Rent Like You Mean It is a series all about giving our rental spaces a new lease. We’ve rounded up a whole host of refreshing spruce-ups (and cover-ups), impactful DIYs (plus how to get them back to square one when you leave), and peeks at real-life rental transformations. Because a lease should never stop you from having a space that feels like yours—even if it’s only for a year.
Listen, it’s a tough rental world out there. Between callous management companies, unfair laws, and (at best) apathetic landlords, it can often feel like no one’s on your side. As anyone who’s ever rented can tell you, there’s always a grievance—something broke and didn’t get fixed, pests never got fully exterminated, noisy neighbors were never reprimanded, and so on. And while owning a home certainly has its own drawbacks (um, you have to take care of the entire thing… all the time), renting a place to live often feels like the most helpless thing you can do, since basically every decision is up to your land(over)lord.
You know who is on your side, though? Fellow renters.
I, too, have had my fair share of rental run-ins. In my first NYC apartment, the only way for the landlord’s handyman to access his workshop was… through what was essentially our living room. We ended up living in the apartment for two years—during which the handyman came in every. Single. Day. And he reeked so badly of cigarettes that the smell would linger long after he was gone each time. Did I mention that this apartment also was on the “garden” level, therefore lacking any natural light and attracting plenty of cockroaches and ants? That, too.
While my first apartment was part of a larger building, my current one is the first floor of a two-family home, and my landlady (along with her son and husband) live above us. Where do I start with this one? Is it her son, incessantly playing basketball outside my window, smacking my brand new AC unit with the ball at least thrice daily? Or, could it be her attempt to force us not to flush any toilet paper, as it would clog the pipes and cause a flood in the illegally-rented-to-her-family basement apartment? Or, better still, the giant leak in our kitchen that led to an eight-month renovation of the bathroom above us—leaving a gaping hole in our ceiling all the while? Or perhaps, the time they “unknowingly” let us pay for gas for the entire building for a whole year? I think that covers it, yes.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “wow, have I got a story for you,” don’t be shy—tell us below. And in the meantime, relish in the horror of others, knowing that you’re far from alone.
When I lived in Red Hook I had every type of pest infestation—carpenter bees by the hoard in my bedroom, a raccoon in the ceiling, ants, a mouse that ended up in my hair one night, water bugs, roaches (of course). And my first landlord helped as best that he could but he sold the building halfway through this saga and my second landlord was the biggest pest of all. He refused to do anything that actually helped and his solution to the raccoon in the ceiling was to cut down all the beautiful mulberry trees in our backyard.” —Alex Egan, Senior SEO Strategist
“This might be more my fault, but I had a raccoon crawl onto my bed through the fire escape window. I left my window open for five minutes to air my room out, but it was raining outside so I think my dry room enticed this raccoon. I also had bed bugs three times which I later realized was a building problem, and of course, my landlord never exterminated the building.” —Natasha Janardan, Social Media Video Producer
“I live in an old apartment building. Upsides: location is on a little-known street in the heart of a big city, across from a city park, no rules other than don't bother anybody, I can have pets, paint the walls whatever I please, have a real vegetable garden, and a compost pile, plus, it's cheap. Downside: No pest maintenance. I've had to replace expensive electronics—even a Vitamix—from bug damage. I unplug everything except the fridge when not in use. I keep the bugs in line with a lot of cleaning, boric acid powder. So, no Alexa for me.” —Susie W., Community Member
“I lived in a six "bedroom," one bath in Bushwick that was only possible because I was the only one with a 9-5 job, so I didn't have to fight for bathroom time in the morning. When I moved in, the tub was so backed up that I was standing in a kiddie pool while showering, but I seemed to be the only one who cared? There were also randomly mushrooms growing between the tiles and tub (which happened basically overnight), and I've never been so concerned, amazed, or shocked before. Among other things: one roommate hosted “plant lovers” meetings without asking (and had a greenhouse in the yard), there was no kitchen trash can, food and trash was constantly left out, and there were so. Many. Ants.” —Danielle Curtis-Williams, Manager, Marketing
“My building currently does not have gas, nor will it have gas for at least the next three months. No solution presented by the landlord or board.” —Courtney Ormon, Account Manager, Brand Partnerships
“I once lived in a building that was sold and gut renovated and I remained the only tenant. They took off the entire facade of the building plus took out the staircase (I was on the first floor) while I remained living there. My power was supplied by an extension cord running from an adjacent building.” —Noah Stitelman, Director, Customer Care
“Our current apartment has, what we call, “a death elevator.” Since we moved in (Dec 2020) it has been out of commission two to three times a week, regularly stops either one foot above or one foot below the floor it's going to, and has trapped people inside of it no less than six times. It also makes a horrific and terrifying screeching sound between the ground floor and basement floor where the trash is. Oh, and it looks like the elevator in a horror movie that someone gets murdered in—it hasn't been updated since 1974.” —Kaleigh Embree, Customer Care Specialist
