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Renters, Do You Ask For Forgiveness or Permission When Making Design Changes?

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HI, BUDS. In case it wasn’t clear from the headline, I’m experiencing a universal renter dilemma and I’m hoping you can weigh in and help me out. When you’re personalizing your home, is it better to ask for forgiveness or permission? 

Here’s my current situation: I, like most people, have always lived in rental units with pretty strict “no alteration” leases. And true to form for someone who works at a design blog, I’ve ignored parts of these — my walls are dotted with nail holes (like Jess’ living room above) and your girl has hung her fair share of shelves. 

But now, I’m DEEP in the throes of my own MOTO (pro tip: don’t try to take on 3 rooms at once! What was I thinking?!) and I’m running into one tiny problem. My landlord won’t let me touch the trim, cabinets, or doors. I’ve been verbally cleared to paint walls, add wallpaper (as long as I remove it), and make holes…but basically, anything painted with a semi-gloss is off-limits.

And y’all. This is driving me NUTS. My apartment, though filled with 1930s charm, is also filled with cracked and chipped paint on my windows, doors, and baseboards. Beyond just aesthetics (and an interest in not living in an apartment with window frames that make me feel like Miss Havisham), I love a bright space and would love to do some accent trim, like Sara wrote about in this post and Julie did below. If I’m in here for the long haul, is it worth just fixing now and asking forgiveness later? 

look at how good that trim looks!

I spent about 4 years in my old place and felt pretty cavalier with my minor alterations as I figured my holes and changes would be written off as “normal wear and tear” after I’d moved out of the unit. And for what it’s worth, I was right — I received my security deposit returned in full, though I imagine some landlords may not be so kind.

So THIS is where I need your help. Have you altered an apartment and gotten backlash from your landlord? How did you manage? Did you agree to change everything back upon move out? (And if you’re a landlord, how do you feel about tenants taking it on themselves to make their apartment their own?)

When I looked back at our MOTO archives, I was pretty surprised to learn that a majority of us hadn’t cleared our plans with our landlords (with the exception of Arlyn, who is obviously an angel) — but in a nice twist, our property managers often loved the changes we made. One of our landlords even used photos from a MOTO project with an unapproved paint job to secure a new loan for the building.

this paint color and lighting switches were landlord approved!

But we’re still just talking about paint here — what about the other shifts? Where do you draw the line? Is painting okay, but wallpaper too much? Is switching out lighting fixtures or ceiling fans okay, but only if done by a trained electrician? Is it worth it to swap vertical blinds for curtains if it means drilling into the wall? Can I store my screen patio door in my garage and swap out my shower door for a curtain? I DON’T KNOW. PLEASE HELP. 

I’m really struggling because I don’t want to create a design plan, get my hopes up, ask for permission, and get rejected. And for what it’s worth, even when we do ask for permission, sometimes plans for collaboration go awry — remember Orlando’s kitchen? He had come to his landlord with an incredible reno plan, she had approved, and then he was left paying for the whole thing out of pocket. How far would you go to make a rental your own? 

I guess a lot of this really comes down to how often your landlord is in your apartment, right? Kinda like if a tree falls in the forest, except “if your landlord never sees your changes and you switch things back before moving out, did it ever happen?” Does your own level of responsibility factor into this? Do you think my landlord, knowing I work this job and have access to my incredible team, would be a little more flexible? (Is that even a fair card to pull?) What about the “I’ve lived here for a year, paid rent on time, and never broken anything, and so you can logically assume I’d probably do a good job and leave this place better than I found it?” card?

ANYWAY, I know people have real problems and that me not being allowed to touch the semi-gloss paint in my apartment is not ACTUALLY important, but now that we’re home so much (or, at least, I’m still home a lot…I don’t know what y’all are up to, but hopefully you’re home and safe, too!), these are the little tweaks that would make living and working here SO MUCH more enjoyable. So PLEASE — I’m throwing out the SOS here. Tell me about your rental tweaks that went great AND tell me about your horror stories. (Mom, if you’re reading, feel free to chime in too.) Give me all of your tips, tricks, advice, and things you would do (or wouldn’t do) again.

Do you ask for permission sometimes for the big tweaks, and plan for forgiveness for the little ones (a girl’s gotta hang that art somewhere, right?!). Or are you the type to just install a new sink and toilet (…like a certain EHD alum) and hope for the best? HELP ME. THANKS. 

Opening Photo Credits: Photos by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Makeover Takeover: Jess’ Long Awaited (Small Space) Living Room Reveal + Jess’ MOTO: You Have To See How She Hacked Her Rental Kitchen With DIYs

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Alice

I’ve seen the “ask for forgiveness later” idea promoted on this blog in the past, and I think it’s risky and unfair. Also your lease is a legal document and you break it at your peril. But I can imagine what you suggest, going to the landlord and describing your job, your team, and your goals. Maybe even show some pics of past projects or specific ideas for the apartment. Changes that would be difficult to reverse, such as dark paint on walls, should definitely require permission first. For me, the anxiety I would feel doing things that I knew my lease did not allow, in the hope I can eventually get away with it, would not be worth it.

Landlord

Agree with Alice, and as a landlord, I separately found this article and the attempt to rationalize “ask forgiveness” so disappointing and frankly disturbing. Any of the changes you’ve suggested should definitely come out of your deposit, and that would likely not be enough if changes go awry. You do have some negotiating room given your employer is a design firm, but the landlord needs to approve any proposed changes – They own the property, not you! Most landlords I’ve had and most requests I’ve gotten as a landlord have been properly considered (my tenant asked if they could put a camera outside… we are now buying and installing the camera for them) and it sounds like your own landlord is trying to be flexible and meet you halfway (I would never approve wallpaper btw). Be glad, not entitled.

