"Why Can't My Landlord Just..." - What Tenants Don't Realize about Landlord Decisions

We've all been there. Most modern adults have been that tenant making requests of a landlord and wondering why you are being denied. Why can't you have a cat, just one cat? Why can't you install a few shelves by the front door? Why can't your boy/girlfriend move in casually without signing the lease?

  • Thursday, February 6, 2020

  Matt Angerer

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We've all been there. Most modern adults have been that tenant making requests of a landlord and wondering why you are being denied. Why can't you have a cat, just one cat? Why can't you install a few shelves by the front door? Why can't your boy/girlfriend move in casually without signing the lease?

As we get older, the "No"s to some of these questions become clearer. But there are many things that landlords say no to that tenants see as simple unfair restriction. In reality, landlords are held to limitations that many tenants don't realize or understand. Landlords often want to compromise in ways that will make tenants happy, but are unable to for legal or logistical reasons that somehow never come up in conversation.

Well, today we're here to pull back the curtain. Why do landlords say "no" to so many totally reasonable and harmless requests? Let's dive into the answers for some of the most universally annoying tenant denials.

Why Can't My Landlord Just...

... Let Me Hang Shelves or Art on the Walls?

One of the great things about drywall is that you can punch holes in it and spackle it closed again with ease. This makes it easy to hang all sorts of things that make life easier and more beautiful. Most residents want to hang a little art on the walls, from paintings and posters to tapestries and sculpture. And the occasional shelf hung in just the right place can make a home so much more functional for your daily purposes.

So why do most landlords have a strict no-holes-punched policy? It's about the long-term longevity of the house. A home with owner-residents is decorated maybe once every few years, or even every decade. New paintings or shelves are not constantly being hung and replaced. But apartments and rental homes turn over residents more quickly. Consider the integrity of the drywall after several dozen differently-placed paintings have been hung, removed, and spackled over.

While a few hung decorations may be harmless and acceptable with pin-hole nails. But installing anything that requires a drywall anchor is too far for most rental homes. But you might be able to pitch a permanent improvement that would be appreciated by future tenants, like shelves in the laundry room.

... Allow Me to Have a Pet?

Pets. The single biggest fight that tenants have with landlords. Pets are inherently damaging to property values. Perhaps in very small amounts at a time, but pets do eventually result in damage. Allow all tenants to bring their pets, unscreened, and some of those pets will be disaster-makers no matter how well-behaved all the other pets are.

There will be stained carpets, chewed walls, scratched floors, and the HVAC filters will need to be changed more frequently. Not to mention that pet dander from a previous tenant can set off the allergies of a new tenant, making pet-friendly homes less available for non-pet-owning tenants.

In addition, some cities also have regulations on the size and breed of pets that can live in certain conditions and buildings.

These are the reasons why your landlord has said "No" to you getting a pet or moving in with one. Some landlords will negotiate or accept an additional payment for the expected repair costs. Some will even be willing to interview your pet and allow well-behaved pet-families. But in general, no-pets is the safe real estate investment policy.

... Make the Upgrades I've Asked For?

As the tenant, you have a right to ask for repairs and the occasional home upgrade if the home's quality of life is impaired. In many states, you can ask your landlord to install safety features like an outdoor light for the front walk or a handicap-safe ramp. You can and should be receiving all necessary and serious repairs taken care of in a timely manner. But improvements to the home beyond this are often denied.

If, for example, you want your landlord to expand the deck or upgrade one of the house's aging appliances, don't count on it. Landlords have to schedule their large purchases and changes to the house carefully based on rent to profit ratio and maintenance schedules. In fact, they are used to taking care of all unit quality upgrades between tenants so that rent can be quietly raised accordingly without raising the rent "on" a tenant.

Most landlords are very resistant to changing their upgrade and improvement system and no single tenant will change their ways. However, many landlords are also receptive to a good pitch on ways to improve home value in the long-term.

... Let My Friend/Relative Stay for a Few Weeks?

Guests are another sticky topic for many landlords and for rental communities. Let's be honest; most landlords don't care about guests. Landlords of small homes in suburban neighborhoods usually don't care if you have someone over for a few nights, a few weeks, or even a few months as long as there's no mess or drama. Most of the time, landlords don't keep that close of tabs on their tenants.

But in situations where guest policies have become a problem, here's why: Guests are un-leased tenants. A tenant who has signed a lease is legally and financially obligated to uphold the landlord's rules. The leased tenants will be paying for damage that guests cause and they are contractually barred from certain behaviors in the home. But guests are not bound by the lease contract, and that can get messy.