“After Hurricane Sandy, my top-floor apartment roof started to leak slightly, then more, then more, until finally the ceiling paint drooped under the weight of all the water and burst like a fat balloon. Gallons and gallons of brown water poured in, plus more every time it rained. And they just...never fixed it. Never even sent anyone to look. And then they told me they were raising the rent to $4,500! So I was like yeah, lolz, bye. That was the last apartment I ever rented. And then, coda to the story, they painted over all the exposed brick in the apartment for the next tenant??? A full tall wall of 19th-century brick, painted renter's fucking white.” —CB Owens, Copy Editor
“One time my water was a lovely red-brown color for three days because they incorrectly installed a new boiler system or something, but vitamins and minerals?!” —Kelly Vaughan, Staff Writer
“When I lived in Bushwick, it was literally raining in my apartment. RAINING. Not just leaking, but raining. Which then developed black mold. I ended up withholding back rent and only got it fixed because I had a 45-minute conversation that I recorded with my phone of my landlord illegally threatening me. Here’s where it gets fucked, though. This is said landlord.“ —Tim McSweeney, Design Director
“I lived in a building where the radiator from the apartment above me leaked through the ceiling into my closet, so I had to set up buckets around my room to catch the water. I also had to set alarms in the middle of the night to get up and empty out the buckets because they would fill up. My own radiator also would just spew water everywhere like a fire hose so I lived without heat for a while and had to get a space heater.” —Emily Leahy, Senior Manager, Brand Strategy
“So, I was living in the infamous Mckibbin Lofts (yes, they have their own Wikipedia page). The space was pretty incredible, but came at the cost of paper thin walls, no windows in most rooms, no proper electrical or lighting—aka extension cords and clamp lamps galore. One of the worst parts of the building was the plumbing. In our unit, we had a pump in our kitchen tucked away in its own closet. If a fuse tripped in our unit OR a neighboring one, it stopped working and left our kitchen and pantry flooded—this happened a number of times. The breaking point was the night it rained from the ceiling. We were frantically running around trying to cover things and save things, but ultimately, we ended up having to dispose of two mattresses. I’m so glad I got out.” —Kayla Roolaart, Assistant Buyer, Table and Barware
“I lived in a 33-story tower with four elevators. Only two ever worked at once. I often had to walk down 25 flights in the morning to not be late for work. There were also two fires in the building in the two years I lived there—one in the garbage chute that filled the entire building with (garbage) smoke. After a gas explosion in the neighborhood, the lines were inspected and all the lines in the building had to be changed, so we were all given a hot plate to use while the work was done. They spent months jackhammering the walls of the buildings all day to do the work. I went to housing court trying to get out of my lease and LOST! I finally moved out two months before my lease ended and had to keep paying. I don't even know how long the building was without gas.” —Rob Strype, Video Editing Lead
“My landlord called me a year after moving out to ask us to pay for the removal of a satellite dish that she approved of being installed.” —Alli Guglielmino, VP, Strategic Partnerships
“My last landlord: Accused me of washing my cats in the shower when the pipes (that I don't think were replaced since the 1940’s) started backing up into the bathtub. Had my entire toilet removed from my bathroom with zero warning, put it in the middle of my kitchen, and informed me that it would be left there and I'd have to use the bathroom in the downstairs vacant apartment until the plumber could come back after the long Labor Day weekend. Harassed just about every guest I ever had over and argued loudly with my neighbors in the hall at all hours, never wore a mask once, and would barge into our apartments. When I moved in, one of my neighbors told me she would have told me not to take the place if she could have.” —Nisse Lovendahl, Care Project Manager
“My ex-wife and I were living on the first floor of a brownstone in Park Slope. The stairs leading to the apartment had a closet underneath that the landlady said she was keeping her stuff in—mind you, inside the apartment we were renting—and she could come and go whenever she wanted. And she did. She never once asked us if it was okay or if it was an intrusion—nothing! My dog hated it there, too. He escaped several times and would hang out with the neighbors instead.” —Dina Losito, B2B Business Associate
“I had a landlord who moved into the other side of my duplex with his wife. He then decided he wanted to go to clown school, temporarily moved to California, but dropped out because it was too aggressive, and transferred to another clown school. When he returned he didn't want to be encumbered by a traditional house and moved into an airstream and lived in our driveway for six months, while his wife still lived inside the house.” —Erin Sanders, Customer Care Operations Manager
“I once had to move into an apartment without seeing it for a long term work production, so time was of the essence. Upon arrival I was surprised to learn there was not a kitchen... but a microwave and a full sized refrigerator in the living room. For the next four months I washed my dishes in my bathtub (I just used Dr. Bronner's on myself and my dishes—kept it simple) and made coffee in my bedroom. The landlord refused to admit THEY FAILED TO MENTION IT before I arrived. Turns out the photos were of a model unit and most definitely not the one I was given. Thank god it was a short stay.” —Shannon Muldoon, Director, Studio52