Jessie

I think wallpaper would actually be the least of concerns…as long as it’s removable wallpaper. And with the enormous range of removable wallpaper these days, that shouldn’t be too much to ask that only removable wallpaper be used.

Agree wholeheartedly that you can’t just hope for forgiveness. Even with your employer being a design firm, a lot of things that would be fun and cool to some people would make the apartment hard to rent out to others. Colored trim is a reasonable thing for them to veto. Have you considered asking if they would let you repaint the chipping trim in the same color that’s already there? At least that way it would look cleaner and nicer without changing the style.

Beth

Landlord here. I would also check your state and local laws. We had renters put lots of large bolts in our walls to mount a TV, and maybe some shelves or something. They didn’t attempt to fix them. We were NOT happy, but our rental company told us our state considered this normal wear and tear and that we didn’t have much recourse. We require anything the tenants paint to be light enough to be repainted in one coat, however. This pretty standard in our area.

Bella

With older homes, even if it’s “just paint” it may be lead paint, and other homes may have asbestos and scraping/sanding/drilling into those areas may release the toxins, so I’d definitely want to ask for permission and know what you are dealing with. And most leases require that info be given in the rental agreement disclosures.

As a landlord myself (and former renter for many years), I get it, and I’ve done my fair share of “ask forgiveness later” alterations but never anything that was super complicated like painting trim or cabinets. And all my landlords didn’t mind or even didn’t notice the improvements.

Now as a landlord I am totally ok with tenants making reasonable alterations they can reverse easily like removing doors/cabinets, repainting walls, hanging shelves and curtain rods etc. But if you are talking about painting trim, or hanging anything sticky (I HATE vinyl stick-on tiles because some brands leave a sticky residue) then maybe think twice.

Also, for the love of everything… please, pleas, please do NOT drill holes in brick, tile, concrete, or stone because those are much more liable to crack and much harder to replace/repair.

Lindsay

Just wanted to add that if you are dealing with lead paint and it’s already peeling, you are already in trouble. So really, if it’s lead paint I would expect the landlord to be more vigilant about ensuring it is always covered up and never gets to the cracked/peeling stage.

Bella

That’s a good point, and also another good reason to ask the landlord for permission. If the paint is peeling, the renter should report it to the landlord to mitigate it, rather than try and fix it without reporting the issue. Not reporting the problem may result in liability issues on either side.

Anon

Lifelong renter. My goal is to find a place to rent and stay put. Having a good relationship with my landlords is important and I want them to trust me. Over the years, my landlords have often not raised the rent just to keep me as a tenant. I would not do anything without landlord OK unless it would be easily reversible (i.e. in less than 30 minutes). Examples, putting cling privacy film (no adhesive) on the street facing windows, installing a tension curtain rod in the bathroom window, changing the shower head, changing out the cabinet knobs, using command hooks where ever it’s practical instead of nails/hooks. No paint or holes in the wall without permission. When I moved into my current place (5+ years and only 2 rent increases) my lease had a no holes in the wall provision. I negotiated that limit with the landlord saying hanging art would make it feel like it was my home. He agreed to change it in the lease. When I wanted to repaint a different color, my landlord got me the paint samples and hired a professional to do it. The lease is a binding contract and you could face… Read more »

Ashley

No holes in walls seems unreasonable! I’ve lived in over 5 apartments and every time have mounted TVs, hung art, shelves etc. and have never had a problem! I’m more afraid to paint!

anon

Oh I agree. (i.e. “no holes” is unreasonable….) Who doesn’t want to hang a picture or clock? But my point was that pointing it out at the time of lease signing got it changed in the lease. No contract breach = no problems. My landlord even offered to install a bracket for me if I wanted to hang a flat screen TV on the wall when I moved in. (I didn’t own a TV!) In a previous apartment, when I asked to paint the kitchen (white from yellow) the landlord agreed to pay for the paint but not the painters. I painted. When I asked to have the living room painted, he paid for the paint and the painters. When I wanted to install a few shelves above my desk, he did it for me. It was an old building with plaster over lathe walls (love love love plaster walls) and I would never nail anything into those walls for fear of damaging them. (Lived there >10 years). In my current place, the walls are dry wall (not plaster) and my landlord gave me a jar of putty and matching paint when I moved in and my movers dinged the… Read more »

landlord2

There are holes and then there are holes. If the wall looks like a Swiss cheese with holes the size of dimes, that’s just not acceptable — especially if the tenant moves out after one year. Small picture nails are fine, I just spent over 2K to repaint a 1BR that rents for 1400/month incl all utilities.

Anon

OMG that is so cheap!! The rent of $1400/month is what I was paying for a studio without utilities back in 2013. Rents where I live are now $2700/month for a 1 BR on the low end – no utilities. It will also probably be run down and completely out of date.

