Renovate Your Rental? Think Twice!

Sometimes a rented apartment just doesn't feel like a home.Maybe it has something to do with the fact that as renter, you don't own the place where you live.There's a sense that plenty of others have slept where you sleep now and many more will after you move out -- so it's not your home.

One way to personalize your place is to change it with your own sense of style, which normally calls for some home improvements.But there's a fine line between what renovations one can and can't make in a rented space.Cause, you know, you're not the owner.

Bill Scroggie provides interior design and decorating service through his New York-based Studio Scroggie. Since most people in New York City can't afford to own their apartments, says Scroggie, he's had many clients who've wanted to personalize their space through renovations, despite not owning them. "For the most part, most people stick to minor cosmetic improvements such as painting, changing window treatments, or swapping out lighting fixtures," he says. "Or minor hardware changes -- such as knobs or pulls on cabinets."

While many tenants operate under the rule of thumb that it's OK, as long as their renovations are changed back when they move out, Scroggie suggests running them by your landlord anyway.

"I would always advise talking to the landlord if there is any question about what is allowed," he says. "Keep in mind that tastes differ and what you consider an improvement, the landlord might not." And sometimes they might even end up footing the bill.

"Landlords understand that apartments need to be maintained and kept up-to-date," Scroggie says. "When a renter has lived in an apartment for several years, landlords are often willing to make updates at their expense or at least are willing to provide some financial allowance for a renter to make updates."

But beware: If you decide to do renovations without telling your landlord, there may be consequences.

"Almost all leases have a clause titled 'Changes and Alterations to Apartment' which prohibits the tenant from making any changes and alterations to the apartment without the owner's consent," warns Dan Marrello, managing director of residential brokerage CitiHabitats' Upper East Side Office. "
This includes painting, wallpaper, appliances, stoves, heating units, etc."So if your landlord didn't give you permission to knock down that wall, even if it was hindering the feng shui of the place, you're legally in the wrong. "An owner can file a claim against a tenant for breaching their lease and try to recoup the cost of bringing the apartment back to its original condition," Marrello says.

Lesson learned: Always seek your landlord's permission.
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