My lease forbids me to make
any repairs, alterations, or improvements to the premises. Is this legal?
Clauses prohibiting tenants from making any
repairs, alterations, or improvements to the rental are standard in many leases
and rental agreements. Often the lease will provide more detail, as to what’s
forbidden, such as nailing holes in the wall, painting the rental unit, or
rekeying any locks without the landlord’s permission.
But be aware that in certain situations, tenants
have a narrowly defined right to alter or repair the premises, regardless of
what the lease or rental agreement says. For example, disabled tenants are allowed
to modify their living space under the federal Fair Housing Acts, under
specified conditions. Another federal law gives tenants limited rights to
install wireless antennas and small satellite dishes.
And statutes in some states allow specific
alterations. For example, state laws in Texas and Virginia allow tenants to
install burglary prevention devices. Also, in many states, tenants have the right
to repair defects that make the rental unit uninhabitable. (Usually, the
tenant must first notify the landlord of the problem and give the landlord a
reasonable amount of time to fix it.)
If you’re in doubt about some improvement or
change you want to make to your apartment, check with your landlord first. If
you make an improvement without getting your landlord’s permission, such as
installing a built-in bookcase or dishwasher, the improvement may end up
becoming the landlord’s property when you leave; in fact, leases and rental
agreements often spell out the landlord’s right to certain improvements or
structural changes that affect the use or appearance of the rental unit.
For a detailed discussion of tenant rights when it comes to
repairs and alterations, including a landlord-tenant agreement regarding
improvements, see Every Tenant’s Legal Guide or (if
you’re renting in California), California Tenants’ Rights.