I’ve lived in rented apartments my entire life—my parents were renters, I am a renter, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I love the idea that when something breaks someone else has to deal with making phone calls and paying bills, and I just go about my life blissfully unaware while all minor problems are solved in a timely manner.
But that is just a dream, and instead I am left occasionally left with calling my emergency management hotline at 2 a.m. Renting isn’t always a picnic, and even the most loving, kind, and responsible landlords make some truly baffling decisions when it comes to the layout and maintenance of their properties.
Whether you’re going to battle with an apartment-lending behemoth or an individual who just doesn’t seem to get it, we’ve reached out to a few experts for their takes on how to make the cringiest landlord choices work for you (without sacrificing your security deposit).
This is what has recently become known as the “landlord special” across renter TikTok. And for good reason. Who among us hasn’t been victimized by an overzealous coat (or four) of bright white paint when moving into a new place? Occasionally that paint job is done haphazardly and no outlet, light switch, or ancient cable emerges unscathed. Luckily there’s a way to undo the damage.
“Painted outlet covers are so frustrating because it takes so little time to remove them. That’s why my solution to this landlord special is to replace them,” says Katie Whitaker, owner and founder of Handyma’am. “If your landlord was extra special and painted over the entire outlet, don’t worry, you have options. My favorite option is Revive covers—they’re paintable and they cover the entire outlet which is a bonus if you have older round outlets. Simply remove your existing outlet cover and attach the new one in its place like magic.”
If you’re looking for something a little more DIY or just want your outlets workable rather than attractive, that’s an option as well. “You can also take the elbow grease route and strip, scrape, or sand off any old paint. I highly recommend using a steel wool brush and a drill for this,” they add. “Remember, always turn off your power at the breaker before attempting any outlet makeovers.”
And if you simply can’t stand the painted-over cable or strange, unknown wires, you don’t have to live with them. “In my experience, most of them are dust collecting clumps that lead nowhere,” Katie says. “I pull them all out except the one that is plugged into my router—I’m not totally reckless—and patch the holes. If that’s not your vibe, cable covers are the only good product I’ve found since they’re paintable and adhesive."
Weird closet layouts and shelves
Storage: There’s never enough. Even for the most minimal, object-shunning, organizationally minded among us, squeezing all of your stuff into whatever configuration of closets, drawers, and shelves are available can be a hassle. And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, your otherwise-perfect apartment comes with a closet that can only be described as wonky. Maybe it’s full of weird shelves or bars in strange places, or maybe it has doors that are simply too tall to use for storage.
Washington, DC, blogger Imani Keal found herself in a similar predicament in her new space. “I love my apartment, but the landlord made some really silly mistakes in my closet—like having a tension rod resting on top of wood supports with no upper shelving, even though there was ample space,” she shares.
“To make things better, I properly secured heavy-duty closet rods and stacked them on top of each other, so I could have more closet space. I reused shelves from an old kitchen project to make use of the vertical space above the racks and added decorative boxes for things like hoodies and bathing suits. I’m all about making an apartment what you need it to be, with the permission of your landlord, of course. I sent my landlord an email asking nicely if I could fix/change some of the things about the apartment and they were totally game. I created a template to help other renters too.”
Keal touches on an important point, you’ll never know until you ask, so if something is truly driving you bonkers, reach out to your landlord to see what you can do about it. You may end up (probably) footing the bill yourself, but if it makes your space more liveable then it’s 100% worth it.
Uneven and distorted walls
All those layers of white paint can distort more than the outlets. Eventually, the walls can become uneven and craggy from years of patched holes and painted-over scuff marks. There are more labor-intensive ways of fixing the walls, but for a more renter- and budget-friendly option, consider…more paint.
“I’d recommend going with a matte finish, ideally, I would say flat, which has zero sheen and would be the best at hiding all those fun bumps, but it also shows scuffs very quickly,” says Olivia Barnum of Red Poppy Paint and Design. “A matte finish has a very low sheen, people make the mistake of going with an eggshell for durability but the sheen reflects light which highlights literally every imperfection. I’d also recommend going with a darker/mid-tone color. What you’re trying to do is hide light reflection and anything darker than white will help soften the space and the landlord-special walls!”
Years and years of grime
In an ideal world, your new apartment would be scrubbed top to bottom till it shines like the top of the Chrysler building. But with quick, sometimes same-day turnarounds, apartments don’t always get the deep-cleans they need. Giving your space a really good clean can go a long way in helping the space smell, if not look, brand new. It may take a bit more effort than usual, but the results are worth it. Brandon Pleshek, the janitor behind Clean That Up, suggests focusing on the bathroom as your first priority. “I like to pull apart the toilet, you can take the toilet seat off and let it soak and then spray it down with a disinfectant and let that sit for a while,” he shares.
To battle old smells, if your space has a carpet it might be worth getting it professionally cleaned or deep-cleaning it yourself if your management company didn’t do that before you moved in, but often the kitchen is the main culprit when it comes to that old funky smell. “I pull the oven out because a lot of times if you go into a space and the kitchen has that old grease [or] old food smell, it’s because behind the oven really hasn’t been cleaned or the cupboards haven’t been wiped down,” Pleshek adds.