Remodeling Tips for Renters
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|Mon, 06-16-2008 - 10:51am|
Remodeling Tips for Renters
Step one: Protect yourself
By Broderick Perkins
Don't lift a hammer to perform alterations or improvements on your rental home until you read your rental contract.
As a tenant, you have few rights when it comes to home improving, alterations, renovations and remodeling, largely because your home isn't really your property. Chances are, your lease or rental agreement contains a detailed clause prohibiting alternations or improvements and the forbidden work may include just about anything beyond hammering in hooks for wall hangings.
"But I'm doing them a favor!"
"Take painting and refinishing hardwood floors, for example. You may think it's an improvement. The landlord could consider it an abomination, " says Janet Portman, a Berkeley, Calif. attorney and co-author of "Every Tenant's Legal Guide" (Nolo.com, 1999) and "Every Landlord's Legal Guide" (Nolo.com, 2000).
Only with the landlord's expressed, written consent can you re-do your rental home more to your liking.
Even minor, unsanctioned work can result in major consequences, including:
• You probably won't be reimbursed.
• You could be forced at your expense to restore the property to its pre improvement condition.
• You could lose the rights to any of your property that becomes part of the alteration or improvement.
• You could lose some or all of your security deposit to correct or rip out the work.
• You could be evicted.
Property owners are tough about this issue, and case law supports their actions, for good reason.
Landlords ultimately are responsible for making sure any work on their property adheres to real estate regulations, building codes, zoning ordinances or other rules governing construction.
If your building plans for a rental dream home go awry and create a liability, the landlord, not you, has the nightmare.
"It's just stupid not to run it by the landlord. From the landlord's point of view, the work has to be done correctly, especially when you begin to fiddle around with electrical systems and plumbing. It's the landlord's responsibility," says Portman.
"Take a look at the rental agreement. If nothing is outlined there, a phone call will do a world of good," says Kim Howard, spokeswoman for the Alexandria, Va.-based National Apartment Association.
Fixtures vs. removables
Two legal exceptions installing satellite dishes and building in greater accessibility for people with disabilities provide tenants with some discretion in performing alterations, but even then, the property owner or agent holds sway over where and how the work proceeds.
Obtaining the property owner's approval for work could grant you some leeway in customizing your rental home more to your liking.
"They probably don't want you to knock down any walls, but if you want to plant some flowers, they may welcome that," says Howard.
Removable improvements, including bookcases, some carpeting and window coverings, are generally acceptable. Major appliances, such as refrigerators, ranges, washers, dryers and others are also legitimate additions as long as you dont need to make any structural alterations (as with built-in dishwashers, for example), says Portman.
Once you permanently nail, screw, cement or otherwise attach something to the property, the item legally becomes a "fixture" that belongs to the property owner.
You can attempt to negotiate with the property owner for permanent home improvements that are to remain after your lease expires say custom track lighting, built-in bookcases or floor refinishing. Remind him or her that the work will likely improve the value of the property. The landlord may even agree to pay for the work out of pocket or reduce your rent for a period to cover your costs. In any event, the owner gets a tax deduction for the work another effective negotiating point in itself.
You could also offer to remove any alteration and restore the property to its original state when your lease is up. Keep in mind the landlord will have the final word on your restoration job. If she or he isn't satisfied, you could lose your security deposit or be hauled into court for any costs your deposit doesn't cover.
Whatever you decide to do regarding alterations to your rented apartment or house, draw up a detailed contract itemizing the work to be performed. You and your landlord sign it. This helps prevent misunderstandings.
"The last thing you want on your mind when it's time to move out is, 'Oh my God! I have to do this?'" says Howard.
Co-CL for "The Stitcher's Niche" and CL for "Remodel & Renovate"
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