You might not own your apartment, but it’s still home. So what are the rules and best practices if you’d like to renovate your digs?
As with so many things, it really comes down to communication.
- Even if a renovation seems “minor,” make sure to discuss with your landlord or property management company.
- Focus on renovations that will improve the overall appeal of the apartment for prospective tenants in the future.
- It’s acceptable to negotiate with your landlord to see if they might chip in on the cost, or temporarily reduce your rent to offset renovation costs.
- Get everything in writing, and save receipts.
Open a dialogue with your landlord or management company and explain what you’d like to do, and why. Quite often, renovations you’d like to make might improve the overall value of the property—making it a win/win for everyone.
Let’s talk through some things to consider, as well as minor and major(-ish) renovations that could work for your rental.
- What am I allowed to renovate in my rental?
- How to make the case for renovations with your landlord
- Can you ask your landlord to contribute to renovation costs?
- More substantial renovations to consider
- Low-maintenance renovations to consider without landlord permission
- How much should you invest out-of-pocket in rental renovations?
- Do you have to undo renovations when you move out?
What am I allowed to renovate on a rental property?
This depends on your landlord, and the terms of your lease—which you should definitely read closely!
It stands to reason that major structural changes to your place are a no-no (unless you get clear permission). In many cases, something that seems as minor as repainting your apartment should be cleared with your landlord first.
How to make the case for renovations and upgrades with your landlord
Your life as a renter is always going to be smoother if you have a nice relationship with your landlord. If the rapport is good, you might even be able to negotiate your rent—imagine that!
When it comes to making renovations to your rental property, don’t just go ahead and start radically changing the apartment without permission. This could land you in hot water, depending on the terms of your lease, and you could end up forfeiting your security deposit.
Speak the landlord’s language
Sure, your landlord hopefully cares about you and wants you to live in an apartment that makes you happy. But your relationship is essentially transactional, and owning real estate is a business.
Rather than complaining about how much you hate your ugly cabinets, or why new bathroom tiles will boost your serotonin, put that MBA hat on.
Stress that the return on investment (ROI) for these sorts of renovations will improve the appeal of the apartment itself, making the property more valuable in the future—even after you’ve moved on.
Focus on renovations that will increase that ROI
Here are some areas that your landlord will likely agree would boost the desirability, functionality, and rental value of your place.
- Investing in energy-efficient appliances, lighting, and HVAC systems reduces utility costs and also appeals to future environmentally conscious tenants.
- Enhancing the property’s curb appeal through landscaping, fresh paint, or updated siding.
- Providing outdoor space like a patio or deck is a big perk. Maybe that slab of concrete behind your building could become a beautiful urban garden!
- Creating additional storage options, such as built-in shelves or closet organizers, can make the apartment more functional.
- Installing smart home devices, such as thermostats, door locks, and security systems increase safety (and will lower your renters insurance rates).
Zoom in on renovations to high-value rooms
Your landlord might be more open to renovations if you focus on areas that will most quickly improve the first impression the apartment gives to prospective tenants.
Consider narrowing your renovations down to key rooms, like the kitchen or the bathroom. Or focus on a very visible element of the apartment that could use an upgrade, like those janky floors.
Improvements in all of these areas will likely boost the attractiveness of the apartment for future renters, which will make your landlord happier.
Put a written plan together
Prepare a detailed proposal that spells out what you want to do, and why it’ll benefit both you and the landlord. Include estimated costs!
This will help your landlord understand the $$ value of the proposed improvements (especially if you’re asking them to kick in on the costs—more on that later).
Can you ask your landlord to contribute to the cost of rental property renovations?
It’s totally plausible to suggest that your landlord contributes to the costs of certain renovations (or even covers them entirely, in the case of appliance upgrades). You could also propose a temporary rent reduction to cover some of your out-of-pocket costs.
- Don’t go too wild: Select renovations that genuinely enhance the property’s value or appeal, and keep your expectations realistic.
- Be prepared to negotiate: Your landlord may not agree to cover the entire cost of the renovations, but they might be open to sharing the cost.
- Discuss who’ll do the labor: It’s possible your landlord has preferred vendors they work with, or that they’d want you to provide an estimate if you use someone else.
- Put it in writing: Create a written agreement outlining the terms, including the amount they’ll contribute, the timeline for completing the renovations, and any conditions or requirements.
- Keep receipts and records so you can actually get reimbursed!
Remember, your landlord is not legally obligated to contribute to or offer rent deductions for renovations in the rental property—unless we’re talking about necessary upgrades to the unit based on whatever local laws may apply.
More substantial renovations to consider for your rental property
Okay, so your landlord is your new BFF, and they’re receptive to your renovation dreams. Now what?