Vicki Williams

I’ve been a renter,(who hasn’t?) and am now a Landlord. In my renter position I asked the landlord if I could paint and he bought the paint. My renter painted a tree on her wall w/o asking, which actually doesn’t look bad but when I found out we had a discussion about checking with me about things. It was in the contract which she had ignored…or forgot about. All good. I will expect her to paint when she leaves or pay for the redo. Other things, changing lights, hanging curtains, i.e. new hardware, etc. I prefer to have my handyman do and her pay for because a novice could mess up the walls. Nail hole etc. she can hang whatever she wants. I figure when tenant leaves apt will have to have fresh paint anyway, which really goes for the the tree wall too, I guess. If renter was someone in your position, I’d be so interested in what you would want to do I’d love to see plans and then say Go forit! Plus there would be a discussion about what i could pay for and what I couldn’t. I suppose if things got really wild, purple and lime… Read more »

Mia Tenille

I feel like if you update the house or apartment for the better, I think it’s generally fine! You just want to make sure you keep it simple enough that someone else wouldn’t hate it either! I have done some small cosmetic fixes and updated the paint color but I keep the more bold statement colors pieces that can be removed (for the most part)! I think it’s smart to show the landlord what you are thinking of doing (and show them what you’ve done in the past) so they know it’ll look good and you’ll do it well!

Emily

I think the issue with “making it better” is that is one person’s opinion. The property owner may not agree with you, so it’s important to have the conversation in advance.

Jay

Our apt was haphazardly sprayed down in cheap white primer right before we moved in, hardware and all. It was ugly and hard to keep clean. But I had a plan. In NYC (and many other cities), landlords are required to repaint every three (or so) years… though it never really happens. So in our 4th year, I painted every room myself, including trim/doors/ceiling. One room near black! No, I did not ask permission and, frankly, I won’t be asking for forgiveness either.

Meredith

Renter here. I’m in the “ask for forgiveness” camp. I’ve lived in my duplex for three years and haven’t asked the landlord for permission to do anything. I’ve painted all the walls, replaced light fixtures, door and cabinet hardware in my duplex. I’ve also taken down blinds that were dry rotted and an above toilet cabinet that was not above the toilet. I carefully considered everything I swapped out so that things hopefully don’t have to be converted back to the disgusting brass and faux wood ceiling fans and old hardware that made opening/closing cabinets and doors difficult. I also think that my landlord has bigger issues to worry about like a basement that floods every time it rains and gutters that fall off because they don’t keep them cleaned.

Former renter

If you’re in a rental house, I would expect that some upkeep is on you, like keeping the gutters clean! Do you let trash pile up too?

Rebecca

What?! Cleaning the gutters is not on par with taking the trash out.

isabelle

Typically landlords handle infrequent but significant maintenance, especially if there is liability involved. If I were a landlord I would not be telling my tenants that they needed to get up on a ladder and clear out the gutters.

You’d also be surprised how little some landlords care – some of them really neglect essential maintenance that renters cannot (and should not have to) do themselves.

Susie Q.

Cleaning the gutters requires climbing on the roof and/or leaning a ladder up against the side of the building. No renter in their right mind would do that! Are you from the UK? I think “gutter” means something different there.

Victoria

No, it means the same thing, but a lot of UK rental contracts have gutter clearing as standard for the tenant, along with full garden upkeep. Whether this happens is a different matter. I’ve never done it in rentals and haven’t had issues with the landlord, but then blogged gutters never caused issues that needed fixing.

Annette

I’m really good about reviewing leases and we generally try to find a place to stay put so we’re never looking to have a bad relationship with landlord. However, most leases consider anything against the rules so the division of ‘small’ vs ‘large’ on home improvement or renter focused content is always confusing! For years I’ve seen people be very blasé about painting, changing out cabinets, big drilling projects, etc. I find most advice on easy changes to apartments to be big no-no’s. For small things I’m definitely on team ask for forgiveness. That includes small nail holes (always filled in on move out), replacing curtain rods (while not making new screw holes) temporarily, and 3M mounting on walls. I’d even consider contact paper and vinyl floor covers IF my extensive researched showed real removal reviews that were clean. For painting, tv mounts, changing out of permanent fixtures (cabinets), etc etc I’d want to check in with my landlord first. However, I’ve had enough landlords over time to just know that the answer has so far always been a strong no – which is why I never get to attempt anything other than the above safe projects. I already try… Read more »

Juanita

Landlord here: I LOVE when tenants think of their rental place as their home, and want to make changes. I can basically forgive any work they do (even things I might not agree with) if they stay LONGER than one year. If you stay longer than a year, I won’t lose money on tenant turn over repainting/ fixing things, and then missing out on rent for a month or two until a new tenant is signed. When you do move out , you should paint the walls back to a neutral color, especially if you have painted them something DARK. A landlord would most likely say to you, sure paint the walls dark teal, just return it to ____________ when you move. And if that’s not done, the cost of getting it painted will come out of your sec, deposit. 😉

Keri

I’m a landlord too and this is my attitude as well. I live on a military base and I am not allowed to paint AT ALL, which drives me insane. Our tenants in our former home are allowed to paint and personalize the house within reason. At this point, they have lived in that house twice as long as we did, so theoretically it’s more theirs than ours. I’m also a pet owner. Knowing how difficult it is to rent with pets, I made sure to allow tenants to keep fur kids.

Julie

Keri-It makes my heart sing to see a landlord allow dogs. I have newly diagnosed PTSD (I work in healthcare not the military) and my therapist suggested a dog but my landlord only allows cats (I’m allergic). I know there are official ways to get a pet deemed as a service animal for this purpose but it’s an additional expense and just thinking about what it would take just adds to my anxiety. I’m otherwise very happy with my rental but if I move it’ll definitely be because I find a place that’ll allow me to get a dog.

isabelle

Typically animal-friendly apartments will charge you a deposit and monthly pet rent, so it’s probably worth getting your future pet designated as a service animal. The only expense is going to the doctor, and assuming that you are in regular contact with a doctor (based on your recent diagnosis) you should be able to ask them to write the letter, or they will refer you to someone else who can.

enough already

Service animals are specially trained to do something for the human they cannot do for them self. No special letter is required.

