The Do’s and Don’ts of Updating an NYC Rental Apartment

Arguably, the best part about moving is the chance to start from scratch. From decorating your new digs to finding a new routine, beginning life again in a new city or a new part of your current city can often be a welcome and needed change. But even as exciting as moving can be, most apartments are not picture perfect on the move-in day. Many renters find themselves loving the location and price of an apartment or building but are displeased with the layout and look of their new home.

Finding a perfect unit in New York and beyond is almost impossible, so if your landlord is unwilling to budge on upgrading some of the items on your wish list there are a few tips and tricks in a professional renter’s toolbox that can transform a space until you’re ready to move on. Just be sure to read the fine print of your rental contract to make sure none of the following items are prohibited or else you could be faced with losing your deposit at the end of your stay.

Add Value to Your New Apartment

  1. Upgrade the overhead lighting

Rental units are notorious for using builder-standard light fixtures in common spaces, kitchens, and bathrooms. If you find yourself staring into the dusty glass of a fluorescent monstrosity on your ceiling, it’s time to go light fixture shopping.

Bad lighting can be one of the main downfalls of a rental unit. It adds harsh shadows to the space and dates a building drastically. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to improve the fixtures that diffuse or distribute the light from the bulb. The first thing to do is note the size of the fixture and how easily it may be removed from the bulb. If you’re dealing with a chandelier that’s been wired into the ceiling, you may want to leave well enough alone, but many ceiling fixtures are easily dislodged and removed. Store them in the back of your closet for when you move out and then get to work finding the right fixture to match your style.

If you’re unsure what would work in the space, the experts at home improvement stores such as Lowes and Home Depot can help you with measurements and styles.

  2. Update hardware in the bathroom and kitchen

Another easy rental transformation is swapping out the hardware in your new kitchen and bathroom for knobs and pulls that fit your unique sense of style. Because this is a common upgrade in rental units all you’ll need is a screwdriver and a set of replacement hardware.

If you don’t yet know what will match your kitchen or bathroom aesthetic, save this upgrade until you’ve decorated the rest of your space. Because you won’t want to live in a kitchen without cabinet knobs or a bathroom where you can’t access your drawers, make sure you have replacement hardware before you remove the current ones.

Again, stores such as Lowes and Home Depot have an impressive selection of hardware styles, from sleek to intricate. But if you’re looking for something a little more unique, stores such as Anthropologie, Pottery Barn, and even Ikea are great places to find something that will give your kitchen and bathroom cabinets the update they deserve.

  3. Window treatments

There’s nothing that kills the excitement of a new space like encountering ivory vinyl or plastic mini blinds on the windows. Chances are your NYC apartment will not come standard with anything more than plastic window coverings so the easiest way to instantly improve a space is to remove the plastic and replace it with a more aesthetically pleasing window covering.

If you’re looking for privacy, measure your window and order wooden slatted blinds. If the windows are a standard size, you won’t rack up too much of an expense and you’ll be able to reuse them later on so long as you keep them in good condition. If you’re just looking to frame up the window or tone down sunlight, a simple curtain rod and fabric panels will instantly transform the space. Just make sure to keep the plastic blinds in a closet or pantry to put up again when you’re ready to move out.

  4. Painting and temporary wallpaper

While rentals are known for their basic white walls, consider freshening them up with a slightly less stark neutral. Most landlords are fine with a new coat of paint on the walls as long as it’s a neutral. Grab a few paint cards from your local hardware store and test the shades of white on your walls in morning and evening light to find the perfect hue. Take a weekend and a gallon of paint to refresh a room or two in your new home. The new color will brighten up the space and make it customized to your preferences.

While a fresh coat of paint is one of the easiest ways to transform a room, another option is to consider a slightly less time-consuming method – temporary wallpaper. A fairly new trend in the design space, temporary wallpaper is created for renters and homeowners who may not want to commit to wallpaper for the long-haul but love the look of a pattern. It’s easy to put up and take down and doesn’t leave behind residue on your walls, making it the perfect solution for an accent or statement wall.

Avoid These Home Improvements in a Rental Unit

And like the above tips and tricks can actually help improve and add value to your space, the following items will almost always be banned in rental units so shy away from these drastic improvements:

  1. Rip up carpeting

While carpeting in rentals is very undesirable, chances are at least the bedroom will have it on the floor. Ripping up the carpeting is a big NO in rental units, so if you’re looking for a fast solution to cover unsightly floors try area rugs to add dimension and cleanliness.

  2. Paint fixtures such as cabinets

While freshly painted walls add value to your NYC rental, painting things such as cabinets are irreversible and could cause you to lose your deposit.

  3. Install your own appliances

Unless you’re a master electrician, it’s going to cost you more than it’s worth to install your own appliances that did not previously exist in the unit. Of course, feel free to bring in that on-the-counter microwave, but don’t tear out a cabinet and mount it above your range.

  4. Tear down walls

And the final big NO in a rental unit is to tear down previously existing walls. While most apartments could be improved by reconfiguring the floor plan, the job is dangerous and a violation of your rental contract.

If you are a renter and are looking to make subtle improvements that are truly valuable, try a few of the ideas above. Just remember to re-read your rental contract before you get to work to avoid an unpleasant conversation with your landlord down the road.