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Rental Report: What’s Allowed When Decorating Your Rental?

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Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.

Moving in to an apartment doesn’t have to doom you to neutral colors and bare walls. There are plenty of options renters have when decorating their new digs. But what can renters do to spruce up their place while still following the rules?

First: Review your lease. The decorating rules may already be spelled out. Discuss with your landlord anything that isn’t specifically mentioned and get written permission if it is something other than rugs and curtains.

Paint: Some apartments or individual condo rentals will allow renters to paint at their own expense. Sometimes it is as simple as getting the colors approved by the landlord prior to painting, but sometimes you may have to return the unit to the original color when you move out.  Some private landlords will even let you pick colors prior to move in if they are planning to repaint. It can’t hurt to ask, and be sure to put it in your offer and lease if they do agree.

Top Tip: If you are painting in a small space, and you are likely to have neighbors, look in to low VOC paint to keep the fumes to a minimum for your benefit and those around you.

Tip No. 2: Don’t want to paint but want to add some character? Consider some removable wall stickers. With so many options out there, you can inexpensively add a border or backdrop to your wall with minimal effort. Just be sure the stickers are removable, or you will end up painting those walls anyway.

Rugs: Add some color and style to your unit with some nice area rugs. Rugs come in all shapes, sizes and styles as well as price ranges. They don’t have to break the bank. Also consider different materials and textures to add character to different rooms. Keep in mind if you are in a unit with wood floors your lease will likely require you to cover up to 80 percent of your floor with rugs. This is a pretty common requirement to help with sound issues in close quarters.

Top Tip: Because carpet can harbor allergens, bacteria and other interesting critters it is probably best to go new with rugs, and save the Craigslist finds for end tables and desks.

Wall Hangings: Hanging pictures and art is a great way to add life in to bland walls, especially if painting isn’t allowed, or just not in your budget. Checking out Pinterest these days leaves you with no shortage of budget friendly wall art.

Top Tip: Use Command Strips for hanging your new Pinterest-worthy art so you won’t have to fill holes in the walls at the end of your lease.

Other Accessories: Throw pillows, blankets, tablecloths, lamps and plants are all great ways to add splashes of color and character to your space. For studio apartments you may want to look at ways to split up your space with a screen or temporary wall.

Shelves and Closet Units: Depending on the type and how they are installed, some landlords may not have a problem with adding shelves if they are easily removed and the walls can be repaired. If you are looking in to something a little more permanent like built-in closet units — talk it over with them — if done well and installed properly the landlord may welcome the change, not ask that you remove them later, and possibly even help with the cost. If not, take a look at a unit that can be removed when you leave.

Just because your new space may start out on the boring side doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

Top Tip: Always get written permission, and expect to foot the bill. Landlords can be pretty flexible as long as you are open and discuss it with them up front.

Have a rental-related question you’d like Rental Report to answer? Email it to [email protected].

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