7 Things You Never Thought You Could Do in a Rental

updated Jun 27, 2019
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(Image credit: Alexandre Zveiger)

Renters may think there are rules forbidding changes beyond temporary fixes: Don’t paint, don’t make holes in the walls, and don’t do major renovations. And while it might say in your lease that you can’t do these on your own, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do them at all—you just need your landlord’s permission. Many times, if you petition to your landlord that these changes will allow them to lease out the apartment at a higher cost after you leave, they’ll usually let you do it—and sometimes they’ll even front the bill or give you a break on rent. However, in some cases, you won’t get your money or material back, but you can enjoy living in an apartment that better fits your style and needs. After so many years of thinking it’s not possible, you might need some inspo on what you actually can do. Here, seven great ideas:

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

1. Paint

Painting may be the most commonly misperceived “don’t” for rentals—but it’s actually one of the things your landlord is most likely to let you do, especially if you paint it back to the original color when you leave (buy a can before you paint so you have something to work with when your lease is up). If painting is still too scary for you, new removable wallpaper is a great option, too.

Consider changing more than just the walls, too. Painting trim and molding is a great way to add your own style and freshen up the walls. You also can change your ceiling to a bold color and draw the eye upward and create a style statement. Painting your kitchen or bathroom cabinets is also an easy—and impactful—update.

2. Hang things

Once you get past thinking you can’t paint or decorate your rental walls, the next “don’t” to banish is the fear of hanging things on those walls. Most of the time, you don’t need to ask your landlord—you can just do a great job covering up the leftover holes with spackle and a little paint when it’s time to move out.

(Image credit: Adrienne Breaux)

3. Swap out fittings and fixtures

You’re not stuck with those standard grade knobs and fixtures on cabinets and doors. You don’t even have to deal with the building-grade overhead lighting or less-than-ideal shower head. Swap them out for ones of your choosing—just remember to keep everything that came with the apartment in a box to reinstall when you decide to move out.

4. Add storage

When storage space is at a premium, finding creative solutions is key. In a small apartment space, closets really do matter. There are many temporary closet systems to purchase (both to add in an existing closet or to create one), but building out a custom one is an option, too—but only if its utility has universal appeal (as in you’re not building shelves that will fit something only you have). Since storage options add value to a space, it’s likely that your landlord will see the value in the simple renovation, too.

(Image credit: Dabney Frake)

5. Remove the flooring

Moving into an apartment with stained or dated flooring is just plain unappealing. And it’s likely that your landlord hates that shag carpet or grimy bathroom tile as much as you do. With their permission, tear it out and replace it with tile or hardwood. Not only does new flooring instantly update, it also gives you a clean slate after previous tenants and attracts premium renters once you move out.

6. Get new appliances

A chef’s kitchen is a dream that isn’t always a rental reality. If you don’t want to live with harvest gold appliances that look straight out of a 1970s Sears catalogue, you don’t have to. First, try asking your landlord about an appliance allowance. If that doesn’t work, get permission to swap out old appliances, either out of pocket or in exchange for a reduction in rent. If utility costs are included in your rent, you can argue that energy efficient appliances will save your landlord in the long run.

7. Actually renovate

Hate almost everything in your space but see its potential? In some cases it’s actually possible to do a gut renovation. In 2014, the New York Times highlighted numerous couples that poured thousands of dollars into renovating their rental units—many worked with their landlords before moving in to make sure that their needs and wants were ok with the building’s needs (and weren’t too over-improved for their market).

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

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Note: Updated 06/27/19 – LS