Can I Make Improvements to My Rental? Everything You Need to Know

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Home Improvement

Let’s face it: your apartment probably isn’t your dream home. From the wall-to-wall carpeting to the vertical blinds over the back patio and the 90s-era cabinetry, chances are your rental doesn’t exactly scream “style.”

But before you grab that sledgehammer and start renovating your apartment à la HGTV, you might want to give your lease agreement a thorough look-over. Most leases indicate what a tenant can and cannot do in the way of improvements, which could be anything from painting to hammering a nail into the wall.

How exactly do you decorate your apartment to reflect your tastes if your hands are tied by a restrictive (or confusing) lease? Let’s go over everything you need to know about making improvements to your rental, including how to ask your landlord for permission to make them and some temporary solutions to make sure your adjustments are all abiding by your lease.

Ask Your Landlord for Clarification and Permission

If you’re thinking about painting, drilling, or anything else that might permanently alter your apartment, you definitely want to get your landlord’s permission. Always get permission for something if your lease is unclear on it or it specifically states that you can’t do it.

If your lease agreement states that you aren’t allowed to paint the walls, for example, simply shoot your landlord an email or call them up and ask for explicit permission. There’s always a chance that the lease agreement was just boilerplate and that they actually don’t care if you paint as long as you paint it back to the original color before moving out. Landlords typically don’t mind small changes that can easily be switched back, but be careful not to do any damage in your DIY fervor.

On the other hand, things like painting cabinetry and installing light fixtures are a little bit more complicated since they are more permanent in nature. Major improvements like these should always be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Bottom line: never do anything to specifically defy your landlord’s instructions. If they say no, respect their wishes and don’t just decide to do it anyway. You could risk incurring a fine when you move out, or potentially even a lawsuit. It’s better to just leave things alone.

I Really Want to Improve My Apartment. How Can I Get My Landlord to Agree?


If you’re really determined to do a DIY project in your apartment that your lease doesn’t allow, the best way to get your landlord’s permission is to appeal to the fact that you are actually improving the unit. You’re trying to make it more attractive — saving them time, energy, and even money because you’re doing it on your own rather than having them hire a contractor to do it. Keep in mind that this approach is more likely to appeal to a landlord who owns individual units as opposed to one who owns a entire complex (where they tend to value uniformity more).

And if you happen to get a yes from your landlord, remember that you probably won’t be able to take a lot of the work you’re doing with you when you move out. It’s great that you want to improve the place you live in, but don’t spend so much money on it that your landlord ends up reaping all the benefits of your hard work.

My Landlord Said No to Me Making Improvements to My Apartment

There are many reasons why your landlord might have said no to you making an improvement to your apartment. They might not think that you have the experience or tools necessary to do a good job with the proposed project. They may not want to risk you getting hurt while doing the project, or they might just not want you altering a place that is technically theirs and not yours.

Whatever the reason may be, you shouldn’t be discouraged. Just because your landlord says no to making improvements like painting cabinets or upgrading flooring doesn’t mean you can’t make your apartment look great.

For example, you may not be able to paint your walls, but there are still ways to personalize them without breaking your lease. You could use temporary wallpaper to create a focal wall in your living room or bedroom. Alternatively, you could stick a few strips of washi tape on it to make it look like it really has been painted. You could even cut out circles of duct tape and create a polka dot wall.

Instead of changing out the flooring in your living room, you could buy a large area rug and simply cover it up. You could also buy a bunch of colorful artwork to create a gallery wall that draws the eye up and distracts from any unsightly flooring.

If you have ugly cabinets, turn them into open shelving by temporarily removing their doors (just be sure to save all the hardware).

A little creativity is all it takes to cultivate the apartment of your dreams.

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