If you’re looking to brainstorm more involved upgrades to your place, here are some places to begin. Again, with any of the following renovations, make sure your landlord is fully in the loop and has given approval.
Your kitchen is key, and a nice-looking one is a big selling point for renters. Upgrades here might include:
- Replacing countertops
- Updating or painting cabinetry
- Installing a new backsplash (around $10 to $50/square foot)
- Upgrading appliances to energy-efficient models
A clean, modern bathroom can greatly impact a tenant’s perception of an apartment. Plus the bathroom is generally where you start your morning, so why not elevate the ambiance?
Some options here include:
- Replacing outdated fixtures, such as faucets, lighting, and hardware
- Updating the vanity and mirror
- Installing new tile
- Replacing the bathtub or shower (replacement can cost thousands, but reglazing may be a cheaper option)
Pressurized walls to create new rooms
Pressurized walls are a temporary solution that can divide an open space into separate rooms without causing any permanent damage to the existing walls or structure. On average, pressurized walls can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 or more, including installation.
Knocking down a wall to open up the space
This is obviously a major structural change to the apartment, and would certainly require negotiation (plus a bit of headache on your end, while renovation is happening). But if your space feels unnecessarily cramped and you think removing a wall could reinvent the entire apartment—make the case.
Upgrading light fixtures
Recessed lighting is installed within a ceiling or a wall, giving a chic and streamlined look.
If you add recessed lighting to your living room, you’ll also save space by avoiding clunky floor lamps. Installing recessed lighting involves cutting holes, running electrical wires, and attaching the fixtures to the ceiling. The average cost of installing recessed lighting ranges from $150 to $300 per light fixture, including labor and materials.
Painting walls or painting fixtures like cabinets
A fresh coat of paint on walls, ceilings, doors, or fixtures like cabinets can give your apartment an entirely different look and feel. Discuss with your landlord, and also figure out whether they’d require you to paint the apartment back to its original state before you move out.
Choosing paint colors that might appeal to a range of future tenants will probably make the process easier. The next renters might not love neon fuschia and “manic avocado” as much as you do.
Low-maintenance renovations to consider without landlord permission
Renovating your apartment doesn’t have to involve punching out a skylight or building recessed shelving into the wall. Sometimes, simple tweaks can enliven your space.
- Removable wallpaper is an easy and cheap way to give a room new personality without causing any permanent damage
- Peel-and-stick backsplash tiles are a removable way to update a kitchen or bathroom without making permanent changes
- Area rugs can spice up an otherwise blah room, or cover up shabby flooring
- Replace vertical blinds or basic curtains with stylish drapes or shades; choose adjustable curtain rods that don’t require drilling into the walls
- Arrange furniture and accessories to create distinct areas within a room, such as a reading nook or workspace. Who needs pressurized walls when you’ve got that huge IKEA bookshelf?
- Use freestanding shelves, over-the-door organizers, or under-bed storage to increase your rental’s storage capacity without making any permanent changes.
How much should you invest out-of-pocket in your rental property?
There’s no equation or calculator to figure this out for you. But keep in mind certain considerations:
- How long do you plan to stick around?
- Is your place rent-stabilized, which would give you more protection if your landlord ever sold the building?
- How much time do you spend at home, and how impactful would these renovations be on your quality of life?
- If you spent $2,000 on renovations, and stayed in the rental for the following two years, you’ll have paid an extra $83/month for the upgrades. Will you feel like that was worth it?
Do you have to undo renovations before you move out?
The person to ask this question of is—you guessed it!—your landlord. Communicate, get things in writing, and make sure everyone is on the same page.
That way you won’t be scrambling to repaint, or replace cabinet handles, or uninstall custom shelving if you decide to move to a new place.
Do you need renters insurance to make renovations in your rental?
Oh, what’s that, renters insurance? Glad you brought it up! Obviously you don’t need renters insurance to paint your walls or replace cabinet doors. But it’s a good idea to have a policy anyway, since it’ll protect you and your stuff against a lot of the curveballs that life can throw at you.
You might not be aware, but renters insurance also has a personal liability component. So if your best friend agrees to help you paint the ceiling, and falls off a ladder and breaks their leg—your policy might compensate for medical bills and kick in for any legal liability.
A few quick words, because we <3 our lawyers: This post is general in nature, and any statement in it doesn’t alter the terms, conditions, exclusions, or limitations of policies issued by Lemonade, which differ according to your state of residence. You’re encouraged to discuss your specific circumstances with your own professional advisors. The purpose of this post is merely to provide you with info and insights you can use to make such discussions more productive! Naturally, all comments by, or references to, third parties represent their own views, and Lemonade assumes no responsibility for them. Coverage may not be available in all states.