanship standards;
  • increase the value and desirability of the property to future tenants.

Can the tenant take the fixtures when they move out?

If the tenant has secured the landlord’s consent, and subsequently installed the fixtures or fittings to the premises at their own cost, the tenant will be entitled to remove these items on vacating the premises (unless you have agreed otherwise with the landlord, or the items were paid for and/or installed by the landlord or at the landlord’s expense).

The removal of the fixtures will be at the tenant’s expense.

In addition, the tenant has an obligation to restore the premises to the same condition and state of repair as when the tenant entered the property.

This may mean that the tenant will need to do rectification works after removing fixtures and fittings from the premises, such as patching walls, and patch painting.  The exception to this is fair wear and tear.

If the tenant causes any damage to the premises when removing a fixture, the tenant has an obligation to repair the damage or to compensate the landlord for the landlord’s reasonable expenses of repairing the damage.

Be aware, that if you (as tenant) leave a fixture at the premises on the vacate date, it will form part of the property and you cannot return and collect it at a later date.

What if the landlord won’t let me take a fixture that I installed?

If the landlord refuses to allow you to remove a fixture that you paid for and installed, you can make an application to the Tribunal.  If the Tribunal is satisfied that you paid for and installed the fixture, the Tribunal can make an order entitling you to remove the fixture.

Repainting the premises

Contrary to the assumption of many tenants, the landlord has total power over whether you may repaint the premises throughout the tenancy.  You cannot apply to the Tribunal for an order allowing you to repaint.

If you are requesting the landlord’s permission to repaint the premises, it would be a good idea to show the landlord the colours you wish to use, the brand of paint and the standard of workmanship (whether you are hiring a professional, the number of coats of paint, etc).

The landlord may grant you their consent to repaint, on a number of conditions, such as the colour scheme, brand and quality or workmanship.

Quick links to relevant legislation

This article was written with reference to NSW residential tenancies law.  Although similar, the legislative requirements may differ from state to state.

NSW Residential Tenancies Act, 2010

WA Residential Tenancies Act, 1987

QLD Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act, 2008

Victorian Residential Tenancies Act, 1997

South Australia Residential Tenancies Act, 1995

Tasmanian Residential Tenancy Act, 1997

ACT Residential Tenancy Act 1997

NT Residential Tenancy Act

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