Best home 'improvements' for renters
May 21, 2018 11:58 AM   Subscribe

What are the best home innovations/improvements that renters can use without altering their living space permanently or cause any security-deposit-loss-worthy damage?

There have been a lot of questions on MeFi geared towards new homeowners, builders, or renovators who are looking for the most innovative, helpful, efficient features to build into their homes (this one, for example.)

However, we renters can't use many/any of these suggestions as they are permanent features or call for major alterations to existing fixtures/structures. I love the idea of a built-in drying cabinet above the sink, but I (probably) can't do that. Same problem with wanting a Japanese-style washlet toilet, and so on. I've already come up with the solution to get a bidet that attaches to the toilet and uses existing setup to hack the same or similar outcome, but I'd like a lot more solutions like that.

What are some other solutions/products that a renter is able to use to achieve an awesome, functional, enjoyable, efficient living space without making permanent changes?

Basically I would love a fully bespoke home with built-in flour and sugar drawers in the kitchen and heated bathroom floors and a tankless water heater but since I can't, what's the closest I can get to that while renting?

Restrictions: no holes in walls, no painting, appliances come with the rental.
posted by rachaelfaith to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I also rent myself, and I'm probably going to be patching some nailholes in the walls for a day if I ever move out of where I am. I feel you.

One tip I've seen for an option in lieu of wallpaper: fabric and liquid starch. By all reports it just peels right off. There are also a number of quasi-temporary adhesive things for apartments.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:03 PM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I upgraded my showerhead faucet and it's been amazing the difference. Look at reviews and things, but find one that works for you and you can have amazing showers just by unscrewing the old one and screwing in the new one.
posted by Carillon at 12:05 PM on May 21, 2018 [27 favorites]

Best answer: Command hooks!
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:07 PM on May 21, 2018 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Freestanding shelving and cabinets good. You can do LOTS of stuff with command hooks and strips. Like, I've hung lightweight pendant lights with them. They make velcro style ones for photo frames. I hung up glitter star garlands with the velcro ones. (Note, I also can put holes in walls as long as I fill them when I leave. Be sure to double check on if you can do this.)

PS: Has anyone used and removed the liquid starch fabric wallpaper method?
posted by Crystalinne at 12:14 PM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Came in to say new shower head.

Also, in my experience landlords always buy the cheapest possible halogen bulbs they can get. Swap 'em out for some good LEDs, and keep those power-hungry, failure-prone resistive heating devices in a box for when you move out.

If you have window AC units that are old and terrible, consider getting new, better ones. Newer ACs are both quieter and more efficient than older ones. Take them with you when you go, or just sell them.

If you want a little more separation between two rooms that have an open doorway between them, beaded curtains work and I happen to like the old-school hippie vibe they give off. Conversely, you can open rooms up a little bit by removing doors and storing them somewhere safe for later reinstallation.

If you're not into your city's tap water, put a filter on your kitchen faucet.

And if you want to get real crazy, it's possible to do custom built-ins that don't actually attach to the walls. They can wedge between the floor and the ceiling, or they can straddle a corner in order to give them stability.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:17 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Most apartments allow nail holes in walls and they are easily patched. How strong is that restriction?

Apartment Therapy is a blog and a book that focuses on small spaces. They do assume you can paint and attach things to the walls, but the book helps you walk through your own space and make decisions.
posted by soelo at 12:23 PM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Seconding the showerhead recommendation.

I have been really impressed with the sturdiness of this bike hanging contraption, which uses a tension rod between floor and ceiling to hold two bikes with no permanent attachments or drilling. The stability of the tension-rod system has me eyeing modular shelving systems like this, which work on a similar principle.
posted by enn at 12:24 PM on May 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

Oh, thirding the showerhead. I've gotten new showerheads in the hardware store for only about $15, and installing them is simply a matter of unscrewing the old head and screwing the new one on. For safety's sake I saved the old one and I can just put it back on if I ever move out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:27 PM on May 21, 2018

Response by poster: They seemed serious about the no holes in walls thing. It is explicitly mentioned in the lease as no holes, not even patched. I can patch decently but I don't know the exact paint color and I'd rather not go down this road if I don't absolutely need to.

