Beyond the lick of paint, a tenant has limited room for maneuver to develop his home to his liking. - IStock / City Presse

After the desire to bequeath a heritage to their children, the second weighty argument of the supporters of real estate purchase is to have total freedom of transformation at home. While owners can completely remodel their homes in their own image, the room for maneuver in rental is indeed limited.

Comfort, but no more

All tenants have the obligation to maintain their accommodation and carry out routine repairs that may be necessary, such as replacing bulbs, fuses or bathroom seals. In return for these odd jobs, the occupants have the opportunity to arrange the premises so as to truly feel at home. But not everything is allowed.

In this regard, article 6 of the law of July 6, 1989 relating to rental relations provides that the tenant has complete freedom to carry out arrangements “as long as these do not constitute a transformation of the item rented”. How to differentiate these two concepts? The law does not say so. Faced with real interpretation concerns, it is the judges who often decide the question. Over the years, this case law has provided a guideline able to guide tenants and owners.

The courts thus consider reversible work aimed at improving the comfort or the aesthetics of the premises as improvements, without impacting the structure of the building. For example, you have no accountability if you want to paint a rainbow in your living room, attach shelves to the wall or replace the old brown carpet with a contemporary model to your liking. Likewise, you are free to set up your office in the garage. Conversely, it is easy to understand that knocking down a partition, creating a swimming pool buried in the garden or even bringing together two rented apartments to increase the total area is the sole responsibility of the owner.

Limit the risks

If, in many cases, common sense is sufficient to know the limits not to be exceeded, in others, doubt remains. Can we put carpet on parquet, paneling on a wall or replace a hip bath with a shower? In practice, it all depends on your relationship with your owner, the state of obsolescence of the equipment you have replaced or covered and how you have done it.

In case of doubt, the most prudent thing is to ask for the prior written consent of your lessor, in order to avoid any later difficulty. This is an opportunity to present this development as an added value for housing, and therefore to negotiate a financial contribution from the owner or a reduction in rent. Otherwise, be aware that if you have carried out transformation work without authorization, the lessor is entitled to keep them without indemnifying you or, on the contrary, to require that you restore the premises at your expense. And if the dispute is brought to court, he may obtain the termination of the lease for non-compliance with your obligations as a tenant.


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Practical cases

Case law is rife with disputes relating to work carried out in the context of a rental. Here are some examples :

  • Colorful walls: the tenant cannot be criticized for having repainted white walls in bright red, blue or mauve, since these colors "are not really eccentric {...} by following the trend decorative current ”.
  • Coverings: you can put carpet on the floor or put dissociable woodwork on the wall, but under no circumstances remove parquet.
  • Partitions: it is forbidden to knock down partitions, but it is possible to add more if they are removable and removable.
  • Cutting down trees: cutting down “most” of the trees surrounding a rented house is a transformation requiring the owner's agreement.

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