13 Affordable Upgrades That Will Absolutely Transform Your Rental

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Unless you’re part of the 0.01% and your parents bought you a mansion at 18, at some point in your life, you were probably a tenant.

We all know how it goes: you pick out an apartment, you get your rental agreement and move in… and then suddenly realize that you have to live with seemingly endless limitations. From being unable to paint the walls of your rented home to hanging pictures, if you’re a renter, there are always going to be some things you just can’t do.

Of course every rental situation is 100% different from the next. Some landlords give their renters complete freedom: for example I’ve seen tenants get permission to remodel entire rental kitchens! While some others aren’t even allowed to hang a nail in the wall without asking for permission first.

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Generally everything in life is negotiable, but all landlords have different tolerance levels and every rental contract is different.

Fortunately, whichever situation you find yourself in, there are several renter-friendly home upgrades that you can make to your home. None of them will cause you to lose your damage deposit, and none of them will get you evicted! And ALL of them will make your home look much, much better.

It’s all about the finishes

Unless you live in a high-end, luxury rental, most rental home finishes are subpar, to say the least.

Landlords are notorious for choosing the cheapest versions of everything – not that I can blame them – many times tenants are terrible and will trash things. But I know you’re not that kind of person 🙂

A few examples of typically underwhelming rental finishes are the lighting fixtures, the flooring, faucets and showerheads, towel rings and holders, and sometimes the light switch plates.

So what is a renter friendly home upgrade?

In my books, it’s any modification you make to your rental home that:

a) does not require permission from the landlord

b) is 100% reversible before you move out

… and ideally you can take it with you when you leave.

So without further ado, here is a list of 13 renter-friendly home improvements that will help you make the most of your living space without breaking the bank!

1. Paint

Cost: LowDifficulty: EasyVisual Impact: Major

All the rental units I’ve lived in have ALWAYS had boring, white dingy walls that looked like nothing more than primer when I moved in. In some cases, the landlord didn’t even bother to patch up old nail holes. Thanks 🙂

Other times the previous dweller may have been inspired by things like wild accent walls. While they may have considered it beautiful, the colors may not be to your liking.

My point being: the chances that you LOVE the color of your walls when you move into your rental are … low.

The thing we all love about paint is that you can do it cheaply and quickly, and let’s be honest, it’s really hard to mess it up.

If you can return your walls to the same color they were when you moved in (sometimes it’s not even required), I would always opt to paint. Nothing compares to paint when it comes to cost-effective yet transformative results.

Here are a couple of favorite paints I’ve already reviewed:

2. Peel and stick flooring

Cost: MediumDifficulty: MediumVisual Impact: Major

You can find peel and stick flooring at most home improvement stores, and tons more options online; it’s a pretty cheap renter-friendly home upgrade that you can do in an afternoon.

If you’re installing the tiles yourself, just be sure to follow the instructions on the box – if you have doubts, watch some YouTube videos on how to do it. Or hire someone on Task Rabbit to do it for you.

Peel and stick tiles typically are not that expensive, and if you’re doing a smaller space like a little bathroom or a small rental kitchen, you likely won’t need more than 2 boxes.

All in all, this rental upgrade might cost you a little more but there is definitely no denying the impact a new floor can have on a space.

It’s a reversible update though you may have to use some Goo Gone to remove any sticky residue before you move out. If you do a really nice job, your landlord might want to keep the tiles in – in which case, I would try and negotiate some money back into your pocket as well!

Here are some awesome peel and stick vinyl floor tiles that will dramatically improve the look and feel of your space:

3. Peel and stick wallpaper

Cost: MediumDifficulty: MediumVisual Impact: Major

While we’re on the topic of peel and stick, you can also buy peel and stick wallpaper to jazz up your walls. It’s a renter-friendly home upgrade that will make any room instantly more interesting.

Peel and stick wallpaper can be used on just about any wall, but make sure the paper you choose is compatible with your specific surface.

