What modifications can a renter make to the property without landlord approval?

By Anika Legal | Sat 29th April '23

So you’ve just moved into your new rental home. You’re excited and are thinking about putting up picture frames, installing a shelf, maybe painting a room, changing the taps, or creating a vegetable garden to make your home look amazing!

Hold that thought - because first, it’s very important to understand what changes you can and can’t make as a renter?

What modifications can a renter make to the property without landlord approval?

The law says that renters (you):

  • can make some (temporary) changes to the home without the rental provider (landlord)'s permission; but
  • can’t do anything that will permanently change the home’s building structure, surfaces, or fixtures (which are objects permanently attached to the home) without the landlord’s permission.

The changes are referred to as ‘modifications’.

There are more limitations on modifications if the rental home is ‘heritage protected’. If your home is heritage protected, this means the property has to be kept as close as possible to the original condition at all times. If you think this may apply to you, just ask your landlord before making any modifications.

What modifications can I make?

I’m glad you asked!

There are some modifications you can make without the rental provider's permission.

You can install:

  • non-permanent window films to increase privacy or reduce heat to lower energy costs, reduce sun glare, or protect the items in your home;
  • a wireless doorbell;
  • curtains - but make sure you keep the original;
  • adhesive child safety locks on drawers or doors;
  • pressure mounted child-safety gates;
  • a lock on the letterbox;
  • picture hooks or screws for wall mounts, shelves, or brackets in walls, in-wall anchoring devices (but you’ll need permission if it’s on walls that have exposed brick or concrete)*;
  • wall anchors to secure items of furniture on all surfaces except exposed brick or concrete walls*;
  • LED light bulbs which don’t need a whole new light fitting*;
  • water-efficient showerheads - but make sure to keep the original*;
  • blind or cord anchors*;
  • hardware mounted child safety gates on walls other than exposed brick or concrete walls*; and/or
  • security lights, alarm systems, or security cameras that can be easily removed - but not devices that are hardwired or affect the privacy of your neighbours!

*Note: The items marked with an ‘*’ require the landlord’s permission if your property is heritage protected.

There are also some modifications that you need to ask permission for, but the rental provider can’t refuse without a good reason. These include:

  • telecommunication services - eg. Foxtel, antennas, tv satellite dishes;
  • picture hooks or screws for wall mounts, shelves, or brackets in walls, in-wall anchoring devices on walls that have exposed brick or concrete;
  • modifications for the purpose of heating or cooling;
  • hardware mounted child safety gates on exposed brick or concrete walls;
  • painting the home (it might help if you are getting it done professionally as this gives the landlord reassurance);
  • flyscreens on doors and windows (unless it affects evacuation rules which state that you cannot block the door or window from opening in an emergency); and/or
  • vegetable, compost, or herb garden.

Your landlord can’t refuse you making the above changes without a good reason if it’s necessary for your health, safety, security, reducing energy and water usage costs, or the changes aren’t permanently affecting the home’s structure, surface, or fixtures.

What modifications can’t I make without the landlord’s permission?

You can’t change the home's structure, surfaces, or fixtures without the landlord’s permission - But what does this mean?

Basically, you can’t just decide to:

  • renovate the home and remove a wall or door;
  • change the floors, carpets, tiles, shower, and/or toilet; or
  • remove, deactivate, or interfere with the safety devices such as electrical safety switches, and smoke alarms (including taking the batteries out to stop the beeping).

Remember to ask the landlord for permission before you decide to change any of the things mentioned above.

If you’re unsure about whether you need to ask your landlord or not, it’s probably better to ask!

Disability-related modifications

Equal opportunity laws provide additional protections if you need disability-related changes made to your home.

If you have a disability, the landlord can’t refuse or discriminate against any disability-related changes to the home provided by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) without good reason. Examples of disability-related changes are ramps, handrails, or bathroom hoists that provide easy accessibility to your home.

If you are not an NDIS participant, you can still request disability-related modifications to your home. They need to be reasonable changes, and your occupational therapist or other prescribed practitioner must agree, in writing, that they are required.

You still need permission from your landlord (or owner's corporation if relevant) to make disability-related changes to your home. If your landlord refuses your request for these kinds of changes, you should speak to a lawyer specialising in disability discrimination. You can contact Legal Aid Victoria for advice about what services might be available.

Can my landlord ask me to pay extra bond to make a modification?

Your landlord may ask you to pay more bond if you are planning to make some changes to the home.

But in some circumstances, you don’t need to pay an additional bond. This includes:

  • If the amount asked is less than $500;
  • If the additional bond amount requested by the landlord is more than what it would cost to reverse the change you’re planning to make;
  • If you have written permission saying you don’t have to change it back; or
  • If your landlord has agreed to a modification that’s funded under the NDIS scheme and the agreement with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) states that the modification cannot be changed back
My lease is ending - do I have to change things back?

Yes - You do need to change things back, unless:

  • your rental provider agrees (in writing) that you don’t have to; and/or
  • your rental agreement tells you that you don’t have to.

The law says if you made any modification to the property during your tenancy, you’re responsible for making sure it’s changed back to the way it was before you moved in.

If you can’t change it back, then you’ll need to pay the landlord a reasonable cost for them to change it back when you move out. The landlord may take a reasonable amount of your bond to cover these costs.

The exception to this requirement is if you have a written agreement with the landlord saying that you don’t have to change things back or pay them for the cost of changing things back.

It’s always good to have everything written down when you’re dealing with your landlord to avoid any misunderstandings or disputes.

Can my landlord refuse any modifications?

The landlord can only refuse your request to make modifications in the following circumstances:

  • the home is heritage listed (remember what we said above);
  • the modifications may result in the property not complying with other legal requirements - for example, any changes that may affect the evacuation rules during an emergency (remember the flyscreens on doors or windows example above);
  • the modifications will result in significant and permanent changes to the home’s surfaces, structure, fixtures, fittings, or any common areas;
  • the modifications would cost the landlord maintenance costs if it was not reversed when you moved out; or
  • the home is being sold or vacated, and you have been given a notice to vacate.

So if your landlord refuses your request, remember that the landlord must provide you with a reason for the refusal. If the reason isn’t one listed above, then you can consider speaking to a lawyer for advice.

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT)

If you think that your landlord:

  • has unreasonably refused your modification request; or
  • is unreasonably trying to claim a part, or all, of your bond in relation to your modification(s),

and you’re not able to negotiate with them to reach an agreement, then you can apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

If you're thinking about applying to VCAT, you should speak to a lawyer for advice about your situation first.

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