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How can renters improve their rental experience?

Renting a home or apartment can feel restricting. For one, it’s difficult to customize a space with paint or architectural changes that don’t violate the rental agreement. What’s more, few people want to spend time adjusting a rental unit, when their time their is so temporary. Leases have different durations and properties can be sold, forcing moves.

Finally, it can be difficult to know your rights as a renter. Without owning the property you reside on, your rights sometimes feel blurry. This week, we are looking to both the Legal Resource Network and the Home Expert Network for advice on all aspects of renting.

Why We’re Asking:

Even though renting can feel restrictive, it also offers great freedom. Renting a space allows you to move after your lease ends or even the ability to break your lease, albeit with possible penalties. Owning a home does not allow for this freedom and mortgage can be a huge source of stress for many.

Since undergoing the recession, renting has become a reality for more Americans. According to the Rental Protection Agency, about one third of Americans are renting a space to call home. We want to learn from our experts about how to make these spaces beautiful, safe, and stress-free.

So we look to our home experts and legal contributors for their top tips on renting:

Home Experts: How can renters use DIY projects to customize their rentals without permanently altering the space?

What items should renters not bring into their new-to-them space?
Is there a checklist for moving that can make the process more streamlined?

Legal Contributors: Are there any inspections that renters should require before moving in or signing a lease?

How can renters be aware of their rights? How do you know when your landlord is violating such rights?
What are the best sources for accessing rental laws that are specific to your state?

We look forward to learning more about renting from all our contributors. Check back next week to see what they have to say!

Experts, post your answers in the comment field below!



  • John F. Peil 02/04/13

    The most important thing is to pay the rent in a timely manner. Submit requests for maintenance online whenever possible. Owners are very busy people. If you communicate with the owners via text or email whenever possible, you just might beamazed with the quality and timeliness of the response.

  • Laurie Gorelick 02/04/13

    Renters have many more options today to personalize their rentals than they did years ago. Many products make it possible to add design on a large scale that are not permanent. For example, Tempaper is a temporary, “peel-and-stick” wallpaper that makes it possible to economically add wall paper to a rental. Add it to an accent wall to make a huge impact for relatively little cost. Area rugs also make a big impact and are portable. As an alternative to area rugs that can go wall-to-wall, consider FLOR: 19-inch-square carpet tiles that are available in a wide array of colors, patterns and textures that you affix to hard-surface floors with adhesive dots. At the end of the lease, the tiles can move with you and be reconfigured.

    Painting a rental is possible if you’re willing to repaint at the end of the lease. Since paint is one of the least costly decorative investments, you can paint an accent wall in a bold color or pattern for a minimal investment in time and money. Adding store-bought window panels and throw pillows are also easy and temporary design fixes. Since most leases allow minimal wear and tear, hanging artwork is also a must in a rental. Finally, I always think adding house plants makes a rental feel homey. And you also have the added benefit of taking the plants you’ve nurtured with you to your next home.

  • Scott Svetic 02/05/13

    Being in the painting and decorating field the addition of your own personal touches will help. Even though there may be some restrictions applied to the lease,keeping things simple and neutral may be allowed. By adding accent walls in neutral colors make it your own space. If these colors are done right and appeal to the new renters, the owner may not object to your ideas. Repainting one or two walls wont be to costly in the beginning or in the end when moving out. You may also try wall grapics or large stencils.

  • Jill Banks @ Happily Better After 02/05/13

    Creating a home that reflects your style and personality can be more challenging in a rental, but there are a few tricks that can make a temporary space feel more permanent:

    – Adding color: If painting isn’t allowed, use accessories to break up the white walls. Pick a color scheme, then use a mix of vertical (curtains, lamps, bookcase displays, wall art, plants) and horizontal (pillows, area rugs, tabletop accents) elements to inject color throughout each room.

    – Hanging art and curtains: When you can’t make any holes in the walls to hang curtain rods or wall accents, there are a couple of work-arounds, if what you’re hanging isn’t too heavy. 3M’s Command hanging products are great for hanging artwork or lightweight curtains/rods; tension rods can be used for hanging slightly heavier curtains; and for a more heady-duty solution, ReadyHang no-drill drapery hardware attaches to your window frames with a spring mechanism.

