Rental home changes: Can you make improvements to your rental?

June 12, 2018 - 3 min read

In this article:

Improvements are home alterations you can’t easily reverse. When making your rental a home, are you generally allowed to improve your space? Which rental home changes do landlords usually allow?

  • Most standard lease agreements require written approval from your landlord before renovating
  • If you want changes that are not health or safety emergencies, get permission first
  • There are many temporary solutions that do no damage and require no permission

If you can convince your landlord that an improvement is necessary, he or she might pay for it.

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How to get your landlord to approve a renovation

Landlords are more likely to approve a renovation if it adds value to the property and you don’t get to take it with you when you leave. If you install a home security system or ceiling fan, for instance, removing it is likely to damage walls, moldings and/or ceilings.

When you propose an improvement, provide as much detail as you can — what you want to change, what materials you would use, and who will be doing the work. Anticipate that your landlord will want some control over permanent changes to the rental.

Related: Improve your property with an energy-efficient mortgage (EEM)

Don’t expect your landlord to be wild about custom paint jobs in dark colors or cutting holes in the wall for an air conditioning unit. Anything that doesn’t apply to a wide range of tastes could reduce the rental value of the unit.

If you have established a good history, feel free to ask about improvements. Most landlords want to keep good tenants and will allow alterations that are not risky to them.

How to get your landlord to pay for changes

Landlords consider paying for improvements when it makes sense for them to do so.

  • You have a better chance at approval if the improvement is necessary for the long-term rentability of the property
  • Lower-cost improvements are more popular with landlords
  • Energy-efficiency improvements are popular, especially with landlords who cover some or all of the utilities
  • Again, being a good tenant helps — many landlords will pay for reasonable upgrades to keep a good tenant happy

Understand that your landlord may feel entitled to increase your rent if he or she pays for renovations. Something to keep in mind if you’re on a month-to-month agreement.

Related: More bang, less buck: home improvements with highest payoff in 2018

If you’re concerned about paying for an expensive improvement yourself and then not benefiting, try a written arrangement like this: you pay for and complete the agreed-upon improvement at a pre-determined cost. Then, your landlord gives you a break on the rent until the cost has been covered.

For instance, if you install a $2,000 upgrade, your landlord might give you a $100 discount on your monthly rent for 20 months. This would protect you from rent increases before you recoup the cost of renovating.

Changes you can make now without pre-approval

Not every alteration to a home needs to be discussed with or approved by a landlord. Many new products help make rentals feel more like home, and their effects are temporary and leave no damage.

  • Removable adhesive tiles let you change walls or floors; they can be removed by heating them with a hair dryer when it’s time to move out.
  • Temporary window films can provide privacy or decoration
  • Temporary flooring floats over existing floors and you can remove it easily
  • Adhesive wall hooks and frame hangers let you add flair without harming walls
  • Removable contact paper — one cool type lets you turn any surface into a chalkboard
  • Tile tattoos let you upgrade ceramic surfaces with designs that go over existing tile
  • Temporary wallpaper lets you go as custom as you like — some even let you create the design
  • Switch out your hardware in the kitchen and bath — you can undo it in a snap if necessary
  • Changing out ugly light fixtures creates a huge difference and takes very little time
  • Add faux architectural fixtures that are lightweight and temporary
  • Install “built-in” shelving with made-to-assemble units you can take when you go
  • Get a nicer shower head

Pretty much anything that can be undone at the end of your tenancy should be okay. That includes temporary products made for renters. It also includes fixtures you can replace and then un-replace when you move outdoor handles, lighting, window coverings, and the like.

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Gina Freeman
Authored By: Gina Freeman
The Mortgage Reports contributor
With more than 10 years in the mortgage industry, and another 10 years writing about it, Gina Freeman brings a wealth of knowledge to The Mortgage Reports as its Associate Editor. Gina works with a team of world-class real estate and finance writers to bring timely and helpful news and advice to the audience. Her specialty is helping consumers understand complex and intimidating topics.