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Remodel Your Apartment Without Losing Your Security Deposit

If you’ve spent the past year mostly stuck in your apartment, chances are you’ve thought about how you would improve the place. But before you break out the hammer and paintbrush, it’s important to know what you can and can’t do as a tenant. 

We’ll go over a few tips for making over your apartment without breaking your lease and losing that oh-so-important security deposit — plus discuss a few ways you might pay for it.

Read your lease

Your first step should be to read through the lease you signed when you moved into your apartment. Many leases include clauses regarding alterations — what tenants have the right to do, and what the landlord is obligated to do. Some standard clauses require you to get written approval from the landlord before making an alteration. Others allow you to make decorative fixes below a certain dollar figure.

You may find out that you’re within your rights to do the remodel you’re planning. At the very least, knowing what’s in the lease gives you a starting point when you discuss your plans with your landlord. Maybe you can paint — or maybe you can’t. Maybe you can put tiny holes in the walls to hang pictures, but not bigger ones to accommodate shelves. You just won’t know unless you read the lease.

Talk to your landlord

Chances are, your lease will require you to get written approval before doing any remodeling in your rental unit. But even if your lease spells out your ability to make alterations to your apartment, it’s a good idea to communicate with your landlord what you’re planning on doing. And if your lease prohibits any changes, it can’t hurt to bring up your desire to remodel. Perhaps your landlord will be willing to make an exception or give you written approval for the project you want to complete. In your discussion, you can make your case for the remodel and maybe even convince your landlord it will benefit them as well.

You might have some additional leverage with your landlord if you bring up the remodel you’d like to do around lease renewal time. Landlords don’t want to lose a good tenant and may be more willing to work with you. You could also bring up your plans if something is broken and needs fixing, like plumbing fixtures. If they have to buy something new anyway, your landlord may be willing to buy the fixtures you want. 

More like this: Incredible Ways to Spruce Up Your Rental Kitchen

Focus on furnishings

Furnishings generally refer to anything not nailed down. It’s amazing what a new rug, shades, and furniture can do to your apartment. Most of the time, it’s on you to furnish your own apartment, so consider giving your living space a breath of fresh air by updating what’s in your control. Here are some ideas for furnishings that can transform your space:

  • Storage bins: If you are feeling particularly cramped in your apartment, then storing things away can be an easy fix to give you more space. You can find stylish baskets that can fit naturally in your living space for items that you don’t use all the time, like extra blankets, clothes, and shoes.
  • Upgrade the showerhead: A new showerhead can make a world of difference. Replacing the showerhead is straightforward and can even help you save money on your water bill. Just make sure to keep the old showerhead to switch it back before you move out.
  • Switch out the doorknobs: New doorknobs make small but impactful changes to your space. You can connect a similar design or motif throughout your apartment and give it more character. Make sure to keep all the old knobs to swap back before your move.
  • Add a room divider: If you live in a studio apartment or want to carve out more space, then a room divider wall might do the trick. Room dividers can also help you create a dedicated office space.
fix your rental

Try some temporary fixes

There is a whole category of products dedicated to temporary renovations. These are things easy to undo or remove when it’s time for you to move out of the apartment. They include:

  • Rolling islands. Sometimes known as kitchen carts, they can give you more seating, workspace, and storage in your kitchen without nailing anything down. Some even have butcher block countertops.
  • Removable flooring. Options range from peel-and-stick vinyl or vinyl sheets, click-in-place wood flooring, and carpet tiles. You may even consider putting cedar slats in your shower to dress up the flooring there.
  • Temporary wallpaper. These wallpapers are peel-and-stick, making them repositionable, reusable, and easily removed by just peeling it off in strips.
  • Peel-and-stick tile backsplash. Similar to the temporary wallpaper and peel-and-stick flooring, these products can add some class to your kitchen for the short term. 

Consider the cost

Once you’ve gotten the go-ahead on your apartment remodel, it’s time to figure out how to pay for it all and still be able to make rent. Credit cards can be a good choice, provided you’ll have the discipline to pay them off quickly. If you go this route, you’ll also want to keep in mind the rest of your bills and how much wiggle room you have in your budget. If you end up spending too much on cosmetic renovations or taking on too much debt, your credit could take a hit, making it harder to rent your next apartment or buy a home. If your project is expensive enough, you might want to consider another option or scale down your plans. 

More like this: 5 Low-Risk Personalizing Tricks for Renters that Make a Big Impact

Fix the fixtures 

It’s not immediately obvious, but switching out light fixtures can be easily done with just a little bit of know-how. You could call an electrician or do it yourself (be sure to cut off the power to the circuit you’re working on first). The same goes for plumbing fixtures like showerheads. Just be sure to hold on to the old fixtures and reinstall them before you leave. Bonus: This way, you can bring the fixtures you like to your next apartment. 

Add some color

Your lease may allow you to paint the walls of your apartment, or perhaps just one wall as an accent. Or perhaps your landlord will allow you to paint the walls provided that you repaint them a neutral cover before you move out. Adding a bit of color to drab, beige rental unit walls can make a huge difference.

If you’re not able to paint, you may consider using something like washi tape in an entryway to add a pop of color that’s easily removed.

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