I actually already have a wonderful showerhead that I installed.
posted by rachaelfaith at 12:30 PM on May 21, 2018

We have two Japanese-style washlets in our rental. All the fancy stuff is integrated into the seat - it's basically just a toilet seat replacement, which is trivial to do in a nondestructive fashion. As long as the water valve for your toilet is accessible, and you can somehow get to an electrical outlet, you can shower your behind in warm water to your heart's content.
posted by telepanda at 12:37 PM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: we have a walk-in shower stall (and also don't rent) but those bent-bar shower curtain rods that buy you a few more inches of wiggle room would be something id be tempted to get in your position.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:38 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

All the suction cup shelves in the bathroom (and kitchen if backsplash allows it). There's never enough accessible bathroom storage.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:45 PM on May 21, 2018

Some of this may be negotiable with your landlord. For instance, my 1970s-era kitchen sink, with its one tap, no spray feature, low pressure, I'm considering asking my landlord if I can pay to upgrade. Couple hundred bucks for a new tap, about the same for labor. It'd really help with the dang dishes. I'd probably do it surreptitiously, except that the sink is so old that I wouldn't be surprised if upon taking the fixture apart it crumbled into dust.
posted by praemunire at 12:45 PM on May 21, 2018

Also, if your place happens to have a picture rail (or picture-rail-style crown molding), they work great for hanging things without putting holes in the walls. I use these hooks—I have to order them, hardware stores only seem to carry this style, which doesn't work at all.
posted by enn at 12:52 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nthing Apartment Therapy - the blog regularly has posts on things renters can do to make their space better that are easily reversed. IKEA can also be a good option for ideas, although they often expect you to be able to put holes in the walls.

We changed out light fixtures in a few rooms, and it really made a difference in the feel (and light, obviously) of the room.

Consider talking to your landlord about upgrades that will increase the value of the place; for example, after discussing with landlord, we installed laminate wood flooring in our main living/dining space, and took the materials cost out of one month's rent. My husband and I did all of the labor for free. Everyone wins!
posted by Jaclyn at 1:10 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Switching out an old-timey thermostat for a programmable/wifi thermostat can be really straightforward. You'd probably need to check with your landlord on that, though.
posted by adiabatic at 1:34 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Long-time renter here, and though I can put holes in my walls if I patch them before I move out, I mostly try not to in order to avoid that task.

Seconding the Command Hooks (a godsend) and free-standing shelves. I put up a set of elfa free-standing shelves in a basic closet which had been just one high shelf and a hanging rod — now it accommodates my board game collection and several other items nicely.

I just (as in literally within the past week) started experimenting with a bit of smart lighting. Too early to say for sure, but I think I like it. If you want some wall controls integrated into your smart lighting, Philips makes some for their Hue system which attach with a quasi-temporary adhesive similar to the Command Hooks. Or to be specific, a holder attaches to the wall with a quasi-temporary adhesive, and the control can be removed from the holder so it also functions as a remote.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:38 PM on May 21, 2018

Response by poster: Sorry. Should have mentioned that it is a brand new apartment in a managed community, built last year and has new hardwood floors, granite countertops, new appliances, all of which are lovely, so it's not in need of updates. Just not much in the way of things like garbage disposals, heated flooring, and other 'fun' amenities.
posted by rachaelfaith at 1:41 PM on May 21, 2018

Nth-ing the shower head. We also replaced our thermostat, which might be impossible or daunting for some, but we just went for it, so we have a nice wifi-programmable thermostat (and it was free after a rebate from the gas company). I did not check with my landlord. I just did it. I will probably put the old one back when we leave.

Other things that have made our rental more comfortable/homey:
- temporary wallpaper on a small accent wall above the fireplace. Ours is a patterned wall tile from Blik.
- fancy lightbulbs/switches. We've been using remote control power strips and plugs for a while, so that we have have the light switches do what we want them to do regardless of where the physical switches and outlets are. After receiving an Amazon Alexa device as a gift we switched over to Hue bulbs and WeMo outlets, which are on the pricier side but very convenient and you can do fun lighting effects and things.
- area rugs

ON WALLS AND PUTTING HOLES IN THEM: I am really cavalier about putting holes in the walls, so we have a lot of art up. I don't know what the lease says about it, but the apartment hasn't been painted in about 15 years and if they want to charge us for holes (which we will patch nicely) when we move out I will 100% take them to small claims to get my security deposit back.

If you're confident about your patching skills you can always paint the whole wall the closest possible matching color, or the whole room even - no way is your landlord going to think, "wait, these walls were Beluga Song when she moved in and now they're Ice Sculpture! That said, some walls really are delicate and you don't want to put holes in them (on preview, if it's brand new construction the walls can probably handle a couple of nails unless it's concrete or something - let your confidence in your patching/painting skills be your guide). Command strips are also a great option but sometimes they pull of big chunks of paint, which sucks and is much harder to cover up than a small nail hole.

