The Katy rental market is booming, opening up many exciting opportunities for property owners and managers hoping to expand their work, but as the market grows, new concerns continually arise. From debates about pets to handling maintenance and landscaping issues, property managers are busy people with a lot on their plates. So when a tenant asks for permission to make some changes to their apartment or rental home, what should you do?
Property owners and managers are divided about whether or not to allow tenants to update or renovate their living spaces, and for good reason. What starts out as a well-meaning home improvement project can become a big mess in a flash, and if communication breaks down, you may even find yourself facing legal problems. Deciding how to proceed demands reckoning with the worst possible outcomes of any project.
If you’d like to open up the possibility of tenant-led property renovations, there are several things you can do to protect your property and your relationship with your tenant. On a case-by-case basis, property managers should assess these factors before green lighting any project.
Scope and Content
The first thing you’ll need to do when a tenant asks about making changes to a property is find out what they want to do. What’s the scope of their intended project? In many cases, tenants simply want to paint the walls, as many property owners paint all the walls white or cream – an understandable impulse since these light colors are dull and dirty easily.
It’s important to be clear about the tenant’s intentions for their project, however, before you approve any project. “Do you mind if I make some changes to the apartment,” can quickly turn into “I put in a skylight and tore out the wall between the kitchen and living room and never finished rewiring it” if you don’t discuss the project and document it.
You may also want to ask your tenants to acquire a price estimate for any changes they plan to make and submit this estimate with supporting documents that show they can afford to pay for them, just as you would require pay stubs before renting to new tenants. Many people undertake projects that are bigger than their budgets and this is when problems arise.
Assess Your Relationship
While many properties have a blanket policy preventing tenants from making changes, in the case of long-term renters, you may want to consider your relationship when discussing renovations. Long-term renters who’ve been with you for years and don’t plan on moving any time soon should have more freedom to make changes and upgrades than new or transient tenants.
Some of the long-terms tenants are part of a class known as “lifestyle renters” who don’t plan to buy their own home, but do want to feel comfortable and like the place they live suits their personality. These are people who you can feel secure with, knowing they’ll take good care and do quality work on the property, and won’t leave you holding an un-rentable apartment a year or two from now because they badly damaged it.
Set Some Guidelines
If you’re generally open to tenants making changes to your properties, one way to ensure that any renovations remain within reason is by creating a set of guidelines. Much like a style “look book,” your guidelines might offer acceptable paint and carpet colors or types, restrictions on new doors or windows, and other simple rules that can help keep your properties looking their best. The same goes for contractors – if you have tenants who want to do more extensive work in their home, you may require them to choose among certain prescreened contractors whose work you trust.
Be sure to be specific if you’re going to create guidelines for property changes. For example, subdued green tones are lovely for bedrooms and kitchens, but that doesn’t mean you should tell tenants they can paint the bedroom “green or yellow.” What you’re imaging as pale olive or a light goldenrod they may be imagining as Kelly green or highlighter yellow. Those are definitely not equivalent tones and you’ll have a tough time selling other tenants on neon paint jobs.
You should also be explicit about any changes you don’t want made to properties when approving any tenant-let renovations. Be up front about what’s acceptable for your properties, because at the end of the day, you’re the one responsible for them.
Put it in Writing
The most important thing you can do if you’re going to allow your tenants to make changes to your properties is to put the changes in writing. A formal permission letter that authorizes the tenant to take on a project is the best way to do this. Make sure to include appropriate names and contacts and be specific about how the project must be completed. Do you want to be given a weekly update or tour of the ongoing work? Do you want to break up a project into several steps and authorize each one individually? Put it all in writing so that you have a paper trail.
Keep any paperwork documenting authorized changes with that tenant’s files and be clear from the outset about any potential ramifications if the project is not completed to your specifications. It’s also important to run any such letters past a lawyer specializing in property issues before putting them into effect.
Your Properties, Your Rules
If you’re managing properties in the Katy area and feeling uncertain about how to handle topics like renovations with your tenants, Green Residential is here to help. We specialize in maintenance and management and can help you make smart decisions about how to keep your properties looking their best without losing tenants to your competitors.
At Green Residential, we have over 30 years of property management experience and we want to put it to work for you. Contact us today to learn more about how we can support your Katy-area rental properties. You’ll be glad you did!