Social Housing Management: Unauthorised Tenant Alterations

Under a Scottish secure tenancy agreement (SST), tenants have the right to carry out alterations and improvements to the property they reside in. In this blog, I am going to detail the importance of following a good alterations process and how even well-meaning tenants can get things terribly wrong.

I will be speaking through the Scottish context, however, the principals will be very similar where ever you are within the UK.


Within the model SST it states:

If you want to:

~ Alter, improve or enlarge the house, fittings or fixtures;

~ Add new fittings or fixtures (for example kitchen or bathroom installations, central heating or other fixed heaters, double glazing, or any kind of external aerial or satellite dish) ;

~ Put up a garage, shed or other structure;

~ Decorate the outside of the house;

you must first get our written permission. We will not refuse permission unreasonably. We may grant permission with conditions including conditions regarding the standard of the work.

The most important part of the above section is the need for written permission. If tenants do not apply for permission to carry out alterations, the landlord will have no chance to assist the tenant through the process. This will potentially lead to the installation of dangerous unauthorised alterations, some examples of which I will detail later.

The second important point in the above section is the granting of permission with conditions. These conditions are usually very simple such as using a competent tradesperson, not incurring expense to the landlord or supplying relevant certification on completion. This gives the landlord the opportunity to explain what is expected from the tenant and to supply the tenant with information to guide them through the process.

When the process is adhered to, it allows the tenant to carry out alterations and improvements which can lead to a more long term sustainable tenancy.

Lounge refurb


If Scottish secure tenants or short Scottish secure tenants carry out certain alterations or improvements to their property they may be entitled to compensation if they decide to end their tenancy. If the tenant does not obtain written permission before making the alteration they will not be entitled for compensation.

Under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001, Scottish secure tenants and short Scottish secure tenants may be able to receive compensation for certain improvements. These include things such as fitting:

  • Certain items in the bathroom / kitchen (bath, shower, extracts, WHB, WC, sink, work surface)
  • Energy-saving measures (loft insulation, CWI, double glazing, draught proofing)
  • Sound insulation
  • Rewires;
  • Space or water heating and thermostatic radiator valves;

The tenant will usually need to provide proof of the cost of the alteration. When the tenant ends their tenancy, the landlord will calculate the amount owed, taking into account a number of factors such as quality, depreciation, and monies owed to the landlord.

Bathroom refurb 2

Unauthorised Alterations

I am sure everyone who works with a local authority or housing association will have plenty of horror stories of alterations which have gone wrong in one way or another. Firstly it is important to point out that under the SST, landlords are entitled to remove any alterations or improvements that are completed without permission and restore the house to its previous condition during or at the end of the tenancy. In this situation, the tenant would incur a charge for this work.

Usually in my experience, if the alteration was completed without permission but it would have been otherwise granted if the tenant had requested permission then a retrospective application could be made. This allows the landlord to spell out the conditions for the alteration in the retrospective permission.

I will give a few examples of alterations that have gone wrong and issues that could have been avoided had the tenant applied for permission.

The first example is that of a tenant who fitted inappropriate spotlights within a bathroom. An unqualified friend of the tenants lowered the ceiling and wired up the new lights. A fire subsequently occurred within the void between the old ceiling and the new lowered ceiling. This fire completely ruined the bathroom, luckily no one was injured.

The second example is of a tenant who found themselves in difficult financial circumstances. The tenant decided that they wanted to conduct a full property renovation. They removed the bathroom, kitchen and made major alterations throughout the property. After rendering the property uninhabitable the tenant ran out of money and could not continue with the work. This required a major works project to bring this property back to a lettable standard.

Finally, we had an example of a tenant who was receiving 24-hour care. The care agency arranged for the kitchen to be replaced and done so without asking for permission. The installer disconnected the waste to the bathroom shower when installing the drainage for the kitchen. A few months later we received a call to investigate a foul smell. It turned out that the under-floor void had been flooded out. This turned out to be a very expensive repair.

I have seen everything from failed loft conversions to ‘man caves’ in garden areas, each alteration needs to be dealt with on an individual basis to examine whether it is safe to be left in place. In some cases, the only option is to return to back to standard incurring a rechargeable repair to the tenant.

Old and New bathroom


The alterations process is not in place to hinder the tenant from giving their home a personal touch or to prevent the empowering of tenants to improve their home. It is mainly there for practical reasons such as keeping tenants safe, ensuring they are eligible for compensation and to guide them through the alteration in a way that does not negatively impact the landlord.

Many alterations are fairly simple and straightforward to manage but some can be more complex. Time and consideration need to be given to the complex alterations to ensure a minimal level of quality is being met as well as reducing the risks associated with replacing major components.

Landlords must face up to their part of the deal by communicating the alterations process by leaflet and making the policy available to tenants. The alterations and improvement procedure should be mentioned at sign up to explain to the tenant their responsibility. It also doesn’t hurt to include a piece within the newsletter or social media feeds. Promoting tenants to follow the proper alterations process will ultimately be a good thing for both the tenant and landlord.


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