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7 Ways to Upgrade Your Place Without Pissing Off Your Landlord

DIY apartment
Major renovations aren’t an option, but these changes can help you feel more settled in your rental.

Renters, we feel your pain. The pain of drooling over design magazines and knowing those gorgeous custom built-ins can never be yours.

The pain of that Pepto-Bismol-pink tile in your bathroom that you can’t replace. The pain of watching all those lucky homeowners sledgehammer away at their walls on HGTV, leaving you swimming in an Olympic-sized pool of envy.

For all of the ease and comfort of renting (ah, the undeniable relief of being utterly unconcerned when your garbage disposal explodes), every renter wishes there were changes she could make to her space.

But major renovations probably aren’t an option, and even if they were, why would you invest that time and money in a rental?

So we’ve rounded up seven upgrades that will seriously spruce up your rental without landing you in hot water with your landlord.

1. Built-in shelves

Granted, you can’t (and shouldn’t) design a huge custom installation for a rental. But rental-safe built-ins do exist.

Try a floor-to-ceiling row of floating shelves framing each side of your television — the holes you put in the wall can easily be patched and spackled when you leave. (Plan ahead and ask your landlord for a can of touch-up paint so you’re sure you can match the colors.)

Tip: Do hire a handyman for help. The holes can be patched, but the giant chunk of drywall that falls out because you overloaded the shelf and forgot to drill into a stud is a trickier matter.

2. Tile decals

These might not eliminate the pink bathroom tile situation, but they’ll definitely help you update it — and help the pink fade into the background.

Use these tile decals to create a modern decorative border around the perimeter of the bath, or to cover up a boring backsplash in the kitchen.

And when you’re ready to move out, they’ll peel right off.

3. Light fixtures

Those 1970s rental-grade light fixtures you’re living with are an easy upgrade that will have things feeling brighter and better in no time.

Removing the existing fixtures is surprisingly straightforward, but be prepared to install something at least the same size to cover up the spot in the ceiling where the original fixture hung.

Label each fixture so you remember which room it belongs in (if you have a nice landlord, s/he might even store them for you), and swap them back out when you’re ready to move.

And while we’re on the subject, ugly window treatments and cabinet hardware are a cinch to swap out using the exact same method.

4. Paint

If there’s a better way to make a dramatic improvement to a home for under $100, I don’t know what it is.

Luckily, just about every landlord these days is open to letting you paint your walls while you’re living in a space, as long as you’re willing to paint them back to their original color before you go.

So grab a can of your favorite color and repaint your living room; remember, the bonus of being a renter is that you’re not committing for a lifetime, so pick what makes you happy in the moment!

Or ask an artistic friend to paint a faux headboard onto your bedroom wall. A break from that sea of beige might be just the thing you need to feel more at home.

5. Appliances

Can’t stand the sight of that ancient avocado fridge for another second? Try talking to your landlord.

I’ve had luck negotiating for a new appliance on several occasions — they’ll often agree to split the cost with you, or at least will happily let you replace it with something on your own dime.

Craigslist is a fantastic resource for new-ish appliances at cut-rate prices (just be prepared to do some serious scrubbing before you install that “new” fridge).

6. Flooring

Nope, you’re probably not going to persuade the landlord to rip out your orange carpet and install that white oak herringbone flooring you’ve had your eye on.

But a professional carpet cleaning can often have you feeling worlds better about your lackluster floors in no time. And as a bonus, most carpet cleaners can do a killer job of making your kitchen countertops and tile grout look good as new while they’re at it.

When they’re done, throw down the biggest sisal rug you can afford (yep, it’s totally OK to put a rug on top of your wall-to-wall carpet) and let the orange just peek out as a border at the edges of the room.

7. Furniture

Every renter has a moment when she just needs to get her hands dirty. If you’re still desperate to scratch that DIY itch, get thee to Goodwill and pick up a piece of furniture in serious need of a face-lift.

You can take out all of your Pinterest aggression on an old desk or coffee table — sand it down, paint it, and turn it into the centerpiece of your living room!