By Molly Kirkland
Compared to owning, one of the biggest disadvantages of renting a home is that you’re limited in the ways you can modify and customize your living space. But being a renter doesn’t mean you have to settle for blank walls, ugly lighting and bland colors.
There are many creative ways to spruce up your space and make it your own, all while preserving your security deposit and keeping the landlord happy.
Painting walls a different color is perhaps the most obvious way to personalize a room, but it is important to review your lease first and clearly communicate your intentions with your landlord. Many landlords are willing to be flexible as long as you agree to return the walls to their original color when you move out. Some landlords will ask that you not use any bold or bright colors. If you do choose to paint, be realistic about the amount of work it will take to return the walls to white when you move out — it could take a good primer and several coats of paint.
If your landlord has a strict policy against painting the walls, consider using temporary wallpaper or artistic decals that are designed to be easily removable without causing any damage. Be sure to test a small strip in an inconspicuous place, because not every product that claims to be temporary is right for every surface.
Regardless of wall color, you can always hang art, posters, mirrors, photos, tapestries or other visual elements. Be careful with heavier pieces, which may require drilling an anchor into the wall. Check your lease or ask your landlord before putting in any nails, screws or anchors. Some have policies against it, but most will allow you to make small holes as long as you fill them with spackle and paint over it when you move out. If you need to avoid making holes in the wall, adhesive hooks or poster strips can be good alternatives.
Curtains and drapery are an excellent way to jazz up the standard-issue white plastic blinds, especially if curtain rods are already installed on the window. If your rental did not come with curtain hardware installed already, get permission from your landlord before putting anything in. Some landlords will allow it only if the hardware stays with the apartment after you move out; others may require professional installation.
Laying down rugs is a great way to personalize a space without having to consult your landlord. You can easily switch out rugs if you need a change of scenery, and they can conveniently hide stains or other blemishes that came with the floors when you moved in.
Good lighting is key to creating a comfortable space. Table lamps and floor lamps can provide the kind of gentle eye-level light that many people prefer to overhead fluorescent lighting. These kinds of lamps offer an infinite number of customization options by combining different lamp bases with different types of lampshades.
Indoor plants are an ideal way to add color and breathe life into a room. If you choose living potted plants, opt for those that require less frequent watering. Soil that is constantly wet and not exposed to sunlight can become a haven for mold and mildew. Keep potted plants on a saucer or some other barrier to prevent excess water from leaking through to walls or floors.
As you may have noticed, there is a common theme to all of the above ideas: If it might leave a mark, check your lease and talk to your landlord first to be sure you won’t be paying for repairs later on. If you make an agreement with your landlord on a modification, make sure you get it in writing and save it for reference when it’s time to move out. Otherwise, be creative in finding ways to decorate and personalize without making any permanent changes to the unit.
—Molly Kirkland is director of Public Affairs for the San Diego County Apartment Association.