Savvy Tenant – Don’t Go Changin’…

…at least not without permission first.

So, the searching is over, the lease is signed, the before-move-in pictures are done and here comes the fun part.  Moving in (well moving isn’t so fun, but it is a step forward!) and making the place your own.

Photo by deafstar

Photo by deafstar

Now that you look, though, the place looks a little vanilla.  It has no pizzazz.  The walls are neutral.  The floors are neutral.  Sure would like to put up a nice border in the bedroom.  And wouldn’t the bathroom look nice in a perky lemon yellow?

Is the predominant color blah because the landlord has no decorating taste?  Maybe.  More than likely however, it is the way it is because it makes the place easier to rent.  It won’t matter if the new tenant’s furniture is midnight blue, pepto pink, or leopard; all of them go with a neutral wall and/or floor.

The easiest way to add your punch to your place is with your belongings, pictures, etc.  But if you really have become enamoured with the idea of wallpaper or new paint, what should you do?

Read your lease.

Here is what ours says:

Lessee(s) shall make no alterations to the buildings on the leased premises, or construct any building, basketball goal, TV aerial, fence or other fixture.  Lessee(s) shall not repaint any surfaces without prior written consent of the Lessor.  All alterations, changes and improvements built, constructed, or placed on the lease premises by the Lessee(s), with the exception of fixtures removable without damage to the premises and movable personal property, shall, unless otherwise provided by written agreement between Lessee(s) and LOTL, LLC , be the property of Lessor and remain on the leased premises at the expiration or sooner termination of this lease if the alteration, change and/or improvement is acceptable to the Lessor.  If not acceptable, Lessee(s) will be charged for the restoration to prior condition.

What does this mean?  It means we can talk about it.  Get permission before you do anything.


Photo by Levi Szekeres

We always listen to these requests.  I hope your landlord will too, but if not, at least you asked.  Our discussion almost always includes inquiries as to how much painting the person has done in the past and if they know how to mask off wood trim and protect floors.  If not, we have been known to say, “yes, if you hire a professional to do it.”

If we are satisfied that the painting project will not ruin carpet or hardwood, we will give permission that includes what the lease itself also says:  go ahead and make your changes, but when you leave, put it back.  We have agreed in the past to provide the paint to repaint before the tenant leaves.  We have also agreed to let the new color remain when the incoming tenant begged us not to change it.

Even if your landlord isn’t quite as particular as we are and says, “Just go ahead and do what you want” it is a wise idea to put something in writing.  A simple letter will do the trick:

Dear Landlord,

Thank you for giving me permission to paint the living room.  As I understand our agreement, [outline in detail what you discussed as to whether or not you have to return the walls to the previous color, who will supply the paint to do that, etc.].

If there are any details I missed, please get back in touch with me before Tuesday of next week, [date], when I will begin painting.

Yours truly,
Savvy Tenant

Mail it or drop it off with your landlord and keep a copy in a file or notebook (with your lease!).

If there are changes that you talk about after your landlord gets your letter, follow up with another letter.  I know it seems tedious, but you may need the paper trail in the future. If nothing else it demonstrates your habit of putting things in writing, so if later someone tries to rely on a “verbal agreement” for the current matter or any other issue, it’s clear that you document; the absense of a document becomes significant.

The best thing you can have is an addendum to your lease that outlines the permitted changes and what happens when you leave the apartment, and that is signed and dated by both tenant and landlord, with both having a copy.

Remember, documentation can protect you in the long run.  Make it a habit.


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