The wall issue really comes down to how much you want to spend and how long you're planning to stay in the apartment: are you willing to pay to paint and then to pay to paint it back?
posted by mskyle at 1:51 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Smart home stuff can be fun, depending on your general orientation toward these things. I have Phillips Hue bulbs in my bedroom (the white ambiance ones that can do different color temperatures on demand, from blue-toned "concentrate" to a warm-hued "read" mode) and I love having them fade in for the 30 minutes before my alarm goes off. Seriously great improvement. Eventually I'd love to add more bulbs and maybe some motion sensors (some members of the household are...not remembering to turn off the lights.)

I also love me some good cabinet organizers and under-sink organizers and such, if your apartment is as space-crunched as mine. It's worth spending some time trying to get your flow and your storage right. There are plenty of damage-free options for that, no problem.

My other tip for a functional space is to change it up once you've lived in it for a while. We recently rotated our living room 90 degrees and it's totally changed how we interacted with the space (for the better). Next up is re-evaluating the entryway layout, maybe adding a little bench or something.
posted by mosst at 3:11 PM on May 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

I always replace all the lightbulbs and usually change out the kitchen faucet for one with a Brita filter. I just keep the old stuff on hand for move-out.

I like to put decorative cling film on the bedroom window if it faces a busy part of the complex and isn't too big of a window. It adds privacy without cutting out too much light and is really easy to remove.
posted by assenav at 3:16 PM on May 21, 2018

suction cup shelves in the bathroom
I prefer tension shelves in the shower as long as you have a flat corner.
posted by soelo at 3:29 PM on May 21, 2018

Best answer: I got a small kitchen island from Ikea that was all wood. I drilled a bunch of hooks into it, as well as a backboard to prevent my cutting board from being pushed off, and it's become a good little cooking station. I use the hooks from my strainer, ladle and other random cooking crap I use. Even without the hooks, though, having a kitchen island is great.

Also my desk is wood and I drilled in a hook for my headphones that's useful and keeps my desk neat.

I guess tl;dr: hooks to have places for stuff.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:24 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: An easy to install item is a bidet attachment for your toilet. I got one on Amazon "Luxe Bidet Neo 120, it has 6,591 4+star reviews.

We like it so much we got one for 95 year old Mother in Law for Mothers Day. She actually had the most fun calling people to tell them about her "present"
posted by IpsoFacto at 4:25 PM on May 21, 2018

Best answer: I've been a renter forever because I live in Seattle and am not a billionaire. Things I've done:

- shower head replacement, like everyone else
- one of those freestanding shelving things that goes over the toilet, where there wasn't enough bathroom storage or the bathroom was boring
- tension rods and tension shelves to increase closet capacity etc.
- swapping out thermostats and, in one place, light switches for better ones and swapping them back before leaving
- putting more attractive rugs over ugly carpeting
- hanging things on the walls anyway, using picture hooks that hold a lot of weight with small nails, then patching
- doing all kinds of things to the outdoor space then digging up plants and bringing them with when I moved.
posted by centrifugal at 5:07 PM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

For a lot of this YMMV will vary depending on the space. For example, our front hall closet was a horrible waste of space with no light and where the only shelf was a wire rack that ran very close to the ceiling. As a renter I didn't want to install shelves, so we got a bunch of hanging wire shelves and baskets from Home Depot that would hang on the one shelf we did have, and created several rows of shelving that way. We also slapped some stick-on motion detecting battery-powered lights on the ceiling of the closet and now we can see in there.

Also if the thing you want is genuinely an improvement and your management is reasonable you can ask for permission to install it. They might even be willing to pay for it.

I've never known a landlord to genuinely care about holes in the walls. At some point you're talking about reasonable wear and tear.

Other things:
Replacing the curtains
We took a bunch of the shelves out of the fridge and stuck them in the closet
Hue bulbs and smart outlets and an Amazon Echo or Google Home, absolutely
posted by phoenixy at 6:17 PM on May 21, 2018

Also, we got 3" risers for the bed and presto: more storage space!
posted by phoenixy at 6:28 PM on May 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have covered over dated fireplace surrounds twice as a renter.

Once, on a 1910s fireplace with a tile surround that featured 80s beige swirly tile, I used spray starch and vintage-tile-looking origami paper to cover each tile. It added great color to the room, disguised this hideous tile, and came off easy when I moved.