What you described is actually an “emotional support animal”. This type of pet is not a service animal (SAs are NOT pets) and getting a letter from a doctor confers almost zero legal rights on that pet.

I think the law requires public housing landlords to permit them in cases where pets are otherwise not allowed. No special permission is needed for a disabled individual to have a service animal in their home because a SA is not a pet.

I’m sure many people are helped by ESAs but they are not SAs and people need to quit running to a doctor to get a worthless letter to try to legitimize them as specially trained service animals.

isabelle

I used that term because that’s what the original commenter said. If they have PTSD they may indeed need a service animal, although what their therapist described is an emotional support animal. No need to get worked up, “enough already” 😂 In my state both SAs and ESAs are exempt from “no pets allowed” rules in apartments and landlords cannot charge a pet rent or deposit, so either one would be helpful under this person’s circumstances.

Kandy

My apartment did not get painted before I moved in (the new landlord had just bought the building) so I felt free giving the builders beige a very lovely light coat of grey. The trim had already been painted white. I would never paint wood trim in a rental. I put up temporary wallpaper and let him know it was temporary. I did ask him before repainting the fireplace from salmon to a dark green/black. He had loved all the other changes I made and said sure instantly. He also didn’t charge me a pet fee when I adopted a bunny recently. There are some other changes I’d like to make, like swapping out some lights but I’d probably ask him for permission first/ask him to do it since it would require electric work.

mallory

Renter here. I only change things I can reverse when I move out. E.G. paint on already painted things, light fixtures that can be swapped back when we move, smart dimmer switches that are definitely coming with us when we move (just save all the old stuff to put back). I wouldn’t paint anything that wasn’t painted — no matter how much I hate the early 2000s cherry kitchen cabinets in our open floor plan apartment >_< I have thought about offering to share the cost of updating them with our landlord, but haven't done it yet.

Bella

Judging by the comments here it seems the sentiment of asking for permissions vs. forgiveness has a lot to do with the renter’s relationship with the landlord and the state of the rental. If the landlord doesn’t care to address such basic things like leaky fixtures or broken hardware, I think the tenant is is more justified to make improvements and switch stuff out due to it being a functional issue. In our last rental our shower head always leaked and the landlord never fixed it despite our complaints, so we changed the shower head ourselves to something nicer and it solved the problem. I knew if he complained we could say “well you never fixed the shower so we fixed it ourselves”. But we never got a peep out of him when we left. If the landlord is nice and you have a good relationship, asking for permission is just better so as to preserve the relationship, and showing plans is appreciated. I know if any of the EHD team was a tenant in MY rental I’d probably be ok with the changes they’d make. Brady’s bathroom and Orlando’s kitchen are two prime examples of renter changes that I… Read more »

Bella

^ Caveat to above: WITH APPROVAL for the big items like changing a sink or toilet! Heck, I’d pay the plumber myself to come and install the items so the tenant is not liable for any issues.

Ellie Durbin

I am too paranoid for the “ask for forgiveness” track haha. My rule of thumb is if I can’t undo it before I leave, I ask permission. So swapping the light fixtures in our current place I didn’t ask, but paint I always do.

For the trim in your apartment that is in bad shape, perhaps you can get permission to touch up or fix the bad areas? Sounds like your landlord is with it enough to know the color, brand and finish of the existing paint and might be willing to let you at least fix it while you’re home all the time. I would be hesitant to paint trim outright even if you paint it back since the build up of the layers of paint can become an issue in terms of doors sticking or not closing properly, etc (assuming you’ll need 2 coats to paint it and 2 to paint it back).

sara

What type of building/landlord you have makes a difference. If it’s a human you have access to vs a management company, it’s much easier to ask and get permission (in writing…at least an email if not a lease amendment because peoples’ memories of verbal permissions can be different of change over time, unfortunately…). I lived in a railroad apartment in my first place after college and build a wall between the two bedrooms and asked for permission to do so. They granted permission for that, and painting too, and asked to have the option to keep the wall up or have me remove it at the end of the lease. They opted to keep the wall, but then claimed that the paint color I chose was darker than they had approved (there was no mention of tone when permission was given…), and charged me for it after the fact. But honestly, I would have done it anyway even knowing they would charge me to paint over it. I just wish I had had the option to paint it myself and save the money. All that said, if you are in a financial position to take a minor hit on your… Read more »

Johnny Hoang

You really are enjoying a beautiful life. This design can be applied to many other rooms, some wall pictures will make the room more brilliant. We have such products: https://wallcorners.com/product-category/wall-art/dining-room-wall-art/

Julia

In my last place they painted after I left so the small holes from hanging b=pictures were fine. My current lease said no nail holes in the wall and I signed it knowing I was going to put holes in the wall right away to hang up my pictures. I figure I can patch them myself before I leave or it will just come out of my security deposit. The apartment wasn’t in the best shape when I moved in though so I’m not too concerned. I also wonder if people’s opinion about changes to their apartment is based on the city they live in. I live in Chicago and there are pretty good tenant laws here so I’m not really concerned about being evicted for painting the apartment.