    – Custom displays and storage: Basic bookcases and modular units can be purchased (or made, if you’re handy) and combined however you like to create displays or storage in a rental space. Some styles have optional add-on doors, drawers, or lighting so you can customize them to achieve a built-in look that can easily move with you to your next home.

  • Tanya Stock 02/05/13

    I have rented for years in the same dwelling. The key is know your Landlord. If the property is owned by a professional corporation your options are limited so ask up front PRIOR to leasing/renting what you can and cannot do. Once that is clear then you have a multitude of options in which to both personalize and “energize” your space.

    Things you should do is freel free to add options by keeping the originals to restore once you leave. Your landlord however may like many of the improvements and in turn rebate the costs to you as a result.

    Such things are low flow faucets, putting films on windows, painting with low VOC paint, replacing old light fixtures with new ones that better accommodate low watt or LED bulbs. You can cover wall to wall carpet with FLOR squares or full length area rugs, cork wall tiles can add insulation and covered with fabric for a French feel and warmth. There are many vinyl stickers, wall art and other temporary covers to make doors and walls dramatic.

    Work with your landlord to find ways that will improve the quality of the property and in turn make your space liveable in personal ways. When a Landlord finds a Tenant who cares for their property as their own home it is a win – win. When it comes down to it, it really is about costs and what you can afford and are willing to do with some negotiation.

  • Jennifer Dusina 02/07/13

    Since renting is more relevant than ever, property owners are looking for ways to differentiate themselves to attract new tenants. Since adequate storage is one of the top 3 amenities that home buyers look for, it only makes sense for commercial builders to keep this in mind as they’re upgrading or building new properties. Renters want apartments and condos that feel like homes, not generic spaces.

    If a renter is unable to find an apartment with great storage, it’s easy to add and takes little effort to install. Plus, you can take it with you when you leave! For instance, we manufacture freedomRail closets and the only installation required is one rail that attaches to the wall. If a tenant installs a 72” space, the entire design only requires 8 screw holes in the wall – and still holds up to 150 per foot.

    So my point is, don’t negate amenities that are important to you just because you think they take too much work and the property owners won’t allow it. You’d be surprised these days what complexes will allow in an effort to keep tenants happy and to attract new renters.

  • Nancy Dalton 02/07/13

    As a kitchen and bath designer I spend quite a bit of time on organization as well as colors and materials. This is a great way to improve the function of your space as well as adding color and texture. A home office with cubbies and fabric covered baskets, a laundry area with modern storage that snaps together for a quick and easy install. There are great products from stores that specialize in organization and containers. Really cools stuff, and who doesn’t need more storage in a rental space?
    When we photograph our kitchens we stage them for the photo shoot. Look at photographs in magazines and on Houzz, they have been staged with items that can easily be removed and won’t leave any lasting marks since they usually don’t always belong to our clients. You can replicate these designer looks in your rental home, condo or apartment.
    Get to know your landlord and be up front with things you might want them to consider allowing or assisting you with. I’m a landlord too and I want my tenant to stay for a long time as long as they are honest with me and pay their rent on time. If I had a tenant that wanted to have us install a really cool light fixture in the dining room, we’d do it. But I would want to have our electrician do this not the tenant. We would also be the one to remove to fixture for the tenant. I should say again that this is the kind of thing a landlord does for a great tenant. If you like your rental unit you can also ask if you could sign a longer lease to offset the modifications you are requesting. Don’t ever do things without asking and if they say no, don’t do it anyway, you may forfeit your damage deposit.

  • Kris @ HouseBuying-Tips.com 02/18/13

    As a renter you have a variety of options for decorating your space – without getting your landlord mad.

    First, painting is a cheap way to spruce up any rental. Most landlords will be happy to allow you to paint, BUT you must check your lease first. If there is nothing in your lease, then contact your landlord, ask for permission, and show them the color you want to use.

    Second, you can use small carpets to bring color to any room. You can usually get them inexpensively at your local home center, or you can but remnants at a carpet store.

    Third, you can use curtains, hanging cloths or carpets, or go to a craft store to get low cost cloth to cover up boring or damaged walls. Again, make sure you have permission to hang things on the wall, and make sure to be careful not to make too many holes.

    Finally, you can search craigslist for low cost items to make your home more comfortable. Large appliances are usually included, so those are not necessary. But you can find small appliances and furniture without breaking the bank!

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