What To Know About Painting Your Apartment

Updated: Jul. 11, 2023

If you paint your rental, will you lose your damage deposit? Maybe. Here's pro advice if you're tempted to take the paintbrush into your own hands.

My family and I are renting a new home. When we moved in, it seemed safe to assume the paint on the walls would be in mint condition.

It wasn’t. We found bare (or barely-there) spots and splotchy areas all over the house, as if the painters sort of slapped it on in a hurry and moved on to the next property. Plus, everything is just a basic off-white color. Pretty drab.

If it were totally up to us, we would probably repaint immediately. Unfortunately, it isn’t so simple. Our lease agreement specifies we can’t make changes to the property without an OK from our landlords. Unless they approve, we could be stuck with a substandard paint job for the duration of our time in this home.

How To Make Sure It’s OK to Paint

Chances are, if you’re a tenant in any type of rental unit, your lease agreement says something similar. “Many [rental contracts] do not allow [tenants] to make any alterations to the property without prior written permission,” says Stacy Brown, director of technical training for Real Property Management, an organization with franchises across North America.

With this is mind, if you want to paint your apartment or rental home, take a look at your lease first. If the language even suggests that changes are a no-go, talk to your landlord. If they approve the painting project, great. Just be sure to get it writing.

“If you don’t have it in writing, [the conversation] didn’t happen,” Brown says.

You can also save yourself some hassle by addressing the paint issue prior to signing a lease, Brown says. This will let you know up front if the landlord is agreeable to the idea. It will also keep you from getting stuck in a home with a color palette that doesn’t work for you.

And who knows? The landlord may even agree to bring in pros to repaint the place before you move in, especially if you point out specific areas that need a refresh.

Best Color Choices for Apartment or Rental Home Painting

If your landlord says yes to your request to paint, does that mean you can go crazy with color? Not necessarily, says Ariana Lovato, owner of Honeycomb Home Design in Arroyo Grande, Calif. “I would avoid harsh colors,” she says.

Instead, go for neutral tones like Accessible Beige from Sherman-Williams or Behr’s 2023 color of the year, Blank Canvas. If your goal is more about improving the quality of the paint job than adding color and/or style, both work.

If you prefer something that pops a little more, that’s OK. However, Brown urges tenants to avoid super dark colors like plum purple or Pepto pink. That’s because, no matter how much you love statement colors, it takes a lot of work to cover them up later.

Who Pays To Paint a Rental?

Black man painting wall of homeJGI/Tom Grill/Getty Images

What about the bill? Does merely asking about painting leave you on the hook for paint, supplies and labor? That depends, says Brown. “Most landlords will assume that the renter wants them to pay for it,” she says.

However, it should be the landlord’s responsibility, especially if the tenant’s desire for fresh paint is about condition rather than aesthetics. However, if the landlord says no, Brown says a tenant may persuade them by offering to at least contribute to the cost.

What Can Happen if You Paint Without Permission?

If you’re adamant about painting without a green light from your landlord, expect consequences, says Brown. These may include:

  • Losing part or all of your security deposit.
  • Receiving a bill for the cost of repainting, especially if you took the walls from soft and muted to bright and gaudy.
  • An unfavorable reference from your landlord, making it harder for you to rent elsewhere in the future.
  • Legal action. Your landlord take you to small claims court to recover costs associated with your unauthorized paint job.

How To Fix a Bad Paint Job in Your Apartment or Rental Home

But what if all you want to do is repair drips, scuffs or other flaws in an existing paint job? You should still discuss it with your landlord, Brown says. For one thing, if you try to paint over it yourself with what you think is the right paint, you might not like the results. It can be a real challenge to match existing color.

Touch-up paint never looks good,” Brown says.

Also, if you let your landlord know there’s an issue, they may be willing to bring in professional painters to fix things.

What if your landlord doesn’t care to address the bad paint job? Take photos and document any repairs you decide to take on. This way, you’ll have evidence your work improved the property’s condition — evidence that will come in handy if the landlord tries to penalize you.

Apartment or Rental Home Wall Painting Alternatives

“Renters can do things that are not permanent that will make it feel more like home to them,” says Brown. Hanging colorful and/or stylish curtains, especially full-length ones, is one straightforward option..

You can also:

Another option? Removable wallpapers, aka peel-and-stick wallpapers. “[This] is the best way to transform a space … and they are so easy to use and remove,” Lovato says.

Livette’s Wallpaper is Lovato’s favorite; it’s also available at places like Lowe’s, Amazon, Wayfair and Target. Just be aware you must install these products properly and carefully to avoid damaging to the wall. If you don’t, you may end up forfeiting your security deposit anyway.