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Improvements to a leased property are changes made to the interior space that are permanent in nature. This can include painting, flooring, light fixture installations, appliances, built-in cabinetry, and plumbing additions. These are generally things that you can’t take with you when you move out of the leased premises.
Generally speaking, a tenant should not make any improvements or repairs to a landlord’s property without the landlord’s prior written consent. If you have a written lease agreement, review that carefully for any provisions related to improvements and alterations.
For commercial spaces, lease agreements commonly have detailed provisions that address improvements to the property, including the removal of trade fixtures/structures at the end of the lease term. Be aware that even though the lease may give you the right to remove the improvements, you generally must do so in a way that doesn’t cause serious damage to the premises.
For residential properties, if you do get permission from the landlord to make an improvement to the property, make sure to get it in writing. For example, your landlord may give you oral permission to replace an old refrigerator, but, if you don’t have a written agreement, it’s possible for the landlord to deny it at the end of the lease and try to prevent you from taking the refrigerator when you move out.
Be careful about oral agreements to repair the premises in lieu of rent or for reduced rent. The lease or other written agreement should specify exactly what repairs are to be made by the tenant, the time frame (if relevant), the quality of the supplies, and who pays for the supplies, and the terms of the tenancy when the work has been completed.
If the lease does not address the repairs, then get the landlord’s permission in writing before making a repair on your own. Notify the landlord about the issue and ask the landlord to fix it or request permission to do the repair yourself. Do this before doing the actual repair. For example, if you run into a furnace problem on a weekend, and then get it fixed without getting the landlord’s permission first, then you don’t have the right to automatically deduct the cost from next month's rent. If you refuse to pay the rent, the landlord may take you to court.
Read the Cases: Supervisor of Assessments of Baltimore County v. Greater Baltimore Medical Center, 202 Md. App. 282 (Court of Special Appeals, 2011); Teddy-Rose Enterprises, Inc. v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 48 Md.App. 466 (Court of Special Appeals, 1981)