Can tenants make changes to a rental property?
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What changes can a tenant make to a rental property?

As a landlord, keeping up to date with rental law is a never-ending task. With recent changes to the Residential Tenancies Act, tenants now have more recognition and protection when it comes to rent increases, tenancy terminations, and changes they can make to the house they are renting.

On the 11th of February 2021, the Act was updated to allow tenants to make various modifications to the house they live in. In this article, we explore these new rules, the changes they can make, and also a few they are not allowed to make.

The process of modifying a rental property

If a tenant wants to make a minor change to the rental property, they must follow the proper protocol. These rules help to minimise disputes at the end of a tenancy and protect both parties. 

  1. Check the tenancy agreement and Tenancies Act

    Before anything else, the tenant should read the tenancy agreement and Residential Tenancies Act 1986 to check that the change is compliant. If there are any related tenancy agreement clauses, the tenant should abide by them. If the change is appropriate, they can proceed to step 2.

  2. The tenant sends a request to the landlord

    If a tenant wishes to change something about the property, they must make a formal written request to the landlord, using this official template. The more detailed the description is, the easier it is for the landlord to determine their response.

  3. The landlord responds to the request

    Within 21 days of receiving the formal request from the tenant, the landlord must respond with their answer in a written notice. You cannot deny the request for a minor change but you can set reasonable conditions. If the change is major and you need more time, ask the tenant for a suitable extension.

  4. The tenant arranges the change and installation costs

    Once they have written permission from the landlord, the tenant can go ahead with the alterations. They must follow the agreed terms and pay the costs. If the landlord wants the alteration to continue after the existing tenancy, they must compensate the tenant for the expense.

  5. The change is reversed

    If the landlord does not agree to keep the modification for the next tenancy, the tenant must return it to its original state at the end of the tenancy. If the landlord does wish to keep the change, the tenant should leave it as is.

Minor changes tenants can make to a rental property

It is the tenant's right to quiet enjoyment of their home, which includes feeling comfortable in the space. Beyond furniture, houseplants, artwork, and rugs, there are a few things tenants can do to add their personal touch. However, they must follow the protocol laid out above.  

Changes a tenant can make to a rental property

When it comes to a rental property, minor changes can be made. These include:

  • Adding appliances.
  • Replacing curtains.
  • Adding fire alarms and doorbells, where they have low impact.
  • Installing a baby gate.
  • Securing furniture to baby-proof or protect against earthquakes.

Tenants can also request to install fibre broadband, and landlords must agree if it can be installed at no cost to them.

Changes must:

  • Have a low risk of permanent damage. 
  • Be easy to reverse or remove. 
  • Not pose a risk to health or safety. 
  • Not compromise structural integrity or weatherproofing.  
  • Not affect anyone’s enjoyment of the property. 
  • Not require regulatory consent. 
  • Not breach any regulatory rules. 

With small changes, the landlord should consider if it adds to the home's value. As a general rule, what is good for one tenant will often be good for the next. For example, a picture hook, shelving unit, or television aerial will usually benefit future occupants too.

What can't a tenant change in a rental property?

While tenants do have certain rights, there are some things they cannot do. The landlord can reject any requests for changes that do not meet the above criteria. If the change could cause irreversible damage, it is the landlord's right to protect their property by denying the request or setting reasonable conditions.  

Examples of unacceptable modifications include: 

  • Removing a fixture in a way that causes damage to the wall. 
  • Installing a fixture that will cause damage upon removal. 
  • Removing a wall or built-in feature. 
  • Carpet removal.

While these changes are not allowed, the tenant can take other steps to achieve the same goals. For example, if they need a wall hook, they can use temporary solutions instead of a nail. 

Questions from landlords about minor changes

In our decades of experience, we've noticed the things landlords are most concerned about when a tenant wants to make a change to the property. To make it simple, we’ve outlined all the frequently asked questions below. 

Can a landlord ignore a tenants request? 

If a landlord ignores a tenant’s request, the tenant should apply to the Tenancy Tribunal. The landlord could face a fine of up to $1,500. If you don’t want to approve the change, consider setting precautionary conditions instead of ignoring it altogether.  

What happens at the end of the tenancy? 

Any fixture or change made by the tenant must be removed unless otherwise agreed. If the landlord wants to keep the change in place for the next tenant, they must reimburse the tenant. If you are unsure, ask a property manager about the change.

If damage occurs to a rental, what should you do?

If an alteration causes damage to the property, the tenant must tell the landlord as soon as possible. The landlord decides if the tenant should fix the damage or compensate for the expense. 

What is a tenant responsible for when making a minor change?

When making a minor change to the property, tenants are responsible for all installation and removal costs unless otherwise agreed. Before taking any action, they must have written permission from the landlord. 

What is a landlord responsible for when a tenant makes a minor change? 

When a tenant wants to make a change, the landlord is responsible for responding to the consent request and they can cover the costs if they wish to. The property manager can handle this or mediate between the two parties. 

What if a tenant does not reverse the change? 

If they fail to reverse the change or meet the agreed terms, the tenant may have to pay a fine of up to $1,500. The landlord can take this up with the Tenancy Tribunal and a property manager can support you in this process. 

Changes to tenant rights and your landlord obligations happen frequently, and not complying with these new rules can be costly. If you’re self-managing a property, or aren’t confident that your current property managers are on top of new legislation – talk to us.

The property management team at McDonald Real Estate are local and national experts that attend regular training on new requirements for investment properties. We stay informed so our landlords don't have to. The peace of mind this brings enables our landlords to enjoy the rewards of their investment, without the surprise of law changes and violations.

If you’re interested in reduced stress and greater flexibility with your rental properties, talk to our team today.

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