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Prohibited Changes to Rental Properties: Know Your Boundaries

Forbidden Changes to Rental Properties: Understanding Your Limitations

Renting a property comes with its own set of laws and regulations. One of the fundamental principles governing this relationship is that the tenant should maintain the property in good condition.

However, what often goes overlooked is that tenants aren’t allowed to make any changes without explicit permission from their landlord. In this article, we’ll look at why tenants are not allowed to make certain changes and outline the restrictions for property maintenance.


Painting one’s rental is probably one of the most common requests. Some tenants want to put up a fresh coat of paint to breathe new life into the dwelling or change the color to suit their taste.

However, if you’re considering doing so, know that it’s not as simple as swiping a brush over the walls. Tenants must remember that landlords have a right to maintain control over the appearance of the property, which includes aspects like the colors used.

Tenants must also consider the nature of the paint job. Only certain colors may be used, and painting is limited to specific portions designated by the landlord.

If you’re hoping to paint the entire property, you’ll need to negotiate this with the property owner.

Hanging Things on Walls

Whether it’s a prized art collection or a family photo gallery, tenants often want to hang items on the walls of their rental. However, property owners stipulate that you cannot damage the walls, and this includes making teeny-tiny nail holes.

It may be tempting to put up heavy objects, such as mirrors or picture frames, but this too, can lead to cracking or denting. Once your lease is up, tenants are typically required to patch and paint the walls, so unless you’re willing to pay for a professional to come in and fix the holes, it’s better to avoid making them altogether.

Also, keep in mind that plaster walls are harder to repair than drywall.

Changing the Locks

Tenants often think that they have the right to change the locks to their rental property. While it’s understandable to want security, this is not as straightforward as it seems.

In most states, permission must be obtained from the property owner, who may require a copy of the new key. Tenants cannot change the locks without the owner’s approval, as the property is not under their ownership.

Having said this, there is one exception when tenants don’t need permission, and that is when an abusive partner, ex-spouse or estranged family member has made threats, and violence is a concern. In these cases, the tenant can change the locks and should notify the owner.

Displaying Political Signs

The first amendment provides tenants with the right to express themselves and allows them to display political signs, religious symbols, and other messages. However, the property owner has the right to control the appearance of their property and to protect other tenants from intrusive signage or imagery.

While this right is protected under the First Amendment, conflicting case law has left landlords feeling unsure about their position and often results in varying bylaws across different municipalities. In some states, landlords are allowed to limit the size and display of any signs shown on their property.

Adding New Lighting

While it’s true that permanent alterations to a rental property are disallowed, tenants can make temporary changes such as swapping light fixtures or hanging lamps. A tenant must ensure that they swap back any overhead fixtures that were changed back to the original before the end of the lease.

Bear in mind that installing new lighting requires drilling and rewiring, which can pose a hazard when wires are exposed. Therefore, installing new lighting fixtures of this nature requires the landlord’s permission.

Still, it’s best to avoid any alteration altogether, as small temporary changes require patching and repainting by the tenant at the end of the lease.

Setting Up a Trampoline

Trampolines have become popular backyard playground equipment, but tenants should be aware that they are not permitted without permission. Trampoline-related accidents and injuries have increased tremendously in recent years, and the consequences of liability can be significant, leading to litigation.

To avoid such a scenario, landlords and tenants should agree to a waiver that places the burden of responsibility on the tenant. The lease agreement should outline clearly any risk or liability associated with the installation of a trampoline.

Installing an Above-Ground Pool

For the same reasons stated above, installing an above-ground pool in your backyard is also not allowed. Liability is the primary concern as pool-related accidents, particularly child injuries and deaths, have risen.

The storage of a pool during the off-season may also pose a threat to other tenants as it can be an eyesore.

Adding or Removing Landscaping Features

While it’s understandable that tenants wish to improve the aesthetic of their rental property, certain alterations such as cutting down trees, planting vegetable gardens, and installing shrubs or containers that remain in place beyond your tenancy can lead to alterations that outlast your stay.

The landlord controls what alterations can be made, so always seek permission first, and if granted, ensure you abide by the owner’s guidelines.

If in doubt, it’s best to avoid making any changes at all.

Installing a Security System

While installing a security system is a good idea in any rented property, it is vital to understand that such installation requires the landlord’s permission. Many security systems require non-hardwired doorbell cameras, motion sensors, and the like.

These may require wiring, drilling, hardware installations, and other alterations that may damage the property. Before installing any security system, seek the landlord’s permission.

Request for a security audit they may already have installed a system, and it’s good to know before making such changes.


Being a tenant comes with its challenges, but these are amplified when we neglect to take into account the regulations that govern property rental. Understanding the limitations of making changes in the rental allows for a constructive dialogue between the tenant and property owner.

