8 ways to personalize your rental — and get your deposit back

A personalized novelty throw rug can make your rental feel more like "home" without jeopardizing your security deposit. Getty Images

While renting apartments in San Francisco, Malone Detro often made small changes to the walls or fixtures to match her particular taste and budget.

“There are a lot of ways in which a rental home can feel not like home,” says Detro, founder of Malone, an interior design and architecture firm.

Detro says making cosmetic upgrades, even if you’re renting, can help you feel excited about your living space.

“I think it helps, ultimately, in you feeling proud about your home,” she says.

Renting an apartment or house can mean a shorter commitment than home ownership — and it’s often a more affordable option in major cities. However, renters may feel constrained when personalizing a rented space, especially when the landlord holds your security deposit.

With a little creativity — and your landlord’s approval — there are ways to make your rental feel more like home and still get your deposit back. Here are eight lease-friendly home upgrades, from least to most amount of work required.

1. Personalized floor coverings

Adam Avitable, a comedian who rents in Tulsa, Oklahoma, says “comfort and feeling” are priorities when it comes to updating his apartment. A focal point in his living room is a rug with images of bacon strips, a food he enjoys.

“That’s something people walk in and they’ll notice,” he says.

2. Better showerheads

A new rainfall or massaging showerhead can significantly boost your daily shower experience, and it’s easy to swap with an existing head. Swap again when you move out and take your upgraded showerhead with you.

3. Stylish cabinet hardware

Cabinets are often the focal points in kitchens and bathrooms. Update the look by replacing the knobs, pulls or handles. Choose finishes that complement existing fixtures and faucets.

Consider new pulls for the closets, too.

4. Smart-home gadgets

Tech-enabled home accessories can make your rental more convenient. In addition to Wi-Fi-enabled plugs for lamps, Avitable attached a voice-activated smart device to his curtains.

“I just tell it in the morning, ‘open the bedroom,’ and it slides the entire curtain open for me,” he says. “That helps me get out of bed if I’m feeling lazy.”

5. Window flair

Curtains play an important role in setting the mood of a space. Blackout shades in a bedroom or light-filtering curtains for a living room can add functionality.

“Window treatments are really easy to install yourself,” says Detro, who used tension curtain rods, which don’t require drilling holes and are easy to remove.

6. Brighter light fixtures

Swapping outdated light fixtures with stylish sconces or pendants can elevate the look and feel of a room. Choose fixtures that accommodate bulbs with the correct wattage and store the originals.

7. Removable wallpaper

Removable wallpaper adds pattern and texture to walls without causing permanent damage. Choose a bold print to create an accent wall and liven up small spaces. Peel-and-stick options require precision to apply but shouldn’t leave a residue when removed.

8. Fresh paint

Adding fresh paint to the walls of an old apartment can easily brighten and modernize a rental. Detro suggests choosing neutral colors that are easy to paint over and using furnishings to bring color and character to the room.

Affording home upgrades

Landlords generally don’t pay for upgrades, or for returning the rental to its original condition, which means you’ll likely have to pay out of pocket.

One way to make upgrades worthwhile is to invest in items you can bring to your next home. For expensive purchases, home improvement retailers like Amazon and Home Depot offer payment plans like “buy now, pay later” that allow you to pay in installments over weeks or months.

Rental upgrades make sense “as long as there’s an increase in the renter’s comfort and convenience,” says Daniel Pinheiro, a certified financial planner in Falls River, Massachusetts.

Pinheiro encourages renters to be intentional with purchases and budgeting, while also saving for long-term goals like buying a home.

Communication is key

Clear communication with your landlord will set expectations and prevent surprises when you move out. “I think that it’s important to know your rights (as a tenant),” says Avitable, “to know what you can and can’t do.”

Before starting any major project, check the lease for any restrictions and get your landlord’s approval in writing. Save receipts or documentation for any upgrades you make in case you want to negotiate with your landlord for items remaining in the rental at the end of your lease.

“I think respect is the biggest part of it,” says Detro, “having respect for the landlord and having respect for your space.”

This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Ronita Choudhuri-Wade ( is a writer at NerdWallet.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.