How to Upgrade a Rental Home


Rent Like You Mean It is a series all about giving our rental spaces a new lease. We’ve rounded up a whole host of refreshing spruce-ups (and cover-ups), impactful DIYs (plus how to get them back to square one when you leave), and peeks at real-life rental transformations. Because a lease should never stop you from having a space that feels like yours—even if it’s only for a year.

I am passionate about making rentals feel just as decorated and designed as any owned home. I am constantly redecorating my apartment, asking my landlord if I can make updates, and generally (I think) improving the value of the place. By documenting much of this on social media, my hope is to instill some confidence in others that they, too, can make changes and updates to their spaces—without having to worry about getting their security deposits withheld.

Aside from the fear of a forfeited deposit, the other thing I hear quite frequently is: “But is it worth it?” And the answer is, resoundingly, yes! Anything that will make your space feel more true to you, more relaxing, more inspiring, or just easier to look at—it’s all worth it. Some people can’t justify the cost of peel-and-stick backsplash for an apartment they may be in for only two years, but for others with specific taste, the sight of Tuscan-style tiles and dark grout is enough to start every morning in a sour mood.

There are also so many updates that make your quality of rental life infinitely better, ones that will almost surely go unnoticed by your landlord upon moving out. Things like swapping out old doorknobs, removing years of paint from hinges, or re-caulking the tub are actually more likely to increase the value of your apartment once you leave, with the added bonus of making you feel content in your home before then.

For other “renovations” like painting doors, changing light fixtures, or getting custom blinds (or if you’re not confident in your un-making-over abilities), you may feel more comfortable checking with your landlord first. Chances are, they’ll be agreeable about any changes you’re passionate about making, and they might even come help you do them to ensure everything is done properly. In my experience, landlords have seen how meticulously I keep my apartment, and are happy to let me decorate and update as long as the home stays structurally intact.

All of the updates below are ones I’ve done myself, and aside from them actually being empowering to accomplish on your own, they’re all well within the scope of what you can do in your rental. And if you have any questions, drop them for me below in the comments!

1. Paint the Walls

Paint! Is! Reversible! Let that sink in for a minute. There’s pretty much always a way to paint back to where you started, and it’s rare that landlords say you absolutely cannot paint. Most often, they ask for it to be painted back to the original color before you leave, and sometimes they don’t even ask for this, because they’re often required to paint between tenants anyway. When I brought the idea of paint up to my landlord, she shrugged and said, “do whatever you want,” so paint I did! I also asked for the original paint color, so I ordered a quart for touch-ups in places where I’ve patched the wall, and I can easily order a gallon should she ask for it to be painted back before we leave.

2. Re-Route the Cable Wire

While we don’t have cable in my apartment, we certainly do need Wi-Fi, which requires a modem connected to the coaxial cable that comes in through the wall. But of course, the spot the previous renters chose to put their router and modem didn’t work with our configuration. I discovered that they had run the length of the cable throughout the living room and attached it with small pins, which then got painted over between tenants… so I got to work pulling it off the wall and around the trim, tying up the extra, and stashing that (along with the router and modem) strategically behind a chair. The entire cable is still intact (just in case the next tenant needs to put the router farther away), and I repainted in the places the cable used to be. Of course, if you’re in need of more cable or to snake it along the wall, you’re also definitely allowed to extend the cable and pin it to the wall.

3. Install Curtains and Blinds

Landlords don’t expect you to be constantly exposed to peeping neighbors, and if they do, it might be time to seek out a new place anyway. Using a few screws to install blinds and curtain rods onto your windows are pretty much a given. Plus, if you’re concerned about leaving holes in the trim or walls when you leave, they’re very easy to patch with some wood filler or spackle—promise.

4. Nail Things to the Walls

I can’t believe I’m still saying this but…hang your art up, people! You’re absolutely well within your right to put a few nails on the walls, which generally are so small they don’t even require patching. If they do though, you know the drill. If you’re really anti-holes in your space, though, there are just about a million different Command Hooks that hang, stick, and fasten many kinds of wall art.

5. Use Drywall Anchors

For heavier frames, floating shelves, and mirrors—you’ll need a little more staying power than just some nails. Drywall anchors are a little more intense than a nail or a hook, but they’re just about as easy to patch when it’s time to go. Rule of thumb here? Anything that can be spackled is within your ability to do.

6. Peel and Stick Everything

Peel-and-stick is also…peel away. By that, I mean temporary! While traditional wallpaper is affixed to the wall with horribly permanent paste, peel-and-stick wallpaper is just a big, glorified sticker—made to easily come off when it’s time to move out. Similarly, peel-and-stick backsplash or floor tiles often are meant to be removed at the end of a lease, and while perhaps aren’t the greatest option for an owned home that requires longevity from materials, they’re the perfect thing for a one-to-five-year place.

7. Mount a TV

What, are we just all supposed to have enough room for a TV console or entertainment center? This is not always the case, especially in city rental apartments where space comes at a premium. Mounted televisions are cleaner to behold, take up less space, and are easier to hide with art or a canvas. Similarly to a drywall anchor, the screws you use to affix a TV to the studs behind your drywall can be easily patched, so don’t let a rental stop you from a full movie night experience.

8. Change Lighting Fixtures

There’s simply no reason that you need to live with boob lights. They’re cheap, unattractive, and more often than not, dated. The good news? All you have to do is save the existing fixture to put it back up when it’s time to move out. And trust me, if I can change five light fixtures in my apartment by myself, you can, too.

9. Soak Painted Hinges

Did you know that you can actually remove the years and years of paint gunk layered onto your cabinet and door hinges? Yup. Once you’ve cut them free from their painted prison with a utility knife, you can soak them in hot water and laundry detergent overnight, loosening the years of neglect to then be scrubbed off in the morning. Now, lucky for you, your doors will close again!

10. Paint Doors and Cabinets

For anything in your home that’s unpainted wood, I would recommend checking with your landlord before painting. It’s much easier to change a paint color on something already painted than to go back to raw wood, and they might not like you messing with trim or doors—especially if they’re old. However, lots of apartments have really cheap or old doors that just…look bad. I asked my landlord if I could paint a few of them in the apartment, and she truly couldn’t have cared less. Now I’m plotting a way to convince her to let me paint the kitchen cabinets

11. Change Doorknobs and Cabinet Pulls

Similar to light fixtures, doorknobs and cabinet pulls are items easily stashed in a closet to be replaced by the original when it’s time to move out. If you really hate your existing knobs either on your doors or cabinets, all it takes to replace them is a screwdriver. Keep the original ones tucked away in a drawer somewhere and pop them back on when it’s time to go.

12. Mount Shelves

Just like hanging art or mirrors, you, too, can mount a shelf! Most wall-mounted shelves either screw into studs or attach with a few drywall anchors, and you already know you can definitely pull those off.

Which of these updates would you try in your own rental? Tell us your thoughts below!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

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