Renting an apartment or house can have its advantages. You can enjoy an ideal abode without the commitment and associated costs of being a homeowner. Perhaps your career requires the flexibility of a lease. Or, if you’ve found a unit you love, the thought of searching for the right long-term dream home might seem overwhelming. Instead, many tenants decide they would be better off investing some of their own money in fixing up a rental property.
That can work out well, but before you put the hammer to the nail and start improving a rental, it’s important to understand how your lease and renters insurance may be affected.
Here are three questions to consider before you start home improvements on your rental property.
What types of improvements does your lease allow?
Before you start paging through your favorite home decorating magazines and getting price quotes from contractors, check your lease to see what types of improvements are allowed. Many leases include a clause that covers repairs, moderations and alterations, often specifying what are considered reversible changes, such as repainting walls or screwing in new light switch plates.
Because landlords must make sure the property meets local zoning laws and building codes, many opt for strict clauses to prevent tenants from making changes that might put them in violation. The clauses might, for instance, require a tenant to restore the property to the condition it was in prior to an improvement, or to forfeit their security deposit to cover the costs of undoing an unapproved renovation. In some cases, a lease might say that unauthorized changes to the property are grounds for eviction.
Depending on how your lease is worded, any permanent features you add, like hanging light fixtures or built-in bookcases, might become the landlord’s property. Some leases will let you take them when you move out if you restore the property to its original condition. Knowing where you stand before you make any changes will prevent costly disappointments.
Is your landlord willing to negotiate the lease?
What if you want to spruce up your rental unit and your lease doesn’t allow the changes you’d like to make? Talk with your landlord about what you propose to do. If your landlord agrees to let you go ahead with the upgrades, get his or her written consent. Hire an attorney to draft a brief agreement that you both sign. It is a good investment in preventing future misunderstandings, not only to document that the renovation was given the green light, but also to determine whether or not your landlord will reimburse you for upgrades.
How will your improvements affect your renters insurance?
For the most part, remodeling your unit will not affect your renters insurance, as a basic policy does not cover the structure of the dwelling, just your belongings inside. However, be mindful that any potential damage caused during the upgrade – a pipe bursting and waterlogging your possessions, for example – may complicate matters. In addition, your landlord should review his or her home insurance policy to see if your proposed upgrades will affect coverage.
When in doubt, ask your insurance specialist if an update is needed to a policy – whether it’s yours or your landlord’s – before you make an improvement to your unit. That way, you can rest easy knowing that you’ll be fully covered if you ever need to file a claim.