Though you may feel like your hands are tied when it comes to decorating a rental, many landlords are way more agreeable than they appear to be on paper. Some may even thank—or reimburse—you for putting your labor and money into improving their property if they’re pleased with the way it turns out. That said, doing anything that conflicts with what’s in the lease still puts you in danger of losing your security deposit—or worse—so renovate at your own risk. Or at least ask your landlord before making any changes you're unsure about.
Without further ado, here are 13 incredibly chic rental renovation ideas to give a try.
Painting Your Walls
Almost all landlords will be okay with you painting your apartment—so long as you paint it back. As soon as you move in, get the name and brand of the original paint color from your landlord. Just don’t do any crazy treatments that will be difficult to repaint, and if you use a dark color, use a primer when you repaint so it’s fully covered. In many states, property owners are required to repaint the walls every few years for new tenants, so they’ll be repainting anyway.
If you choose a versatile, neutral color like a nice shade of white, your landlord may allow you to leave it up when you move out.
Swapping Out Light Fixtures
Swapping out your light fixtures is one of the easiest rental renos to get away with. Just store the original fixture somewhere safe during the duration of your tenancy, and replace it when you move out. Your landlord won’t know the difference. Make sure to turn off the electricity when you’re installing it, though, so you don’t put the apartment at risk. And if you’re not comfortable installing lighting, hire an electrician.
Hanging Removable Wallpaper
It's way less commitment than you think. There are some peel-and-stick varieties that don’t leave an adhesive residue, which of course is a no-brainer for a rental. But then there are also “paste the wall” varieties, which can be peeled off in sheets by hand rather than the troublesome wallpaper steamer.
Shelves may require a few more screws than picture frames, but your landlord may actually be pleased if you leave them behind for future tenants, as they provide additional storage. If he or she wants you to remove them, just make sure you spackle and repaint the wall so it looks clean.
Replacing Old Linoleum
Dated linoleum tile is one of the biggest and most common offenses you’ll find in rental apartments. It’s actually quite cheap to replace—about $150 can get you enough new linoleum tile to replace a whole kitchen, depending on where you shop. If your floors are particularly heinous, it might be worth the effort and expense. Chances are your landlord isn’t keen on the look of it either, and will be pleased if you replace it with something more current, so long as it’s timeless and versatile. He or she may even reimburse you.
Refinishing Dated Tile
Unless you’re skilled at installing tile, we wouldn't recommend replacing the tile in your rental unit, as labor and materials can get costly. However, if your bathroom or kitchen is blessed with some truly dated colored tile, you can purchase a tub and tile refinishing kit or spray paint for $20 to $50 to give it a bright-white makeover. There’s even spray for appliances on the market, if you have, say, a brown ’70s-era oven or hood.
Adding Stylish Hardware
Hardware is the jewelry of your home—it's amazing what some shiny new drawer pulls and cabinet knobs can do.Though they can get expensive if you have a big kitchen with lots of doors and drawers, you can take them with you when you leave! Most cabinet hardware is standard, so you can reuse them in your next home. Since all they require to install is a simple screwdriver, you can easily tackle this renovation yourself, and if you replace the original hardware before you move out, your landlord won't know the difference.
Replacing Your Bathroom Mirror
If your bathroom medicine cabinet is not built into the wall, replacing it with something more statement-making, or even something simple that doesn’t look contractor-grade, can make a real impact. It’s as easy as unscrewing it, storing it for moving day, and then hanging something prettier.
Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets
If your kitchen cabinets are really dated—say, a mustard tone or that ubiquitous midcentury medium-tone wood—and it’s unequivocally clear they have passed their prime, your landlord may not mind you painting them. Be sure to completely remove the cabinet doors and hardware before you paint, let them dry, and then reinstall them. Don’t choose any crazy colors—go with something classic and versatile like black, white, or gray.
Update your Showerhead
There are so many ways to make a dated bathroom look fresh without making structural changes. From re-grouting the tile work, adding fresh caulking and replacing the faucet, there are a ton of options that make a big statement visually, without costing a ton of cash or effort.
Layer Light with Plug In Sconces
Rental properties usually have the bare minimum when it comes to lighting. Make your space feel more like home by layering additional light sources, beyond overhead lights. When your lease is up, simply unscrew them from the wall and take them to your next home—no electrician required.
Inspired to decorate your rental? Here's how our editor made her one-bedroom apartment in New York City look ten times bigger.