Tina

my only thought (other than YOLO, just do it) is your landlord may be trying to protect themselves from a lead paint issue. If you sand you may get sick and sue. Tread lightly in the older places. If you paint without any sanding (the result may be messy), but you are actually sealing in the lead, so it is better. Hard to have that conversation with some folks, though. They don’t want to admit you are living in a lead box. LOL. Love your work!

isabelle

Okay, so I’m an architect and a renter who has stayed in my current apartment 4+ years. There is some nuance to this conversation. Like others have mentioned, your relationship with the landlord is important. Depending on the situation you can negotiate tradeoffs that benefit both you and the landlord. I have one friend who does all the lawn maintenance at her duplex in exchange for a rent reduction. A good relationship and a consistent demonstration of responsibility can go a long way. I try to avoid burning bridges as a general rule, but I definitely don’t want to piss off the people who have the power to evict me. Another thing to note is that a lease is a legal agreement. You really shouldn’t be doing things prohibited by your lease without checking with your landlord (and you want to get permission in writing). I am very much in the “ask permission” camp, since many landlords (especially ones who only have a few tenants) are happy to have tenants do improvements. But even though I am an architect, I don’t assume they are going to be cool with everything I do. There is also the issue of liability. If… Read more »

Ashley

Going to chime in and agree with this – well put! It’s the most responsible route overall. Sorry, being an adult is hard!

Lindsay

The owners of our rental house live out of the country and the property management company is super hands off, so without asking permission I painted the horrid blood-red dining room a nice light neutral gray. I crushed it and it looks one millions times better, if I’m honest. Then a few months later – surprise – the homeowners are back in town and want to check out the place. Long story short, I have to pay $700 to have it professionally repainted. Not the best experience, but honestly I would do it again because it has improved my quality of life living here over the past 2 years.

Amanda

With paint, if you’re going to be there for a while and are willing to paint back to the original color when you move… go for it! To me, a fellow renter, anything that objectively improves the space or can be easily undone shouldn’t be a big issue.

Elizabeth

This stuff really depends on what you already know about your landlord. I’ve had landlords who saw that I installed a nicer light fixture or hung a pegboard for extra storage in the kitchen, and were like, “gee, that’s great, thanks!” I’ve also had landlords be completely ridiculous and charge any fees they thought they could get away with. Do you have a sense of who your landlord is? How controlling/involved they are? How much effort they’ve put into updating the place? People who aren’t putting much money/effort in — and haven’t for years — are usually very chill and even grateful for updates. People who are very conscientious about the state of your appliances, having fresh paint on the walls, etc., are much likelier to be mad if you make changes without consulting them. Since you do this kind of thing *professionally* I think you stand a very good chance of getting the green light on this trim painting project. I suggest you write up a very detailed document showing what you want to do and how you want to do it. Include that you work for an interior design firm and are consulting with a professional designer on… Read more »

Julie

Like others have said, it depends on my relationship with the landlord and the rental’s condition. Generally I’m on the “ask permission” side. When I’ve rented newish condos from management companies, I made absolutely no changes except anchoring my bookshelves to the walls (California safety). But it was a whole different story when I rented a 100-year-old bungalow directly from its owner. The house was beautiful but neglected. The landlord said I could make reversible changes—like, it was ok to paint walls, but not ok to paint unpainted brick. So I did lots of stuff without explicit permission: replaced light switch plates, covered flaking cabinet shelves with contact paper, replaced threadbare curtains on french doors, hung privacy blinds, added closet shelving, replaced a cheap metal threshold strip with a wooden one I stained to match the floorboards, bought vintage knobs to replace missing ones in the built-ins, replaced torn window screens, etc. Occasionally I deducted these small expenses from my rent with a receipt if they were permanently functional (like the missing knobs), not just style choices (like wall paint). I also worked with the landlord to do bigger improvements that involved electrical or plumbing, like installing three ceiling fans… Read more »

Sarah

As a landlord myself, I’d be (to be frank) fairly pissed if you made major changes without permission. That’s my own money/time I’m going to have to sink in to the place before I can have it ready to show to rent again. If I see you doing stuff like that without asking, I’d also wonder what else is going on and make a point of having more regular inspections and also perhaps consider not renewing your lease when it’s up. There are too many people who do things that they personally love to change a rental that won’t translate well to anyone else in the future.

That being said, I’m a human with a heart and if I’ve got a good renter, who pays on time, doesn’t cause problems with the neighbors, and is a pleasant person, there’s plenty I’d let them personalize if they ask.

But if you paint my kitchen cabinets, you’re going to be out of a security deposit and I may also take you to small claims court, because I’m not paying 5k out of pocket to replace them.

Mary

Agree with many above that depends on the landlord. I’ve rented in 8 different apartments from 1-4 years before finally buying a home this year. In one apartment in NYC with a really hands off management company that did not really upkeep the building, we installed a ceiling fan and painted the walls without asking (partly brought about after a massive leak from the bathroom above us that never really got resolved). In a unit owned by a guy had a relationship with, we agreed that we would pay for the ceiling fan fixture and he’d cover the electrician. In most we’ve done minor reversible stuff like changing out light fixtures or switches without asking, but always put everything back, spackled nail holes etc before moving out.

In my opinion, always always ask for permission. It’s just an ethical thing to me. Why would you do anything to someone else’s property without their explicit permission? I just want my home to be a peaceful place and I don’t think I could accomplish that with worrying about having a conflict if my landlord had to enter my space unexpectedly. That said, I am a HUUUUUGE believer in beautifying a rental, especially if you hope to live there for a while. We recently moved and we painted the entire inside of the house before we even moved in. Our landlord was fine with it as long as it was a neutral color. We paid for the supplies out of our pocket, which was about $1k. It hurt shelling out that much money for a place that wasn’t ours, but it was a gamble I felt willing to take because I’m 34 years old and just don’t want to live in a place with grimy walls. If he would’ve said no to painting, we wouldn’t have moved. In a previous rental, I convinced the landlord to install laminate flooring in place of wall-to-wall carpeting. We split the cost and I… Read more »

Nicole Jimenez

In college my landlord gave the verbal okay for me to paint my room and trim even though the lease since that was a no go…what happened… he kept my security deposit and blamed me for other cracks and ripped screens. So if you do get permission get it in writing and take pictures of everything before. Now as a Property manager now we have in the lease that people can do a pre move out inspection. This gives people the opportunity to fix anything they changed. If you are okay with hustling prior to moveout then I say ask for forgiveness later. The landlord will likely love your changes (if not crazy bold) I would not put up wallpaper unless it temporary though.

It really comes down to this: By writing this post, it sounds like you know that not asking for permission is (in whatever form) somehow not 100% right, so you’re having a dilemma about the decision (that darn moral compass isn’t pointing due north). 

If you were a landlord and had worked hard to buy/own/keep a property, what would seem appropriate to you? The property is the landlord’s investment (or maybe even emotional, family home that you’re not aware of). You may think you’re improving the space or adding value, but they may have different opinions when thinking about long term (they may also just have different design tastes). It sounds like they’re already being reasonable and meeting you partway with letting you paint walls (depending on your contract, they’re likely not obligated to let you make changes like that, so it is nice of them). They may also say yes with terms (like, yes, but only if it’s professionally painted/installed).

Having said all that, if a renter presented a proposal for some Emily Henderson-level professional design, they’d probably be more inclined to give you some freedom. 

J

I think it’s important to note that the perspective of viewing one’s landlord as an adversary is really off-putting. This is someone else’s property. If I paid you $700 to borrow your car for the week and returned it with mirrored orange window tint because I thought it was an “improvement”, you’d probably be super pissed off. It’s your car. You expect it back in the same condition. I’ve been both a renter and a landlord, sometimes at the same time. I have had excellent relationships with my tenants because they discuss things with me. In fact although the market has risen like crazy, I haven’t increased the rent on my current tenants in 5 years because they are really wonderful and take care of the house really well. Before you do anything, it’s important to ask yourself “Will the landlord have to pay a someone to bring the property back to a neutral re-renting condition?” If so, they will probably take the repair amount off your security deposit and it’s their right to do so even if you consider it overpriced. But most landlords will let you do certain things if they realize they don’t have to deal with… Read more »

Lisa

This seems like such a regional/national thing to me? I’ve never heard of discussions like this where I’m from in Germany so I don’t think I can be of much help 😀 Over here the general consensus seems to be: you can do whatever the heck you want while you live in you flat as long as its theoretically reversable – paint any surface (including trims, doors, heaters, etc), change up lamps etc, hang up as many pictures and curtain rods as you want with as many nails and holes as you please – as long as when you move out you A.) change it back (repaint walls white, close up nail holes, rehang lamps) or B.) find someone who will take over your contract and all the awesome changes you made (though if I was moving I would probably be taking my cool lamps with me) or possibly C. talk to your landlord about what changes they might like to keep and only change the ones they don’t. I could NEVER EVER imagine a landlord complaining that someone painted their walls while they live there – why would they care? And they would never expect you to ask permission… Read more »

T

The problem with repainting willy-nilly is, as another poster mentioned here, those layers of paint do add up and could cause doors and windows not to shut properly. Or previous renters do such a bad job of it that there’s paint on hinges and doorknobs and the floor. Professionally done is good, it’s the slapdash jobs that make it hard for the rest of us.

Ali

I skew more conservative with changes because the risk of conflict with the landlord or lost security deposit outweighs my pleasure in making certain types of changes. For me it pays to avoid the permission/forgiveness dilemma and explore (and get in writing) before I sign a lease what changes will be allowed (and you get a feel for the landlord and whether you want to have anything to do with them).

Ali

Meant to add—I think the permission/forgiveness dilemma is usually discussed in the context of a place one is already committed to. So I look for pre-permission or consider the rental unit to not have the features I seek (just as if it didn’t have a second bathroom I wanted, etc…. as if, lol).

Julie

Definitely ask permission! I’ve been a renter and even if it’s management company and they’re a little out of touch, I knew that I always wanted my deposit back. The only think I hung on my walls was using those small push pins. My Dad was a landlord for a small apt building near a university, but he was also the plumber, electrician, handyman etc. He definitely had some ‘horror’ stories of tenants not taking care of the place or doing more “permanent” things. But for those who asked permission (better with examples, photos, paint samples) and were good tenants, there was a lot more flexibility and like some readers have mentioned, he even preferred to keep those tenants and did not raise their rates as much, since they took care of the apt as if they owned it (or better).

