How to update your rental without making permanent fixes your landlord won't like

Witness the magic of contact paper posing as marble. - SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL PHOTO
Samantha Wohlfeil photo
Witness the magic of contact paper posing as marble.

I've lived in places where the property manager insisted that the sloping kitchen floor was "intentional" from a renovation, where water seeped through the ceiling whenever it rained, and where ripped vinyl floors created grody black stains throughout the kitchen. Some of those things required serious renovations, and yet none of those landlords ever seemed keen on the idea of us tenants taking on even small, DIY projects that would make their places look better.

But renters, I'm here to tell you there are in fact many upgrades you can make to your rental apartment or home without fear of retribution.

Not only are they affordable, but even small upgrades can quickly make a space feel more like home. Here are some projects that are reversible and easy enough that anyone can handle them.


My apartment has amazing built-in storage in a style from the early 1900s, but the small kitchen counter is covered in unappealing, chipped, faux wood vinyl from the '80s or '90s.

Enter the magic of contact paper. Nowadays you can buy rolls in extremely realistic patterns that will not only go on easily, but come off without damaging the counter underneath. A roll of white marble-patterned paper lifted my kitchen space with a lighter, more timeless feel. The surface is even waterproof, meaning it can handle the spills and wipedowns expected in a kitchen.

Maybe your style matches better with a granite or tile pattern. It's up to your imagination. Contact paper can also be used to change up backsplash areas and even kitchen drawers.


Speaking of those built-ins, old-school cupboards may come with tacky knobs or drawer pulls. Easily unscrew those, keep them in a bag so they can be reinstalled when you move out, and screw in new knobs and pulls that fit your aesthetic better. You can also replace door knobs fairly easily with the same idea in mind: put it back where you found it when you leave.


Many property owners will readily admit that a fresh coat of paint is one of the cheapest ways for them to spruce up a newly vacated apartment when transitioning between tenants. Paint is relatively inexpensive, and it's not hard to cover up if you want to swap colors.

So, if you're sick of that particular white in your room, try out another shade or paint a more dramatic color on an accent wall. Neutral colors likely won't even be an issue, but if your landlord hates it when you're moving out, it's easy to paint that room right back to the color it was before.


If you're nervous that even a coat of cream paint might start an unnecessary tiff between you and your landlord, washi tape is an inexpensive way to create artistic and totally nonpermanent accents in your living space.

Try making a pattern on one wall with the very easily removable tape — think a chevron, repeating minimalistic lines or geometric shapes. Or, go crazy and create an entire art piece or faux wallpaper design. For inspiration, try browsing DIY sites like Apartment Therapy, HGTV's DIY Network and Curbly.


Have some boring old blinds? Pull those all the way up, install some hooks on either side of your window frame (use 3M sticky hooks for the no-hole version, or hooks that require small nails if your walls don't take well to adhesives) and throw up a curtain rod with some fresh curtains. In just a few minutes, you've updated the entire feel of your living space.

Not finding affordable curtains you like at the store? Check thrift or craft stores for fabrics that appeal to you, and it's very simple to sew or even hot glue a tube or loops on top so you can easily thread the homemade curtain onto a rod.


Put up a large mirror in a tight space, even if that means just leaning it against the wall, and you'll instantly feel like the space got bigger and brighter. ♦

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About The Author

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...