10 Apartment Repairs and Maintenance You Can Do Yourself

Updated: Aug. 15, 2023

Unless the lease says otherwise, landlords are responsible for repairs to rental units. Some small jobs, though, are easy enough for tenants to DIY.

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Who Is Responsible for Repairs and Maintenance in Your Rental?

Having been on both sides of the landlord/tenant relationship, I can say that I prefer being a tenant.

Sure, tenants have no financial stake in the property. And their monthly rent disappears without hope of ever being recovered as equity, appreciation or tax deductions. But when something major goes wrong, a tenant contacts the landlord or property manager and hands off the problem.

Not every rental situation is cut and dried, and landlords sometimes pass off minor maintenance and repair responsibilities in the lease. That makes it important for tenants to read the terms of the lease agreement before sending out the SOS. 

Even without an agreement in writing, tenants are responsible for keeping the premises clean and safe and using the amenities properly. When something minor goes wrong, it’s often in the interest of both parties if the tenant goes ahead and repairs it, as long as you notify the landlord or property manager first. 

Here are some minor maintenance and repair tasks tenants can generally do themselves.

Drain and Drain Hole in Bathtub with Chain
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Clear Drain Clogs

Nine out of ten clogs in kitchen and bathroom sinks can be cleared with little effort. Usually a few pumps with a plunger does it. When hair causes a clog, a zip-it tool easily removes the soap-laden mess.

Clogs you can’t clear this way are deeper in the pipes and may call for more intrusive methods, including disassembly of the P-trap. That’s a job a competent tenant can DIY, but you need permission from the landlord in case something goes wrong.

Definitely don’t use chemical drain cleaners without the landlord’s permission. The wrong ones can harm septic systems and damage pipes.

Empty white room with wooden floor.
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Fix Squeaky Hardwood Floors

If you’re renting an apartment with hardwood floors and the boards squeak, you can often get relief by sprinkling talcum powder into the cracks. This non-intrusive repair lubricates the floorboards and usually stops the squeaking.

You can also use powdered graphite, crushed soapstone or a talcum substitute if you’re worried about the potential health effects of inhaling talcum.

If the floor still squeaks after you try this, leave the repair to the landlord. It usually involves driving screws or nails to secure the floorboards and subfloor to the joists. One mistake on your part might deface the floor.

Male hands screw an LED light bulb in holder
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Change Lightbulbs

This is a simple enough procedure. Removing the cover from the fixture can sometimes be challenging, especially when working on a ladder. If you feel up to the job, your landlord will probably thank you.

When changing incandescent or halogen bulbs, be sure not to exceed the wattage rating for the fixture. To be safe, install a bulb with the same wattage as the one you remove.

If you need to change bulbs in recessed lighting fixture in a high ceiling, don’t overreach and put yourself in danger. Use a lightbulb changer.

Man hand hold air conditioner filter cleaning concept.
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Replace AC and Mini-Split Filters

If a window air conditioner or the wall unit of a mini-split heat pump system isn’t keeping the room comfortable, the problem may be a dirty filter. New filters are inexpensive and easy to install, so there’s no reason to call this one in to the landlord.

Just remove the front grille from the AC or wall unit, pull out the old filter, purchase an identical one and pop it into place. You might not even have to replace it. Depending on what kind of filter is, you could just clean it with soap and water.

Snow removal in winter. A woman cleans the snow with a shovel in the local area. Woman clearing snow from her front yard.
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Shovel Snow

If you’re renting a ground-floor apartment, someone needs to clear your driveway and walkway. Many communities have strict requirements about removing snow from public walkways in front of residential buildings within a certain time period — often 24 hours.

This one’s a no-brainer. Unless the landlord has a maintenance staff to shovel snow, go ahead and do it yourself. This may even be stipulated in the lease, especially if you live somewhere with heavy snowfall. Clearing sidewalks and driveways are a matter of safety as well as convenience.

Patch Hole in the wall with sparkling and a puddy knife
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Patch Holes in the Wall

Small holes left after you take down a picture or remove a screw are easy to fix. All you need is a little spackling compound and a putty knife. If the hole is small enough, you can even use toothpaste.

You can also repair larger holes (up to about an inch in diameter) by filling them with patching compound and covering that with spackling or joint compound.

Touching up the paint is a touchier subject. Unless you have the exact paint color on hand, it’s better to let your landlord or the maintenance staff handle this. If you get the color wrong, you may be liable for repainting the entire wall.

Pull the drawer handle to open the drawer
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Adjust Cabinet Hardware

Cabinet doors that tilt and won’t close are annoying. So are wobbly handles and drawers that stick. All it takes to fix these nuisances is a screwdriver and maybe some WD-40. No reasonable landlord will insist on coming over to do it for you.

Of course, if your building has reliable maintenance people, you may prefer to leave the job to them, But if you rent a house or a single detached unit and you’re on your own, you can make these minor improvements yourself.

It’s best to leave things like broken hinges and cracked or delaminated doors to the landlord. But if you need new shelf liners, go for it.

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Replace Smoke Detector Batteries

Nothing ruins a good night’s sleep more than the beeping of a smoke alarm that needs new batteries. If you have new batteries and a ladder, go ahead and change them. Just open the battery compartment door, pull out the old ones, insert the new ones and you’re done.

If you don’t see a battery door, you may have to rotate the housing counterclockwise and remove it to find the right compartment. With newer models, It’s also possible the batteries are sealed. If that’s the case, call the landlord, because the smoke alarm needs to be replaced.

Kitchen sink
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Un-Jam the Garbage Disposal

Uh oh … someone put chicken bones in the garbage disposal, and now it’s stuck.

Most units — including all Insinkerators — feature a slot on the underside of the canister for a special key that lets you turn the rotor and free the blockage. If you don’t have the key, try a 1/4-inch hex wrench. Be sure to unplug the disposal before you do this.

And after you get it running again, grind some ice to get rid of any other small bones that might still be lurking. Rather than giving you a hard time, your landlord will probably thank you for taking the initiative.

sanitary silicone sealant
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Re-Caulk Bathroom Fixtures

When caulk in the shower, bathtub or around the sink gets old, it’s discolored by mold and starts to separate. Besides being unsightly and unsanitary, it allows water to seep into places it shouldn’t.

Although it’s a job that takes some time, you can pull off that old caulk with a sharp knife, then apply new caulk yourself with a squeeze tube or a caulking gun.

It does take a little skill to do it right. But if you feel competent, you shouldn’t have to involve the landlord in this repair. You’ll have a cleaner, healthier bathroom while doing the landlord a solid by waterproofing the fixtures.