You can find it at most home improvement stores but as with peel and stick tiles, in my experience there aren’t usually a lot of options in store. So I recommend buying it online.

There is very little preparation needed for this rental friendly home upgrade. Just measure to make sure you’re ordering the correct amount of rolls, cut and smooth it on the wall! It usually comes off without too much fuss.

One downside with removeable wallpaper is that cheaper papers don’t always stick very well, and can peel off the wall. Read reviews if you can before purchasing.

Removeable wallpaper of course isn’t just for your walls! Some of the more creative ways I’ve seen it used is inside closets, on the back walls of cabinets and bookshelves, on ceilings, as temporary flooring, on furniture and in drawers.

Here are some awesome peel and stick wallpaper companies to check out if this seems like something you’d be interesting in doing:

Here are some great places to buy peel & stick and removable wallpaper online:

4. Replace your switch plates

Cost: LowDifficulty: EasyVisual Impact: Minor

I’ve seen so many rental homes with old, cracked and beat up light switch covers. Personally I think the worst ones are the ones that are yellowed and are clearly 40+ years old.

Light switches are a super inexpensive renter home upgrade to spruce up your space without making any permanent changes.

Replacing your outlet covers is a very small and easy change, but it will instantly add that extra layer of polish your rental. You can find new ones at most hardware stores or online at Amazon; they come in tons of different options and finishes.

5. Kitchen and bathroom faucets

Cost: MediumDifficulty: MediumVisual Impact: Medium
Elizabeth Lawson Design. Photography: Jennifer Hughes

Let’s be honest, how many landlords put in nice looking faucets? I can guarantee: not many.

Fortunately, faucet replacements are a straightforward upgrade that you can do to your rental property without leaving any signs of it.

The only issue with upgrading a faucet in a rental is that it’s not always a guarantee that it will be compatible with your next home, so it’s a bit of a gamble in that sense. (Worst case scenario, you could always just resell it online.)

But if you know you’re going to be in your rental long term, buying a more attractive faucet for your kitchen or bathroom would be an investment I’d recommend, especially if you’ve made a lot of other aesthetic improvements to your space and it’s one of the only things left on the list.

There’s all sorts of awesome looking tapware that you can buy online that is really affordable – I’ve shared just a few of my favorites below to give you an idea.

6. Shower head

Cost: LowDifficulty: LowVisual Impact: Medium

While you’re swapping out your bathroom faucet, take a peek at your shower head. Can it be improved? If your current shower head doesn’t have the pressure you want, or the look you want, replacing it is another easy item to upgrade in your rental bathroom. Usually they just screw right off so that you can screw on the new one.

Depending on what you choose, replacing a shower head may or may not make a big visual impact in your rental, but it can certainly improve the quality of your showers! 🚿

7. Bathroom hardware and accessories

Cost: LowDifficulty: LowVisual Impact: Medium

Sometimes that overly shiny silver towel ring and matching toilet paper holder just don’t cut it. Sometimes you want something with a little more style.

Replacing your existing towel ring (or towel bar), toilet paper holder and cabinet pulls is another easy renter friendly upgrade for renters who want to add some visual interest without making any permanent changes.

You can also incorporate other really cute bathroom accessories like soap pumps, tumblers and toothbrush holders for a very low cost. You can keep things simple and shop for matching sets, or get creative and mix and match. A small change like that can really pull together the look of your bathroom vanity area.

Don’t be afraid of buying what you really like, as you can bring all of these items with you when you move out.

And if all else fails, don’t forget a cute bathmat, plush towels and a new shower curtain!

Here are some great examples of super chic bathroom hardware & accessories:

8. Kitchen cabinet handles

Cost: LowDifficulty: LowVisual Impact: High

Another classic rental upgrade: swapping out the kitchen cabinet hardware!

If the knobs or pulls in your rental kitchen have seen better days, then go ahead and get some nicer jewelry for your kitchen. Just like with the bathroom updates we mentioned above, you can bring all of this with you when you leave.

