Consumer Information

Author: Knight Frank
17 February 2021

Should Landlords Let Tenants Decorate a Rental Property?

According to research carried out by Knight Frank, the private rental sector is expected to reach 22% of the total housing stock by 2023, with 35-49-year-olds now the largest group living in rented housing.

These people are in it for the long-term, so it’s understandable that they would want to personalise their home. However, unlike owner-occupiers, tenants don’t always have the freedom to paint walls or hang wallpaper to make a house feel like home.

In 2015, Endsleigh Insurance interviewed 1,000 tenants – 25% of them had been in their rented property for more than three years. 43% of those interviewed said they were willing to pay more rent if their landlord gave them permission to decorate, but less than a third of private sector landlords do this. Sadly, 20% said they were too embarrassed about their properties to invite people over.

What do Tenants Want?
19% of tenants want the option of painting walls in a colour they like
17% want to fix screws in walls to hang heavy pictures and mirrors
10% of tenants want to hang wallpaper
9% want to stick posters and pictures on the wall using blue-tack
9% want to fix a flat-screen TV to the wall
The upshot of this research is that tenants want to do all the things anyone does when they want to add their own personal touches.

And who can blame them?

Most landlords use neutral colours to decorate a rental property. Magnolia, cream, and similar shades are perfect for creating a blank canvas for new tenants. People can imagine their own furniture in a room when they come to view, which helps them decide whether the property is right for them.

There’s nothing wrong with bland, neutral colours, but does anyone really want to live in a magnolia house forever? Probably not. Let’s be honest, it’s pretty boring.

A lot of landlords include a clause in their tenancy agreements that states tenants must not use drawing pins, nails, picture hooks, and anything else that might damage the walls – including blue-tack. Why? Because it creates more work at the end of a tenancy. You’d be surprised how long it takes to go around a room and fill in two dozen holes.

It’s perfectly understandable from a landlord’s perspective, but for a tenant, not being able to hang pictures or decorate means the property will never really feel like a home. And if it doesn’t, why stay?

Why let Tenants Redecorate?

There are a lot of good reasons to let your tenants decorate (with some ground rules in place, of course).

Decorating a house is an investment. It costs around £16 to buy a 2.5-litre tub of Dulux paint, and somewhat less to buy a trade brand. This would be enough to paint four walls in a relatively small room. For a larger room, you’d need a 5-litre tub of paint, which is typically around £30.

Let’s say you want to hang some wallpaper. The cost of wallpaper varies considerably, but expect to pay around £20-£35 a roll from a store like B&Q. For a medium-sized room, it would take, say, 12 rolls, depending on the pattern match and height of the ceiling. That’s at least £240, and then you have the extra cost of paste.

When a tenant has spent good money on paint and wallpaper, they fully intend on sticking around for a while. Long-term tenants are a landlord’s best friend. Each time a decent tenant moves out, it takes time to find a new one of the same calibre. There are also expenses associated with finding new tenants and setting up a new tenancy agreement.

If a tenant wants to decorate, they clearly take pride in their home. For a landlord, this is good. Tenants are unlikely to trash the place if they have gone to the trouble of painting and decorating.

Happier tenants lead to happier landlords. Everyone’s a winner.

You could even make money by allowing your tenants to decorate. Many tenants are willing to pay more rent in return for the privilege of being able to redecorate when they want.

Putting Rules in Place

“… if there’s an established and trusting relationship, and so long as you set out the terms and conditions and understand what they want to do, it is in the interests of both parties to let them decorate,” says Alan Ward of the Residential Landlords Association.

Rules are important. Without rules in place, tenants can do as they like, and you will find it hard to argue when you conduct a property inspection and discover the walls are now a heady mix of red paint and leopard print wallpaper.

Be very clear about what you are willing to permit. For example, if you are happy to let tenants paint the walls, but not wallpaper, put it in writing. Having a written agreement that states what you will and will not accept means everyone is on the same page and there is less chance of a dispute in the future.

No major structural alterations

Painting walls is one thing – knocking down walls is quite another!

Removing walls, doors, kitchen cupboards, or adding new structures could cause you a lot of bother. It’s unlikely that an enthusiastic tenant will take a sledgehammer to a connecting wall in a misguided attempt to create an open-plan living space, but never say never. Therefore, it’s best to spell out what is NOT allowed from the start. That way, nobody gets the wrong idea.

Add decorating clauses to your tenancy agreements

The tenancy agreement is where you put in writing what you will and will not accept. So, if you are happy to let tenants paint walls but not put up shelves, put this in writing. The more detail the better. Try to cover every possibility as clearly as possible.

Decide whether you want tenants to return the property to its original state at the end of the tenancy. For example, if you hand it over with magnolia walls and white woodwork, put in writing that this is how the property should be returned to you. You can even go as far as to state the exact shade or brand of paint you want a tenant to use.

Discuss the Tenant’s Plans

It’s sensible to ask the tenant to let you know prior to redecorating. Frame it in a positive, helpful way. For example, you could offer to lend them some decorating equipment, such as dust sheets, paintbrushes, etc. In return, ask them to run their design plan past you, so you can check what colours they have in mind, and veto any that you don’t want them to use (pro tip: it will take many, many coats of trade magnolia to cover black walls).

Schedule a property inspection for when their decorating work has been completed. You can then make sure they did a decent job and kept non-painted areas clean and free of paint splashes (i.e. laminate floors or carpets).

If you want to be super careful, have a budget for decorating and offer to pay for the work to be done (or do it yourself), using colours the tenant has selected. This can be a useful way to attract tenants at the start, especially in areas where there is an abundance of rental properties at your price point.

Keep accurate records

Property inventories are a must-do at the start and end of a tenancy. They are especially important if you are happy to let tenants decorate during their tenancy.

Take photos of the state of the décor prior to the tenant moving in. That way, you can compare it to what each room looks like when the tenant moves out, and if there is a massive discrepancy, charge them accordingly.

Always ask the tenant to sign a copy of the inventory report, to prove they agree with it.

Property Inspections

It’s also wise to carry out regular property inspections, so you can spot any problems quickly. Tenants who repeatedly make excuses to prevent you from gaining access should be treated with extreme suspicion. It’s likely that a bad paint job is the least of your worries…

If the worst happens and you discover your tenant has gone crazy with some purple paint or banged in a million nails, you have concrete evidence the property was in good condition before they took over the tenancy. This will prove helpful if you need to hang on to your tenant’s deposit to cover the cost of redecorating.

What to do When it all Goes Horribly Wrong

If you conduct a property inspection mid-tenancy and discover the tenant has gone ahead and decorated without your permission, take a moment to consider what to do next. Assuming they have done a good job and the end result is tasteful, it might be better to agree to let it slide, as long as they return the property to its original condition at the end of the tenancy. An otherwise reliable tenant is not worth losing over a minor issue. However, if the end result is somewhat ruinous or unsightly, ask them to fix it and remind them they are in breach of their tenancy agreement.

If you are faced with a breach of the decorating clause at the end of the tenancy, you may choose to redecorate. Hopefully, you took our advice and carried out a thorough inventory before the tenancy began. This gives you the proof you need to deduct a reasonable amount from the tenants deposit for redecorating.

If decorating at the end of a tenancy is not your cup of tea, it’s usually easier to pay someone else to do the job. Professional decorators can finish a room in a fraction of the time as DIY job. They also often do a much tidier job.

We hope this guide has been useful! Let us know if any of your tenants have ever gone behind your back and decorated a rental property. Did they do such a good job that you kept their design?

The original article can be viewed here:

Read the Knight Frank survey here: