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Rental Friendly DIY Home Improvement Upgrades

How to Make a Rental Apartment your Home without Losing your Deposit

As homeownership becomes harder and harder for even successful professionals to attain in many cities, living in a rental apartment or home becomes increasingly standard– even as we age well past the typical point where people shift their attention from social events to home and family. Living in an apartment or rental home as a maturing adult or as a young family has its challenges. The lack of freedom to customize your home to your needs – or remodel in your own style – is challenging for many individuals who are in rental homes.

As someone who bought my first home in my 20s, sold it in my mid-30s, and have spent the last decade renting in Seattle and traveling as a digital nomad, I know a little something about the frustration of wanting to put your personal touch on your home and feeling limited by the limitations of being a renter a landlord who might not view “upgrades” in the same way.

In my creative decorating and DIY, I realized recently that many of the blog posts I have published since my big move to Seattle in 2015 can be collected under the heading of easy, stylish, no-risk rental upgrades. These simple DIY’s are low-impact (and mostly low cost) meaning that you can implement the projects in many rental homes and apartments with no risk of losing your security deposit.

How to do Improvements without Losing your Security Deposit 

While security deposits are typically in place to protect landlords from serious damage like holes in walls or broken fixtures, you can also lose your security deposit by implementing property improvements without permission. Even though your changes may increase the value of the property or the livability of the space, if your landlord doesn’t like it– or if they are looking for an easy excuse to keep your security deposit– making these kinds of changes in your apartment can result in the loss of a security deposit.

To protect your security deposit while also creating a cozy space that reflects your personal style, it’s important that any upgrades you implement in a rental apartment are easily reversible. Instead of painting, refinishing, or installing upgrades, these renter-friendly home-improvement tutorials focus on temporary coverings, sprucing up existing fixtures, and implementing easily reversible changes. Using my tips below for easy rental DIY’s, you can create a cozy space for your home – whether it’s rental or owned – that can be quickly and easily reversed when it comes time to move out.


Upgrading Rental Lighting

Rental home lighting is often, unequivocally, terrible. Dated lighting or ceiling “boob lights” can drag down otherwise modern decor in a big way. No matter how stylish your furnishings are, the wrong light can ruin a room. What to do if you don’t have permission or skills to change a light fixture? I have known renters who called an electrician on move-in and move out to install (and then uninstall) custom lighting, but this is unnecessary! To install a simple drum shade over a boring flush ceiling light, follow my step-by-step tutorial for a  DIY that’s as easy as three snips with scissors to remove on moving day.

Try this simple hack to upgrade ugly rental lighting to sophisticated chic- without any wiring!

Swagging a pendant light or chandelier for temporary lighting.

Did you know that if you can install a ceiling hook, you can install ceiling lighting? You don’t even have to have a ceiling wiring! In my tutorial for turning a chandelier into a plug-in lamp, you can learn how to turn any style of pendant light (that includes both vintage and modern chandeliers, plus a whole selection of pendant lights) into a plug-in style lamp. Once done, jump on over to the Hanging a Chandelier in an Apartment post for instructions on how to mount a pendant light or chandelier from a  standard ceiling hook.

By adding a cord and then running the cord down the wall you can plug your cord and in light any area of your apartment or rental home that needs a little extra light. You can even add a wall switch to this style of hanging lamp. Click for my tutorial on how you can install a remote wireless wall switch for a swagged light fixture.

Improving Apartment Storage

One of the biggest challenges in apartment homes is the lack of storage, what to do when you need extra storage and have zero space to store things? Many people who live in apartments rent storage units – either from their apartment management company or from storage unit companies. But why pay another monthly rent when you can make your own storage or maximize the space you have? My advice? Start with my maximizing apartment storage space post, then check out my article on how to use wall hangings to disguise storage. In that article, I show you how to create massive vertical wall storage, and then cover it with a discrete but stylish wall tapestry or wall hanging.


Apartment Must Have: Portable Washer 

I think my single most life-improving upgrade in my rental apartments in Seattle has been to install my own portable washing machine in my bathroom. I love vintage buildings, so when I moved to Seattle that meant that I wound up in a 100-year-old apartment building. With high ceilings and a gorgeous view of the Puget Sound, I couldn’t resist the apartment but the big drawback was that the washing machines were three extra-high flights of stairs down in the dark basement.

With no desire to march up and down the stairs to score an empty washer, move my laundry, and retrieve it again all before it was nabbed, I bought a portable washing machine and never looked back!  Having a portable washing machine in my home was a game-changer, although it took buying a few different washing machines to find one that wasn’t junk. Read more in my article on how to buy, install, and troubleshoot a portable washing machine for an apartment home.

Tips for buying, installing and using a portable washing machine in an apartment or tiny home + bonus tips for efficient clothes drying without a dryer


Creating Rental-Friendly Accent Walls

Even if your furniture, decor, and even your lights are on point, sometimes there’s only so much you can do with the white or beige walls in apartment homes. While in my downtown Seattle studio permission to paint meant that I could create a mural in my apartment as an accent wall, most renters don’t have this option. But you can still create dramatic accent walls that can be easily removed at move out (and no, I don’t mean with tired vinyl wall decals!) Using special wallpaper, wall hangings, or light duty construction materials, you can create a dramatic accent wall. Click here to read about my eight ways to create a damage-free accent wall in rental apartments or houses.

After writing and getting lots of great feedback on the rental apartment accent walls post, my first apartment back in Seattle after my year of digital nomading was a duplex where I shared a wall with potentially the loudest human being ever. 

How to add an accent wall to your apartment without risking deposit

Combined with the thin wall and my neighbor’s (who was very friendly) hobbies of gaming, breakdancing, and hosting parties, it was a disruptive season. Using what I learned researching and writing the rental friendly accent wall post, I  created this addendum to that post which is all about creating sound dampening accent walls. Whether you live in an apartment, duplex, or other living situation with a shared wall that’s less than soundproof, these tips can help you sound insulate your living space- keeping your sound in and other people’s sound out.




What’s the best way to protect your security deposit when you want to make upgrades to your apartment?

The best way to protect your security deposit on any rental apartment or commercial space is to excessively document the condition of the building both when you move in and when you move out. Upon move-in, use your phone’s camera to film a video of the property. As you film your video, be sure to move slowly, and capture details like ceilings, floors, doors, windows, and kitchen fixtures.

Film this video immediately after receiving the keys to the property- before you move anything in- and immediately upload the file. Forward a copy to your landlord or building management with a note “everything in the apartment is satisfactory. Please save the attached video as proof of the condition of the facility upon move-in.”

Be sure the video features any existing damage or cleanliness issues clearly. When your lease ends and it is time to move out, repeat this video after you have finished moving and cleaning. Again, film slowly and cover every room, including every wall, floor and ceiling, and fixtures. Immediately after surrendering keys, forward the video to your landlord with a note “to follow my move-in video, attached you’ll find a copy of the video taken today. As you can see, all walls, floors, fixtures, etc. are in the same condition they were upon move-in.”

Although it is highly unlikely that any landlord or property management company will compare these videos in detail, they are documentation that can protect you in the event of a dispute. Perhaps more importantly, they show that you are careful, conscientious, and would pursue a dispute if the management company tried to withhold your security deposit for damages they claimed existed at move out that did not exist when you moved in.