Making Your Rented House a Home: Home Improvements for Renters

A mortgage  is a big responsibility and there’s a lot that goes into getting ready for one. But most rentals come with plain walls, minimal personality, and a few flaws. Apartment Therapy recently published a post by managing editor Carrie McBride about getting a dishwasher installed in her rental apartment. "Was it worth it?" she asked. A lot of renters make improvements for their own comfort, even though they don't own the place, and won't benefit from a rise in value. So why should you have to wait until you own a home before you start down the home improvement road? Start off with these simple projects. If you do decide to buy your own place, you'll have the DIY skills you need to start making improvements right away.


No one wants to live with sterile, bland walls. A fresh coat of paint makes a big difference in a room. Painting in your rental means you’ll be a pro once you get your own home. And that’s a great way to add value.

Make sure you get written permission from your landlord before you do this one. They might ask you to use a certain type of paint, veto certain color choices, or ask you to repaint it white before you leave.


Container gardens can spruce up any patio or outdoor space. And there are so many possibilities! Vibrant flowers, succulents, vegetables. You name it, you can grow it in a container. Even if you’re not the best gardener (or if plants sprout legs and run when they see you coming) there are plenty of plants that pretty much take care of themselves. Pothos comes to mind. It thrives in low light and irregular watering--it’s like you were made for each other!

And remember, if you’d rather plant in the ground or build a raised bed, make sure you get written permission from your landlord first.


Even if you don’t paint, you can still add color and style to your walls. Use removable hooks to hang pictures, art, and mirrors. The pictures and art will soften the white walls and make your place feel like home, while the mirrors will make the room seem bigger than it is. Make sure the walls are strong enough to support whatever you hang. Want to avoid a crash and damage to the wall? Of course you do. This Old House has some great advice about what kind of hardware to use to hang things safely.        

(Not so) Built-in Bookcases

Who needs the real thing when you’ve got Craigslist and thrift stores nearby? Look for some inexpensive, matching bookcases and paint them the same color as the wall. Put them on either side of a door or window and you’ve got yourself a built-in bookcase that you can take with you when you move.


There’s more than one way your lighting fixtures can brighten your space. You can even hang chandeliers or ceiling fans. Just be sure to keep the old fixtures safe and clean so you can put them back when you move.


It’s probably not a good idea to re-tile, replace carpets, or put in hardwood floors in your rental. You won’t be able to take that with you and your landlord might charge you when you move out. But a big area rug will help hide ugly flooring and make your rental a little homier.

Portable security systems

A landlord might not want you to put in a security system with a lot of hardware. But luckily there are a lot of simple systems out there today that you can control with your phone. You’ll probably be able to get a discount on your renters insurance. And since you can take it with you, you’ll get the same benefit on your  homeowners insurance when you buy a home.

Before you start any project, you may want to ask your landlord if she'll cover some or all of the cost. Most property owners want to protect their investment. They want the apartment or house to look good to tenants, so they can make money. It's always worth asking, because you might be surprised when they say yes! Have you ever made an improvement or paid for an upgrade in an apartment or rental home? How did it go?