More recently, I used marble contact paper to cover the late-90s/early 2000s beige blah stone tile. The contact paper looked so real that friends couldn’t tell what we’d done until we pointed it out. It helped modernize a 15-year-old unit. When our landlady came to review the unit as I moved our, she commented both on how good it looked and how clean it looked once removed.
posted by samthemander at 7:59 PM on May 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am an ex-renter, but still more comfortable with non-permanent solutions. Commitment-phobe!
Dish-drying racks you can use (scroll down for different solutions in the comparison section)
Radiant Floor Heat

If you have ideas for genuine improvements to the property and are willing to take on the expense, most landlords are more than happy to allow it. Even in large managed properties, although diy will be a much harder sell in larger places. I installed closet systems in a couple of places, although like phoenixy mentions, there are systems that connect to existing main shelves.

There are loads of kitchen organizers and drawer organizers with varying levels of installation. Even rev-a-shelf style inserts can be reversed if you need to.

Besides the wonderful Apartment Therapy, I would suggest The Spruce, Lonny, and Remodelista. I have gotten great ideas from just searching Pinterest or Instagram for my problem plus "renter" or "temporary."

Finally, no nail holes is bs, especially in a nice place with granite, etc. People who live in nice places don't expect to live like college students or barn animals - they feel entitled to have their art and photographs displayed on the walls. Also, are you meant to not have shelf units or dressers? You're supposed to anchor things to walls for safety, right? Just be prepared to patch and paint when you move out. Also, most rental places use paint that is very blendable - you just need to match the sheen and paint a patch, not the whole wall. Maintenance doesn't have time to repaint entire walls just for covering leak stains and smudges.

Enjoy your new apartment, it sounds great!
posted by hiker U. at 5:24 AM on May 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Put in a garbage disposal. It's not that hard to do yourself (or you can hire someone obvs). It's really simple to take back out and replace the original pipe when you move!

Also, I don't know where you live, but in California a landlord can only withhold from your security deposit itemized damage repair that is above and beyond 'normal wear and tear'. So if you have a nail hole or two they can't just keep the whole thing. But if you really don't want to risk anything of your deposit, get some Command Hooks.

Washi tape can be used to great effect to customize walls, and they make good temporary wallpaper in a variety of colors and textures.

I would also talk to your landlords about making improvements. If you're willing to spend the money (and not expect them to shoulder any of the cost and also not get it back when you move out) they may be amenable to you replacing the toilets, etc.
posted by ananci at 10:43 AM on May 22, 2018

I am a former apartment-turner from a giant apartment owning/renting company. In that building we routinely repainted entire apartments, because once you're redoing one wall you may as well do the whole room, etc. Walls gain marks just from normal wear and tear, and by far the easiest thing to do is just put on new paint, after the repair stage and before the cleaning stage. So this advice is coming from that perspective. Maybe if I was working on a single building that I owned and lived in, or an old/vintage/historic building, this would be different advice. But if you're living in a recently made corporate-rented building...

No Command hooks please. They are way more annoying to deal with than nail holes! I would have to scrape off their crappy adhesive residue, and then repaint your wall anyway. It always turned into a bunch of ugly spots. I frequently would just scrape away the residue until it was just another dent to patch, patch the dent, and then- repaint as I was going to anyway. If you're using these, put them on your fridge, or your doorjambs, or doors- don't put them on your paint-and-drywall walls. Please.

A few nail holes are fine. How else are you going to put stuff on your walls, anyway? My solution for these was a dab of caulk if it was small, or spade of spackle if it was large, and- repainting the wall as usual. That said- if you're thinking of using 50 pushpins to hold up your collection of happy photos of your friends and family- use a corkboard please?

Please don't patch your own wall, especially if you've knocked a hole in it by accident. It will look like crap. Tell your apartment maintenance people about it and let us do it. Same goes for holes in doors, etc. It's our job. If we need to replace an entire door to fix the hole you knocked in it during a party, we might charge you for the part. That's life.

Don't leave a huge damn mess when you move out, but you really don't need to deep clean before you go. We do it for every room because it has to be spotless and fully repaired, repainted, replenished before we can show it to prospective renters. Just pay the standard cleaning fee and don't worry about it. If you're even concerned about the state of repair/cleanliness in your apartment as you go, you're in the upper 50% of renters.
posted by panhopticon at 6:43 PM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

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