The home improvement bug seems to bite everybody these days, even renters. It's tempting to upgrade a rental, either to add a personal touch or make the home more comfortable. Your landlord may encourage a remodeling project because he knows you are more likely to stay past the typical one-year lease if you have invested in upgrading the home. He also knows some projects will make the house more attractive and valuable to the next renter. However, there are legal and financial questions for both the renter and landlord.
Will the landlord allow the project?
Renters should always check with the landlord and read the lease before starting any renovation project. Whether repainting a room to remodeling the kitchen, ask for permission and read all the fine print. Even if the landlord approves, he or she might still withhold a security deposit, evict, or sue. A lease is a binding contract that takes legal precedence over a verbal agreement.
Will the city allow the project?
Even if they approve a project, landlords may not be aware of local building codes and restrictions. Make sure any addition or remodel meets code and has the proper permits. The landlord may force you to undo your work if he or she finds a code violation. A homeowner may also be sued -- a case that would likely involve the remodeler, i.e. you.
Who will pay for the project?
A landlord may allow the project but offer no help with payment. The landlord would get all the added value at no cost, so you would have to really want the upgrade to agree in that case. On the other hand, if you provide a high-quality project, the landlord may offer to cover costs upfront or credit your rent to pay back the project costs. Either way, keep all receipts and keep track of your time spent on the project.
Who has liability for the work?
Like any project that doesn't meet code, a landlord or homeowner could face legal liabilities for shoddy or dangerous work. Again, they could turn around and sue you for any damages they are required to pay.
Will you have to undo the work?
Finally, you probably don't want to have to redo your work or undo all your work. If an absentee landlord does not see your work until you are ready to move out of the home, you may be asked to revert everything to its original state. This is probably unlikely if you discussed the details of the project and cleared everything with your landlord.
However, you may need to restart a paint project if you did a poor job or got a little too creative. In a Denver rental, some artistic tenants painted a brick pattern and graffiti on the stairway of an apartment, as well as snakes in a jungle on the bathroom wall.
The landlord said the artists were clearly talented, but he couldn't re-lease the apartment with snakes and graffiti on the walls. They repainted the walls, but made a mess of the floors in doing so. The landlord still refused to return the security deposit.