Kari

As a landlord, I think it’s important to put the focus on what a rental deposit is for: making sure that the normal damage done is not beyond the cost of returning the property to a rent-able space.
I know there are crappy landlords out there who keep deposits just to pocket more cash. But that’s not the purpose of a deposit.
If our renters wanted to make changes that will keep us from easily finding future renters (poorly done “upgrades,” permanent wallpaper, taking down upper cabinets, etc.) that’s an issue. These changes require us to spend a good chunk of money returning it to good working condition. Where does some of that money come from? Your deposit.
If renters want to make changes that are cosmetic, functional, and not structural, it’s generally fine. Hang up your pot holder! Mount your tv! Paint your walls! But if you leave them a weird color, I’m not going to sue you. I just might need your deposit to get things ready for the next renter.

Jennifer

As a landlord, here is my take on it. Anything that takes me additional time, money, or effort to return to original condition is coming out of your security deposit. If you ended up doing serious damage, or violates code, especially if you did not ask for permission before making alterations, I might come after you for it.

Anything that is done well, or done by a professional is usually fine. The problem with trim is that people don’t do it right, and I end up with windows painted shut, doors that don’t close correctly, or paint on the floor.

Kara

My lease states no holes in the walls, and when I asked my landlord about it, it turns out she’ll just want her people to fix it (and we’ll have to pay). Our walls are that orange peel texture that’s apparently everywhere in California (we came here from the Midwest where smooth walls are the norm), and I imagine she’s had tenants patch holes in the past that look super obvious in the texture. Overall I think it’s worth talking to your landlord first.

Kris

Full disclosure I’m a landlord and I’ve rented A LOT of places in my 46 years. We’ve renovated our share of Apartments and homes We’ve always tried to make them cool but neutral so that they can appeal and last for some time style wise. We think nice places attract nice renters. Simple— ASK FIRST. The simple fact is it’s not yours and you have not made the investment to buy your own piece of property. Respect that it isn’t yours and you didn’t go on the line to buy it ….so ASK. Some tenants have wanted to swap out lights or hardware. Stuff that can be swapped out easily. I’m personally fine with but hire a pro to replace it and put it back. Don’t paint without asking. It’s not cool as it’s costly to paint back and your color may not be the next persons color. Temp wallpaper for instance. There are so many things to do. If it’s paint then offer to do something neutral that you like but can be moved to the next person with ease. Get them on board …even excited about it. Knowing you love your home and will stay does make a… Read more »

Morgan

As a renter, I’ve had landlords pretty consistently “forget” to give back my damage deposit regardless of what shape the apartment is in, and then make it an extreme hassle to go through the dispute resolution process. I know this isn’t all landlords, but it’s been enough of them that I consider the damage deposit forfeit once I move in, since they likely won’t give it back regardless of how well I treat the property. As a result, I don’t ask permission… or forgiveness.

joyce

I’m a pretty flexible landlord, paint, as long as you paint it back, change a light fixture, hang pics. Having removed wallpaper, I would definitely take a pro remover out of security deposit.. and give a bad recommendation. Colored trim is not to everyone’s liking, and takes a lot of time to redo. you can ask that it be redone, suggest a different neutral. but I’d bill you for a pro redo. you have to understand, the changes take time, and a landlord pays for those days too. and heavily painted trim starts to look bad, plus amature painters, esp renters, leave drips, bumps and things start looking funky…again badreference

Gemma

I live in a rented house in Scotland and I might have accidentally turned my vertical kitchen blinds black when I was cleaning them and didn’t know they would react to bleach.

So instead of changing them like for like I’ve put in really nice light and airy buttercup yellow horizontal blind without asking permission. However my landlord is a bit rubbish and we joke that the house is the one the apprentice built as everything is a little too high and back to front (e.g shower glass opens the wrong direction).

So he might moan but I think realistically he won’t even notice. Plus we’ve lived here 3 years and plan to live here at least another 2 and were fairly low maintenance renters.

Rusty

Caitlin, I know you’re a daredevil, but, don’t just do it! Asa tenant, I asked for and got verbal permission to paint a kitchen and dining area. They bought the paint and I did the work. My friend did similar but the landlord disputed the verbal and she lost her nond, plus some! Not worth the risk. As a landlord, if a tenant asked for something reasonable like new curtains and the old ones were shabby, I replaced them… additional securityscreens =upgrade to my property and value, I put them in. Paint thewalls? No. Why? Because most people are crap at painting and I chose based on the normal bell curve. It really depends on the landlord. If you rent from a person, they’ll likely be more flexible. If someone owns the building, they probably won’t care a toss and will probably say no anyway (though it depends on the size of the building). Get any agreement in writing. Repeat: GET ANY AGREEMENT IN WRITING!!! Also, if you get the green light, TAKE BEFORE ANDAFTER PHOTOS!!! Be careful with so-called “removable” wallpaper… it isn’t all the same and I’ve heard some horror stories about things going very very wrong at… Read more »

I’m a landlord but own houses, so it’s a bit different.

One is a historic home that I meticulously restored and updated. It has plaster walls in 2/3s so there is a STRICT no holes in those rooms (go crazy in the main bed, bath and kitchen which have drywall). There’s a picture rail though so they can still have art. I’m also a hard no on painting the trim as I paid a lot to have it restored and professionally painted. Light fixtures, curtains, etc. were already updated so I don’t expect any changes, but I’d consider allowing it if they came to me about it. I would not be happy if they did it without permission.

The other house, though, is a newer build and if they want to paint or switch out a light fixture or shower head, more power to them!

Shelby

Landlords saying renters are acting entitled and unethical?!?! We are literally paying you a handsome profit on top of your mortgage. In fact your profits undercut our efforts to save for a down payment of our own. Spare me the judgement (and legalzoom.com legalese) for wanting to tack up an Etsy print.

