Should residential tenants make unit upgrades?

Every now and then, a tenant offers to make repairs to the unit he’s living in. Often, such offers are made in exchange for rent (in other words, the cost of the repairs is deducted from the monthly rental rate). In other instances, the tenant simply wants certain upgrades in his unit (a new paint job, removed carpet, etc.) and offers to do them himself. The argument for this is that the tenant can enjoy a place that “feels like home” and you reap the rewards of these upgrades once the tenant vacates the unit.

Let’s say that one of your long-time tenants wants to repaint his living room from the standard white all of your units are painted in to a more colorful rustic red. You agree that the color would suit the space well and tell your tenant he can deduct the price of paint and labor from his next rent payment.

When the first of the next month rolls around, the tenant presents you with a painting bill that accounts for most of his monthly rent. You ask to check out the living room and find that not only is the paint a much different shade of red than you had anticipated, but also the painting has been shoddily done. It’s uneven, red paint runs over the edges and is splashed on the white ceiling, and has also splattered over the carpet. Clearly, this is not what you bargained for, but your tenant argues that you agreed he could deduct painting costs from rent. You are now faced with either battling over rent money with your tenant or eating the cost to keep the tenant happy. Not only this, but you have lost money because you will have to repaint and re-carpet for the next tenant once this one vacates the unit.

Unfortunately, situations like this occur frequently when tenants take on repairs and upgrades themselves, no matter how good both of your intentions are. While it’s true that some of your tenants may be perfectly capable of taking on repairs and upgrades themselves, this is not a skill you can identify simply by how responsible your tenant is in other areas.

With all of this in mind, even if some tenants are perfectly capable of taking care of upgrades, you are best to make an across-the-board rule to avoid conflicts with all tenants: Repairs and upgrades can only be completed by licensed contractors at your discretion.

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