Some landlords, usually those with bad past experiences, become picky about guests. They want guests to stay very short periods of time, to be approved, or to sign the lease. This may be picky and a little nosy, but it's not actually unreasonable.

The best solution? Offer to draft and have your guest sign a temporary lease holding them responsible for their conduct and any damage caused. Most landlords are just worried about accountability, not who you have over.

... Let Me Change the Garden?

So you want to do your own gardening, but the yard is already landscaped. Before you pull up any monkey grass to plant begonias, you check in with your landlord just to be polite. And amazingly, they deny you the right to garden. Why? Why would a landlord care if you garden or not? This one is surprisingly complicated.

First, are you in an HOA? If your rental home is inside an HOA neighborhood, there might be all sorts of crazy rules that your landlord is held to. You see, your landlord is actually the home-owning member of the HOA. They pay yearly dues on the house. They are subject to details in the CC&Rs that you will probably never hear about. And some of those restrictions relate to gardening and curbside appearance. If it's an HOA issue, you might offer to garden in the backyard or with planters on the patio instead.

Second, are there ecological restrictions? In some states and regions, like Hawaii, the ecological restrictions for landscaping are so strict that landlords would rather lock down their landscaping and maintain one compliant design.

Third, your landlord might just be a little uptight about changing the garden. In general, if you want to garden but your landlord supplies landscapers, this might not be a good match. Gardening tenants should look for rental houses where lawn maintenance is a tenant task.

... Allow a Younger Relative to Stay in My 55+ Home?

Over 55 neighborhoods are a wonderful thing for many retirees. You get to live in a quiet, well-kept neighborhood of other people sharing your same stage of life. Everything is great until you have a reason to invite younger relatives to sleep in your guest room. After all, why have a guest room if not to welcome family?

Short visits are just fine, but your landlord isn't actually being a jerk by saying your daughter or grandson can't stay in your 55+ rental home as a resident. Even a short-term resident. Why? Because those are the rules of 55+ neighborhoods. No children, no young or middle-aged adults. This is part of the benefit seniors gain from these communities and exceptions would quickly transform those neighborhoods back into busy family neighborhoods.

Depending on the local regulations, your landlord may not legally be allowed to overlook your younger guests if they stay more than a few weeks.

... Let Me Do My Own Maintenance?

Perhaps you're handy with a screwdriver and good at keeping a home in top condition. Maybe you've even had some cool landlords who let you be your own handiman, saving both of you a little money along the way. So why on earth won't your current landlord let you do your own repairs and home maintenance?

It comes down to liability and statistics. It's true, some landlords are laid back and might be handy themselves, so they tend to know a handi-person when they see one and know which tenants to trust with their own maintenance. But not all landlords know how to safely make that call. And it only takes one completely ruined appliance or plumbing system to stop trusting tenants to do their own maintenance.

So if your landlord flat-out refuses to let you fix things and makes you wait for a repair person to arrive, relax. Your landlord probably can't tell the difference between a handy tenant and a DIY disaster in the making, so they're making the only smart decision they know how.

... Approve My Holiday Decorations?

 Finally, holiday decorations. Throughout the year, many families like to dress up the house. Not just for Halloween and Christmas. But landlords are not always down with decorations. Often, tenants have been told not to put up decorations, to limit their decorations to specific things, or to take down anything extravagant.

Why is your landlord being a kill-joy? It's probably not because they're Mr. Scrooge. If you're in an HOA, your landlord may not be allowed to permit you decorations outside of HOA policies. Even of those policies are ridiculous by proxy. There might be state or city safety regulations limiting use of certain types of decorations. Or there might be cultural tension in the region that you're not aware of that has been settled with modest home decorations.

Go with the flow, but feel free to outright ask your landlord A) What the decoration guidelines really are and B) why. Most landlords will be glad you asked and happy to tell you, rather than simply butting heads.

Here at VerticalRent, we've worked with thousands of tenants and landlords alike, and we know where communication tend to fall through. Let us help you clear up any misunderstandings along the way. Tenants looking for a new rental can find not just roommate connection services with VerticalRent, but also help finding a landlord that meshes with your residential style. Whether you're handy, animal-loving, always hosting family, or want a quiet home with minimal disruption, we can help you find it. 

About the author

Matt Angerer is the Founder and President of VerticalRent. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics that help Landlords, Property Managers, and Renters across America. He is particularly interested in helping renters understand their local marketplace, pick the best places to live, and find an awesome roommate. Since 2011, VerticalRent has grown to service over 100,000 landlords and renters across America. 

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