Here are some affordable and extremely cute cabinet hardware options:

9. Upgrade your kitchen backsplash

Cost: MediumDifficulty: MediumVisual Impact: High

There is one last peel and stick option I would recommend using in a rental, and no, it’s not contact paper on the counters (please don’t do that, 96% of the time it looks bad lol).

It’s peel and stick tiles, to use specifically on your kitchen backsplash.

I have seen some really “interesting” backsplashes in my day, and I know that personally I wouldn’t want to be looking at them on a daily basis.

Like this one:

Could this combo be the worst? Maybe.

The best thing to do in that case is to cover them up with something that is more to your liking.

A new kitchen backsplash, paired with updated cabinet handles and fresh paint on the walls will make your rental kitchen look like a million bucks for a relatively low cost. If you want to go all the way, update your kitchen faucet as well.

10. Lighting fixtures

Cost: HighDifficulty: MediumVisual Impact: High

Swapping out your lighting fixtures can definitely end up being one of the more expensive upgrades you make to a rental unit. Of course there is a plethora of lighting options available to buy so you do not have to spend a fortune by any means. You can buy perfectly lovely lights for $100 or even less.

Not only you can take your beautiful lighting fixtures with you when you move, but they will dramatically improve the way your home looks. I would 100% recommend looking at your lighting situation if you want to make dramatic changes to your interior.

If you’re replacing wired lighting, like a bathroom vanity light, or a hallway sconce, it takes a little knowledge to wire up your new fixtures. I always ask my husband to do it for me, but it really isn’t hard. Just make sure you know what you’re doing. And if you have any doubt, hire an electrician.

11. Light bulbs

Cost: LowDifficulty: EasyVisual Impact: Medium

If your landlord put in cold, neon lightbulbs in areas like the living, dining or bedrooms, make sure you swap those out asap.

I always recommend using smart bulbs because you can do so many cool things with them. But if you’re not interested in that, at the very least make sure the bulbs you choose are of a lower kelvin with a warm glow. You’ll want to look for lightbulbs that are labeled “warm white”. Stay away from labels that say daylight. Have no idea what I’m talking about? I go into it more in depth in this post, which talks about how to make your home cozy and inviting.

12. Swap out the blinds or curtains

Cost: MediumDifficulty: EasyVisual Impact: High

It’s possible that the window coverings in your rental are in need of some modernizing. The good news is that this is another relatively easy change to make to your rental.

If you’re lucky, all you need to do is buy new drapes or blinds. But most likely, you’ll probably need to replace or at the very least re-hang the rods because 95% of the time they’re hung incorrectly. I have tons more info on how to hang curtains in this post, so make sure you check it out.

If you live in a rental apartment, be aware that there may be some rules in place about drapery colors and what you’re allowed to use. This should be outlined in your rental agreement, so if you have any doubts, check there.

13. Bring in rugs

Cost: MediumDifficulty: EasyVisual Impact: High

If you’re living with a floor that you hate, don’t worry, I got you.

One of the easiest renter friendly ways to cover up unsightly or damaged flooring, is to use large area rugs. And yes, in case you were wondering, you can definitely cover up carpet you don’t like with rugs as well.

Most of the time if you purchase rugs large enough, they can cover up a multitude of sins in terms of flooring flaws, but they will also make a room feel cozier and warmer.

Rugs are another one of those transformative decorating elements that I always recommend adding to any home. Rug prices can vary wildly but there are definitely affordable options out there that are gorgeous – I happen to have an unhealthy rug obsession so I share daily rug deals on Instagram – be sure to follow me there so you don’t miss those!

I hope you enjoyed this post, and if you did please share it! I try to make my blog as useful for readers as possible and it really helps me out if you could share my article with your friends and loved ones!

One last thing: if you’re looking for some practically zero-budget home decorating ideas, click here!

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  1. Hi, I check your new stuff like every week. Your writing style is awesome, keep up the good work!