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In property law, the term waste is used to represent any action carried out by a tenant that changes the condition of the real property being rented, destroying or damaging the property’s value. A party with a stake in the land, usually the landlord of the property being rented, can bring forward a lawsuit for waste against the leaseholder or tenant that has brought about the damage. Waste of real property can be classified into a few different kinds; these are outlined below.

Voluntary waste

Voluntary waste, also referred to as affirmative waste, is any change or modification of property that results in damaging the property or diminishing its resources, unless the reduction in resources is a result of pre-agreed terms of use. For example, certain jurisdictions would operate on an open-mines principle that would allow sustained excavation in all open mines on the land but disallow new mines from being opened. A number of jurisdictions today, however, adopt the policy of allowing all activities necessary for continued excavation or exploitation of a certain resource, if the land has previously been used for this purpose. For example, if rented land holds a coal mine, the tenant can continue extracting coal from the property even if they end up extracting it all. However, if the mine didn’t exist at the time the contract was drawn, extracting coal from the property will be considered waste.

Permissive waste

Permissive waste occurs as a result of physical or financial non-maintenance of rented property. In such a scenario waste occurs not due to physical damage caused to the property by the tenant or leaseholder, but because of their failure to carry out regular repairs, or pay mortgage interest and taxes on time.

Ameliorative waste

Ameliorative waste occurs when the current owner of a property makes improvements to it thereby increasing its value but changing the character of the original property. English common law dictates that in such an instance, the landlord or future owner of the property can demand financial compensation from the current owner required to restore the property to its original state. For example, if a particular property is willed to someone and the current owner decides to make considerable physical changes to the property that would change its character, but the person the property is being willed to is opposed to such changes, they can sue the current owner for ameliorative waste, obtaining a prohibition for the changes to be made. If a prohibition isn’t acquired in time and the current owner ends up making the changes, the second party can sue the owner for costs required to return the property to its original state.

In a bid to encourage economic development, US common law doesn’t normally grant damages for ameliorative waste.

Equitable waste

Equitable waste is waste that the tenant has a legal right to bring about under common law but is restricted to do so by an equity court. For example, if a mansion is granted to a tenant for life without any conditions set for waste, the tenant can make any required changes to the property but cannot abuse their right to make changes by abusing or destroying the property, like stripping the mansion of timber, glass, or pipes, or cutting down ornamental trees.