Can a tenant demand reimbursement of home improvement expenses from landlord?

Published by reposted only Date posted on December 30, 2009

Dear PAO,
We have been renting a house for almost 20 years now. The owner of the house is in Canada. Rents are deposited to the owner’s account since then. The owner will be selling the house and has asked us if we can vacate the premises within the next six months. My question is, can we offer to buy the house because we have already made improvements on it at our expense? If she refuses, can we demand for reimbursement of home improvement expenses?

Dear Carlos,

Certainly, there is no provision in the Civil Code that prohibits you from making an offer to buy the property from the owner. You just have to declare your intentions to her that you would like to buy the property. However, if she refuses, you have no choice but to look for another place and vacate the property. You cannot compel her to accept your offer.

As an attribute to ownership, the owner of a thing has the following rights, to wit: the right to enjoy, the right to dispose and the right to recover. The right to enjoy carries with it the right to possess, use and to make use of the fruits of said property. Likewise, the right to dispose includes the right to alienate, to consume and even abuse the property.

The long term of your rent did not in any way deprive the owner thereof of her right to sell her property.

The tenant can never acquire ownership of the thing he leased by way of prescription. The owner thereof may therefore terminate the contract of lease under any of the causes enumerated by law, such as expiration of the period, non-payment of rents or if there was a violation of the stipulations in the contract among others.

Anent your query if you can ask for the reimbursement of the expenses, the answer would depend on the agreement that you have. If you have agreed that all improvements made thereon can be the subject of reimbursement then you may communicate to her that the remaining payments for the rents due may be applied for the expenses incurred for the improvements commensurate to the payments.

If there was no agreement to that effect then you have to talk to the owner about it. If you made in good faith useful improvements that were suitable to the use for which the thing was intended, you may demand for the reimbursement of half of the expenses upon the termination of the lease. If the owner refuses, you may remove such improvement provided that the principal may not suffer damage or impairment than what is necessary.

Likewise, if the said improvements increased the value of the property, you have the right to be reimbursed for the said expenses, to the end that the owner of the house shall not unjustly enrich herself at your expense. This is a common principle in civil law that “every person must, in the exercise of his rights and in the performance of his duties, act with justice, give everyone his due, and observe honesty and good faith.”

We hope that we were able to address your query.

Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or via text message (key in: Times dearpao and send to 2299). –PERSIDA ACOSTA, Manila Times

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