What You Probably Don’t Want to Touch in a Rental Apartment


So you’re moving into a new place — how exciting! Sure, the whole packing and unpacking routine gets old quick, but few things can fill you with a sense of renewal more than rolling out a fresh welcome mat. What’s not nearly as fun, of course, is getting an irate phone call from your landlord somewhere down the line. Or, worse yet, being evicted.

Most of us file such a dramatic possibility under the “that could never happen to me” column. Of course, most of us also speed-read the fine print of our rental agreements — making it far more likely we’ll miss a key tenet or two under the “alterations” or “causes for lease termination” section.

While a great rule of thumb is don’t mess with things you don’t know how to fix, we’ll all guilty at times of taking matters into our own hands. We want to be self-sufficient… that’s helpful, right? Well, if you’re a renter, that DIY mentality could wind up ticking off your landlord — possibly to the point of no return (literally).

Here are a few things you probably don’t want to mess with in a rental apartment (unless of course, you have permission and know what you’re doing).

The Thermostat

By all means, adjust the thermostat if the heat is stifling or if it’s so frigid you’re sprouting icicles. But don’t take it upon yourself to try to troubleshoot the problem if it appears your thermostat — or HVAC — isn’t working. The smart thermostats of today aren’t like their simple predecessors. Making missteps with the wiring can fry the thermostat itself or give you a nasty shock, instead. Plus, if any DIY repairs you made void the warranty of the unit, you’ll probably be on the hook for the cost of repairs. Just leave it to the pros!

Light Fixtures

From circa ’70s brass and glass chandeliers to sconces that even your Grandma would deem outdated, unattractive light fixtures can sometimes be a reality of moving into a rental. Other times it’s not so much that the fixtures are unattractive as they just clash with your personal design aesthetic. It’s tempting to break out the spray paint and whip them into Pinterest-worthy shape, but doing so could get you kicked out for making unapproved alterations. But, hey, there is hope — you could always try to get your landlord’s OK to have a qualified electrician swap the fixtures out.

If a light fixture seems to be shorting out or you notice a burning smell, though, you should always call in reinforcements. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, light fixtures are one of the most common causes of electrical fires. Unless you happen to moonlight as an electrician, it’s better to be safe than sorry and dial your landlord’s digits.

The Walls

There are a few ways you can look at this situation. You can lament over how much it sucks you can’t take full advantage of wall space in your apartment to hang things to your heart’s content. Or you can go to town Googling apartment-friendly wall products — like removable wallpaper, Smart Tiles, and other temporary adhesives — instead.

Of course, a third option is to ask your landlord for his or her approval to paint walls and put holes in them for hanging décor. However, even if they say yes, there will be stipulations — you’ll likely be required to putty and repair holes as well as repaint before you move out. Depending on how long you plan on living in the apartment, that may be more hassle than it’s worth (especially when the aforementioned removable products exist).

Alternately, you could always think of your time in a rental as a chance to embrace a more minimalist aesthetic (which happens to be trendy, too).

The Most Rental-Friendly Gallery Wall Idea Out There

The Plumbing

Barring emergency moments that require drastic measures — i.e. water is gushing from a broken pipe and rapidly filling your living space — it’s best to take a hands-off approach to plumbing in your apartment. The only exception here would be simple toilet and drain clogs, which are admittedly gross but hard to mess up. Otherwise, if you have a leak, call it in. If your hot water goes out, call it in.

While you may think you’re doing your landlord a favor by not bothering them with something seemingly minor, you could easily do more harm than good. That little leak? It could be indicative of a much larger problem that, over time, can lead to severe water damage and even mold growth. And there’s always the possibility that you’ll break something when trying to fix it (you’re no pro, after all), which could ultimately cause your landlord to have to shell out even more money to resolve the issue. Can you think of a landlord who’d be happy to hear that?

The Locks

It’s a bit jarring moving into a new apartment and wondering who else may have the keys to your place. Did the landlord change the locks between tenants? Could the former tenants have made copies the landlord didn’t know about? There are plenty of possibilities to keep you awake at night. And while your first inclination might be to change out the locks, doing so could get your relationship with your landlord off on the wrong foot.

Changing the locks would almost certainly be considered an alteration, which most landlords require to be notified of in writing. Since landlords aren’t required by law in many states to swap the locks between tenants, the best approach is to ask your landlord or check your policy (some stipulate it in the rental agreement). If they reveal the locks haven’t been changed, ask if they would be willing to have a locksmith come to the property and make the update.

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