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.


Comments

    It took 2 years of asking (and in that time, always paid rent on time, and never asked for anything else) just to be able to put up the 3M strips in our house. Apparently hanging a clock or a calendar was too much of an ask.... (as I said though, they've finally agreed that we can hang light items on 3M hooks, but still, 2 years?!)

    In my old place, there were a heap of hooks already there - so I never needed to ask. If I was a landlord, I'd make sure there were a few hooks around the place - less likely that a tenant is going to go "...stuff it, I'll hang it anyway", and end up using a nail instead.

    Everything else I can deal with. I can handle the boring cream coloured walls, the chipped tiles in the entryway, the botched paint job that managed to somehow get paint in the middle of the front door glass panels (I don't know how someone can get paint in the middle of a huge section of glass, but anyhow...) - if it was my home and I was free to fix these things without asking, then I would. But for now, I can live with them. If the owner doesn't think they're worth fixing, I'm not going to be out of pocket to fix them myself.

    Besides, thinking of all the things I want to do with this place gets me inspired for all the odd-jobs I'll be able to do when I eventually DO get my own house!

    My last landlord refused to get rid of loose sheets of asbestos in the backyard and took two months to repair a bedroom window broken in a storm.

    On the plus side, they were completely happy with us painting/hanging things as much as we liked - they were just trying to get rental money out of the property for a few years before they knocked it over and built on it, so they decidedly lax in many ways.

    I've worked out my landlord is completely useless and have resolved to turn the backyard jungle into a useable space at my own expense and time. A few weekends of clearing and I've got it to the point where I'm ready to lay turf.

    Having a useable backyard justifies the expense to me but it is annoying that I've added 55sqm of useable space to the property and probably added a modest couple of grand to the value of the house. Knowing my landlord there's even a slight chance she'll want the weed jungle back when I leave this place. (Not that I plan to do that for a while...)

      I hope you have a few years on your lease, I'd hate to tidy up a place only to have it sold from under me.

    Finding a good (reasonable) landlord is just as much a boon for a renter as finding a good tenant is for a landlord..
    It's amazing how many (non destructive) options really are available for minor things in rental properties.. 3M command strips are a godsend (although less so if your landlord specifically prohibits them) as are magnets!

    Always take photos before you do such improvements, to prove the condition it was in. Then if they are jerks and kick you out after all your hard work, just do your best to put it back the way you found it.

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