Martha

We don’t make a profit above our mortgage. The rent we collect goes straight to pay the mortgage. We just hope the property will serve as retirement when it’s paid off since we don’t have any retirement accounts.

Lucy

The picture of the kitchen at the top of this article mentions “countertop covers.” I couldn’t find that post linked in this article so I’m wondering if you can point me in that direction? I recently purchased a second home and it has laminate countertops in the kitchen. We don’t have the budget now for a full reno, but I thought covering them with wood might be an option. Would appreciate any guidance you have on this! Thank you.

Suzanne

As a renter, I never did anything aside from holes in the wall for artwork or curtains. As a landlord, we keep our places very well maintained, and are okay with things that are easily reversible. I’d prefer people asking before major changes. I’ve seen my parents have to deal with some horrible paint and worse. I also think you have an advantage because of where you work. Show your landlord examples of MOTO, and they may be onboard with updates. But you may be on your own for expenses unless it’s a necessary repair or upgrade. A perfectly fine working faucet doesn’t need to be replaced from an owner’s perspective. However, if something is leaking or not working g, that’s different. In general, owners are saving those profits for bigger repairs. For example, we’ve replaced two air conditioning units, each for $7,000, do adding on unnecessary paint or cabinet knobs doesn’t really make sense. So if you’re willing to pay for upgrades, and you show your landlord the amazing results of a MOTO, I think you have a good chance of getting approval.

Emma

I think I’m literally going to be the only dissenting opinion on this entire thread but I’m just going to share it: You guys run a design blog. You are literal experts. People can, and should, be paying hundreds of dollars for your expertise. There’s hasn’t been a MOTO so far that hasn’t immeasurably improved the room (and the value!) for the landlord. Just the professional pictures you guys take is absolute solid gold and is literally probably responsible for thousands of dollars in rental profits and increases for the landlord. Sometimes landlords don’t have vision. They probably don’t read this blog. They’re definitely not up to date on trends and evidenced by the beige walls and carpeting in many rental apartments around town where I live. Asking your landlord if you can paint the trim light green, for example, will probably not be received well. But actually painting them a gorgeous sage green that matches the furnishings and elevates the room would likely be a feather in their cap! I would do it, honestly. Landlords are not used to design experts. They are are used to shitty renters slapping paint on the walls and floors in unflattering colors. That’s… Read more »

Andrea

I’m not entirely clear on what changes you want to make, but it seems that you want to repair an old paint job that is in really bad shape. If you don’t want to change the color, just fix it! Take photos documenting the poor condition of the paint. If your landlord has the audacity to say anything, just whip out the photos and explain that your time and money fixed the bad paint condition. What are they going to do, sue you for improving the property and fixing their deferred upkeep? If you want to change the color dramatically, that could be a problem. Maybe tell your landlord that you’ll sand and patch the bad paint and be willing to paint it back to the original color when you move out. That way, the end result will still be better than if you did nothing.

Beth

I clearly am a newbie because…what does MOTO stand for?

Jessica

Makeover Takeover ☺

Jen

Another landlord here, ask permission. If you came to me with a plan and references for previous work done in your professional capacity, I would have no problem approving it.
With our rentals, we have approved painting and other small changes as long as they were done professionally by our guys. My husband is a general contractor so many times, he tells the tenant to buy what they want to switch out and he’ll install it so he knows it’s done safely and correctly.
We want long term, happy tenants. We take care of our properties and stay in close communication with them, we’re happy to let them make our house their home (within reason).

Susie Q.

I rented two apartments from the same landlord. In the first, the previous tenant had painted the kitchen dark gray. It looked great and I told my landlord to please not paint over it before I moved in. A couple years later, I moved to apt #2, same landlord. The tenant in that place had painted the kitchen dark mustard, which I personally hated. So when I moved in I searched for that same dark gray color and painted kitchen #2 gray. I kept it like that when I moved out and he didn’t mind. It was a very small room and the grey looked good with the white trim. The only other changes I made were installing basic Ikea ceiling fixtures in the hall and kitchen. I left the original fixtures in the closet–they were very “granny” and old-fashioned. I bought the Ikea stuff at the thrift store and paid about $6 for each fixture–so I didn’t mind leaving them behind. There were other things I wish I could’ve changed, like the ugly ceiling fans, but apt #2 was a Victorian house with 12′ ceilings–that would’ve been more trouble than it was worth. I lived in #2 at least… Read more »

Candace

I think you have approached this wrong with your landlord if you have suggested painting the trim, and they said no. The issue is that the rental has trim that is damaged and needs to be fixed. You are offering to do so as a professional in the field with no cost or rental concession of any kind. Plus, you are essentially offering free advertisement for the landlord to attract the next renter. Now, I would suggest that you paint in a neutral color rather than a green or whatnot because you can sell it as an improvement that they will not have to pay for. Based on the fact that you are a professional and will fix an issue with the rental that they will not have to redo, then I say do it even without permission. However, if without permission I would recommend a neutral color. Generally, I would discourage renters from making changes to a rental without permission unless it is something that is easily changed, like a light fixture, or painting neutral walls a better neutral shade. Otherwise, the fiscal hit could be problematic.

karen

Depending on what it is, I figure the worst thing is losing the security deposit, which they try to get anyway.
Do a walk through before your exit and let them approve the changes with a neutral witness. One time I needed to get a lawyer involved over blinds that I had upgraded, and they raved about on the exit walk through.

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