If I’m renting a property, can I adapt it for my disability needs? Cilna Steyn addresses the renter’s dos and don’ts of home improvements or alterations
There is a common misconception that a lease agreement allows a tenant to utilise a rental property and make improvements or alterations to the property as if it is their own. In addition, there is a belief that such improvements or alterations benefit the owner, and thus they must reimburse the tenant accordingly.
This is in fact not the correct interpretation of the acquisition of the right of occupation, in the context of a lease agreement. As much as the tenant is entitled to the full, undisturbed use and enjoyment of the property in terms of the lease agreement, there are still many contractual, common law and other legal provisions that regulates and limits the way in which a tenant may use and enjoy a rental property.
A normal starting point in this respect is that a tenant will never be entitled to make alterations be it structural or otherwise to the rental property without the written consent of the landlord.
Any improvements or alterations made to the rental property will become the property of the landlord. In the context of immovable property, the typical improvements and alterations become part of the immoveable property which is owned by the landlord; and thus requires any improvements or alterations to be considered the property of the landlord.
The only variation in this position would be where the parties agree, in writing, that this would not be the case. A tenant will not have a claim for alterations or repairs against the landlord unless the parties agreed that the landlord will carry the costs of such repairs or alterations.
Should a tenant require specific improvements, fixtures or fitting to the rental property to cater for the management of a disability, this must clearly be dealt with in terms of the lease agreement.
Let’s say for instance, the prospective tenant would require wheelchair ramps for access to and movement in the property.
The common law position would be that, should these alterations or improvements be temporarily in nature, for instance a removable ramp, there is no need to address this in the lease agreement.
However, should the alterations become physically attached to the property, these alterations will become the property of the landlord who can elect to retain such alterations without any reimbursement to the tenant. Or they may require the tenant to remove such alterations and return the property in the same condition that it was received.
All such alterations and the restorations of the property will then be for the tenant’s account unless the parties agree to a different position in the lease agreement.
Unfortunately, at this point in time there is no legal obligation on a landlord to ensure that a rental property is wheelchair accessible or caters in any other way for a tenant with a disability.
For this reason, it is absolutely essential to record all agreements relating to improvements and alterations between the parties as a special condition in terms of the lease agreement, to avoid any future disputes, misunderstandings and more importantly financial implications.