Rent Like You Mean It

Made Upgrades to Your Rental? Here’s How to Undo Them All.

Trust us, you'll get your security deposit back with these tips.

July  6, 2021
Photo by Sourya Venumbaka

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.

When I moved to New York at the age of 24, it was my first time living away from home and on my own. I tentatively set about making my rental apartment feel like mine with a little peel-and-stick vinyl here and some art on the walls there. But in each of the four subsequent apartments, and I got more skilled, my customizations got more daring—everything from painting walls to putting up elaborate shelving systems. One thing remained constant, however: I always got my security deposit back in full.

Out of the five apartments I lived in, three were townhouses with independent landlords and two were high rises run by management companies. I mention this because different places will have different restrictions on what you can and cannot do in a rental. Maybe I was lucky, but all of my rentals were content with me painting or putting holes in the wall. Mind you, none of them offered up this allowance without being asked, but the asking was more than worth it in the end.

If you’re itching for some personalization, but wondering how to ensure a full deposit refund, read on for your before-you-leave checklist, and put your mind at ease.

1. Get it in Writing

At every lease signing I make sure to ask the landlord or management company if I’m allowed to paint and put holes in the wall. The usual answer is, “Sure, as long as you paint it back and fill the holes when you leave.” This isn’t always explicit, though, so try to get it in writing, either at the lease signing or in an email at a later date. This acts as a safeguard when it comes time for the inspection.

2. Ask About the Paint Color

Now that you’ve got approval to paint, it’s a good idea to ask your landlord the name and finish of the current paint color in the apartment. You can keep a quart of it on hand for touch ups and possible repainting.

3. Take pictures Before you Update

Make sure you document any existing damage in your unit with pictures and descriptions as soon as you move in. You don’t want to be penalized for things you weren’t responsible for.

4. Treat it well

This might be a given, but treating your rental well is imperative to getting that deposit back. Things like carpeting areas where chairs might scratch against hardwood floors and keeping appliances working smoothly with periodic deep cleans go a long way towards maintaining your rental (and limit the amount of work you have to do right before you leave). The Bissell ProHeat Portable Deep Cleaner is a wiz at cleaning up pet messes and Folex Carpet Spot Remover is a must-have for any spills on carpets or upholstery. Folex once helped me get purple paint out of a white rug and I haven’t looked back since.

5. Magically Erase Everything

I always make sure I have a Magic Eraser (a melamine sponge) on hand for marks on the wall. It’s truly magical how it can wipe away scuff marks and more. Use this when you’re moving out to restore walls to their former glory.

6. Spackle When You Leave

I know making holes in the walls can feel intimidating, but spackling is honestly the simplest fix for that. My favorite product to use is the 3M High Strength Small Hole Repair, which comes in an easy squeeze tube with a putty knife on one end and built-in sandpaper on the lid. For a tutorial on how best to spackle holes, check here and here.

7. Remove All Contact Paper or Removable Wallpaper

Peel and stick wallpaper and vinyl have been a blessing for renters everywhere, but not everyone knows how to safely remove it without damaging the surface underneath. I’ve found that using a blow dryer to melt the glue and then pulling the paper off at a 45-degree angle works best. To remove stubborn adhesive from a countertop, use a combination of Goo Gone and a Magic Eraser.

Did we forget any essential steps? Tell us below!

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Sourya Venumbaka

Written by: Sourya Venumbaka

Owner and Creator of Sové Home

1 Comment

AntoniaJames July 6, 2021
As a lawyer may I respectfully suggest that you read your lease carefully and check with your landlord before you do anything that you think has even a remote possibility of causing your landlord to retain your security deposit? Many landlords are fine with whatever you suggest, but may want to work with you on the details of what you're planning - as is their right.

Also, be mindful that every lease has a clause in it making the tenant liable beyond the security deposit if any damage (or other violation of the lease) occurs that cannot be remedied with the security deposit alone. ;o)