Compliance with these restrictions is for the benefit of both parties and avoiding conflicts that arise from uninformed action. State and local variations in rental property rules vary across the United States, and as a renter, it’s essential to understand the differences that come with renting in different areas.

In this article, we will delve into the different rules governing renters in different states and localities.

State-to-State Differences

Renters Protection Laws: It’s essential to familiarize yourself with the renter protection laws in the state in which you reside. These laws specify the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants.

Some states allow tenants to have more rights than others, such as a longer cancellation period before renewing a lease. This is why it’s essential to understand the differences between states before moving to a new area.

Changing Locks: While property owners are responsible for the property’s upkeep, locking the doors adds an extra layer of safety and security. However, a tenant should be aware of their state’s changing lock regulations.

Some states require that a tenant must receive permission from the landlord before changing locks, while others allow tenants to change locks without informing landlords. It is advisable to always check the rules that apply to the state in which you rent.

Leasing Rules: The length of a lease varies depending on the state. Some states allow short-term leases, such as month-to-month agreements, while others require long-term leases with a minimum period of six months to a year.

Tenants should always be aware of their state’s leasing requirements and limitations before signing a rental agreement.

Constitutional Issues

First Amendment: The right to free speech is guaranteed under the United States Constitution’s First Amendment and is applicable to tenants’ rental rights. Tenants have the right to express themselves, including the right to display political signs.

However, this is subject to state and municipal law, which places restrictions on the size, location, and content of messages displayed on private property, including rented properties. Property Owner’s Rights: Property owners have the right to control the appearance of their property and to limit the size, location, and content of messages or images displayed on their property.

To avoid any conflict regarding the display of political signs, tenants must seek prior permission from landlords and adhere to any limitations set forth by the property owner. Tenant’s Rights: Tenants have the right to live in a safe dwelling, and they have the free exercise of religion.

Property owners cannot infringe upon these rights. Tenants must abide by the terms of the lease agreement in return for their right to live safely in the dwelling they are renting.

Local Bylaws

Political Sign’s Legality: Political signs can be subject to municipal law, providing more guidelines than state law. For example, local bylaws may dictate when tenants can display political signs, where they can post them, and how large they can be.

Some localities restrict the number of signs that can be displayed. Yard Fixture’s Legality: Installing yard fixtures like sheds or swing sets may have limitations depending on the locality.

Some neighborhoods or towns may have zoning laws in place that limit tenants from installing certain yard features. To avoid any issues or fines, tenants must consult with their landlord or local officials to determine what fixtures are permissible.

Altering Landscaping: Altering lawn care and landscaping is not allowed if such modifications can result in permanent changes. This is because such modifications would outlast a tenant’s tenancy.

Any lawn changes must have an agreement with the landlord before changes, including planting shrubs, creating vegetable gardens, or cutting down trees. Tenants must seek permission from the landlord specific to approved gardening locations, preferred styles to best create curb appeal, and required care.

Compliance with Lease Agreement

Altering Property: Tenants must not make any permanent alterations to the property without permission from the property owner. Any alterations made should be temporary and returned when the lease contracts are over.

Tenants must also return the dwelling in the same condition as it was in when they moved. In some states, landlords are allowed to deduct charges incurred as a result of damage or alterations made by tenants.

Breaking Lease: Breaking a lease is where a tenant vacates a property before the end of an agreed-upon lease agreement. In most states, tenants may break the lease agreement if they can prove that there has been a material breach of the agreement by the landlord.

However, termination of a lease may result in a penalty established in the lease agreement, up to including forfeiture of the security deposit. Security System: Tenants must obtain landlord permission to add any security systems as they often require wiring, hardwiring, or drilling.

Tenants should not make any alterations that permanently affect the property without approval. If landlords consent, portable cameras, and alarm systems are recommended.

As an alternative, some homeowners find that installing new deadbolts and outdoor lights can provide an extra level of security without making permanent changes that violate the lease agreement.


Living in a rental property is a unique experience with its own set of rules and regulations. It’s important to understand the different rules and regulations in the state and locality where you’re renting.

It’s also critically essential to comply with local bylaws and lease agreements to avoid any legal disputes. Tenants should communicate with landlords about any needed changes and not make any permanent alterations until such permission is provided.

Tenants should exercise safe and responsible practices to make their rental experience enjoyable, safe, and memorable. In conclusion, understanding the various restrictions and variations in rental property rules is crucial to avoid any legal disputes between landlords and tenants.

Tenants should follow their lease agreements, comply with state and local regulations, and communicate with their landlords before making any changes to the property. By adhering to these guidelines, tenants can live safely, comfortably and enjoyably in their rental property while protecting their rights as renters.

Ultimately, renting property is a unique experience, and it’s essential to be well-informed before signing a lease agreement.

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