Can You Renovate If You’re Renting?

So you’re busting to make some renovations to your property, but you’re renting rather than paying off your own home. What are your options in Australia? The short answer is “not much”.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 28.5% of Australian households were renting as of 2006, so this isn’t an uncommon scenario. However, when it comes to making any alterations to a property you’re renting, the basic rule is the same across all states: you can’t do anything without your landlord’s permission.

The summary for NSW pretty much covers the rules in every other state (as well as seeming reasonable from a common-sense perspective):

You agree not to add or remove any fixtures or do any renovations, alterations or additions to the premises without the landlord’s written consent (unless permitted under the tenancy agreement).

From the perspective of a landlord, this is understandable: their property is an investment, and any changes you make might decrease its value rather than increase it. There’s also a question you should ask yourself: why spend your own money and effort to make an improvement that will ultimately increase the value of a property you don’t own?

If you’re curious, here’s the links to the relevant regulations in each state:

So what can you do?

If there are major problems with a property you’re renting, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to get them fixed. If you just don’t like the colour of the walls or think that the cupboards need rebuilding, you may be able to persuade your landlord to change those things (especially if you’re a long-term tenant), but you haven’t got an obvious way of forcing any changes.

If you have an friendly landlord, they may agree to letting you carry out simple renovations (such as repainting). If this does happen, make sure you get a clear statement in writing to that effect: if there’s a dispute over this later, you’ll want written proof.

In terms of simple tasks such as hanging pictures, it’s worth stating the obvious: 3M Command strips are your friend. Just don’t make the mistake of using cheaper alternatives (many stick-on hooks either don’t work or rip away paint), and make sure you read the instructions carefully: if you mount a strip backwards, it can do major damage, which is exactly what you don’t want.

My personal advice in these circumstances would be to make non-permanent changes by purchasing furniture and storage systems that aren’t attached to walls, rather than trying for major renovations. That way, if you move house, you’ll still have the benefit of your investment. After all, 70% of Australian households ultimately don’t end up renting, so there’ll probably be time to exercise your home maintenance skills later on.

Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.

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