A tenant may wish to add to the comfort or security of their home by making minor changes at their own expense. It is important that tenants follow the proper process otherwise action can be taken against them for breaching the terms of their lease.
Tenants must first seek the landlord’s written consent before they add a fixture or make any renovation, alteration or addition to the premises. If an agent is managing the property, a tenant can put their request to them. It is best to put it in writing so there is a record of the request.
When submitting a request, tenants should try to provide as much information as they can about the change they wish to make to the property. For example, if a tenant wants to install pay television, they should first find out exactly what is required to be done to the property (such as installing a satellite dish on the roof). A landlord may also be more likely to agree to the request if a qualified tradesperson carries out the alterations.
Agreement is essential
Before tenants make any changes, they should agree with their landlord as to who will pay the costs and what will happen to any fixture they add at the end of the tenancy. Make sure this is recorded in writing.
Changing the locks
A landlord or tenant must not alter, remove or add a lock or other security device during a tenancy without the consent of the other party or without a reasonable excuse. It is an offence to change the locks or other security devices without consent or without a reasonable excuse.
It is a reasonable excuse to change the locks or other security devices without consent in these circumstances:
- in an emergency, or
- to comply with a Tribunal order, or
- after the termination of a co-tenancy, or
- after an interim, provisional or final Apprehended Violence Order (AVO) prohibits another tenant or occupant from accessing the property.
A landlord or tenant will need to give a copy of the changed lock or other security device to the other party within 7 days, unless otherwise agreed.
Changing the locks does not alter the tenancy agreement.
Rules on costs
Generally, an added fixture or change made by a tenant is at their own expense unless the landlord offers to pay. For example, a landlord may offer to share or cover the cost of materials or reduce some rent. It is entirely up to the agreement between the tenant and landlord. Tenants are not able to go to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (the Tribunal) seeking to get back money for improvements, so make sure that this is agreed upon well in advance.
Removal at the end of the tenancy
If a tenant pays for any fixtures in the premises, they are allowed to remove them at the end of the tenancy, as long as they notify their landlord or agent of any damage this causes.
Tenants must then either pay for the cost of repairs, or arrange to repair any damage to a satisfactory standard.
If the landlord pays for the fixture in some way, then the tenant is not allowed to remove it without their consent. The landlord has the right to apply to the Tribunal for an order that prohibits the tenant from removing a fixture, or an order that the tenant pays for repairs to any damage they have caused in removing a fixture.
If a tenant does not remove a fixture they have added by the time they hand back possession, they cannot come back and get it later. It ceases to belong to the tenant and forms part of the premises.
When can a landlord refuse a tenant's request?
A landlord cannot unreasonably refuse a request to add a fixture or to make a change that is of a minor nature.
The law gives some guidance on the types of reasons where it is reasonable for a landlord to say no to a request.
These include work which:
- involves structural changes (e.g. knocking out a wall)
- is not reasonably capable of being rectified, repaired or removed
- is not consistent with the nature of the property (e.g. installing modern fixtures in a heritage property)
- is prohibited under a law (such as a strata by-law).
This is not an exhaustive list. There may be other reasons to decline a request. If a tenant thinks that the reason for their landlord’s refusal is not reasonable, they can apply to the Tribunal for permission to make the change.
While a landlord cannot unreasonably refuse a change of minor nature, the law does not define what a change of a ‘minor nature’ is. This depends on the property and the circumstances. It is for the tenant and landlord to agree on, or for the Tribunal to resolve if a dispute arises.
Examples of the types of changes that may be considered reasonable include:
- installing window safety devices for small children
- installing additional security features
- having a phone line connected
- putting a reasonable number of picture hooks in the wall
- planting some vegetables or flowers in the garden
- connecting to pay television
- replacing the toilet seat
- installing a grab rail in the shower for elderly or disabled occupants.
Painting the premises
It is up to the landlord to decide whether the tenant can paint the premises (inside or out) and the Tribunal cannot give permission if the landlord refuses. If the landlord does consent, the tenant should make sure they are aware of the colour, type and brand of paint and how many coats they are planning to do before they begin, to avoid any disagreements later on. These details should be included in the landlord's written consent.
Installing the National Broadband Network (NBN)
As with other types of alterations, if a tenant would like to access the NBN, they must first seek the landlord’s written consent. Tenants may have to pay any costs associated with the installation of this service, but they can negotiate with their landlord who might agree to pay for some or all of the costs.
If internal wiring is required then you may need to organise a separate licensed cabler because the NBN installer will not undertake internal wiring tasks and permanent cabling through walls, floor or ceiling cavities. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) can provide information on where to find registered cablers.
Visit the NBN Co website for more information about connecting to the NBN.
Remedies for unsatisfactory work
A landlord can apply to the Tribunal for an order against the tenant for the cost of rectifying work the tenant has done or arranged if:
- they can show the work was not done to a satisfactory standard, or
- it is likely to adversely affect the landlord’s ability to rent the premises in the future to other tenants.
Such an application can be made whether or not the landlord gave consent to add the fixture or to make the change.