Painting your walls can make your rental apartment feel like home or serve as an outlet for creative expression. Unfortunately, most landlords won't allow it. If you're the daring sort, find out how to paint your walls and get away with it when it’s time to move out. 

The idea of painting the walls of your apartment is appealing for many reasons. After all, a fresh lick of paint can make a cookie-cutter apartment feel like a home, improve your mood, and even boost your apartment's Feng Shui, if that’s your jam!

The bummer is, most landlords aren’t willing to let their tenants paint their apartment. It’s more risk to the property (what if you spill an entire can of paint onto the carpet in the process?!), and if left unpainted, can make it difficult to re-rent to a later tenant (neon pink might be your ~vibe~, but not someone else’s).

If you’re really lucky, you might have a landlord that would allow a paint job if they can approve of the color. If you feel that you have that level of rapport, by all means, ask outright—but know that if they say no, and you go forward anyway, you could be putting yourself at risk for eviction.

Other landlords might be okay if you paint, as long as you know they’ll be snatching up that security deposit to reverse it.

(It all depends on your lease. Make sure you read it carefully before making ANY changes to a property you don’t own, and be prepared to accept the consequences for flouting a legal document. Proceed with caution.)

For some tenants, the desire for creative expression and the perfect interior outweighs the risk of a landlord’s scorn. Some just can’t resist the urge to spruce up their home by adding a pop of color to their walls—which is not technically a crime, so why not?

Well—because of that punishing security deposit. Deposit amounts vary wildly from one landlord to the next, but can be up to TWO MONTHS worth of rent! That’s a lot of cheddar to sacrifice for one or two blue walls. Surely there’s….some sort of middle ground?

If that’s what you’re after, keep reading. You’re about to find out how to paint your apartment walls AND get away with it when it’s time to move out. 

how to paint your apartment walls and get away with it

Step by Step Tips on Painting Your Apartment Walls

The very first tip we’re going to share with you is one that will save you when it’s time to move out: identify the original color.

Before you start painting your walls, make sure that you have the original handy so that you’ll be able to paint over your walls when the time comes. Note that you’ll want an actual bucket of paint, not just a paint chip or a crumpled piece of paper with the color name written on it. You never know if it’ll be discontinued while you live there—and then what?

So how can you identify the original color of the walls? The easiest route is to just ask the landlord, but not only might they not know themselves, it’s also the world’s biggest tip-off for what you’re about to do.

Instead, see if you can chip off a tiny fragment of paint from a bottom of an unnoticed corner and take it to a paint store. Most have the tools and technology to identify every color under the sun, and they can help you narrow it down.

Now that we’ve gotten that incredibly important bit of info out of the way, here’s how to easily paint the walls of your apartment.


Step 1: Pick

Picking the right paint colors for your walls is the most exciting part of any paint job. It’s where your inner interior decorator really comes out to play! But painting walls knowing that you’ll have to repaint them comes with its own sets of challenges.

The following colors are notoriously difficult to paint over, and should be avoided:

  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Orange 
  • Bright shades of any color
  • Dark shades of any color


Step 2: Plan

You know that old saying, “failing to plan is planning to fail”? This rings especially true when tackling a paint job. You’ll need to decide on and plan for:

  • The color and finish of the paint you’ll be using
  • Where you plan to purchase it (What’s their return policy?)
  • Which walls you plan to paint, and how much paint you’ll need to cover the surface
  • Extra tools you’ll need, like drop cloths, gloves, brushes, rollers, masking tape, ladders, primer, etc.
  • Your painting schedule (Make sure to schedule enough time to dry thoroughly between coats!)


Step 3: Prep

Prepping is probably the most important part of the paint job. This includes laying out all the tools and equipment you’ll need, relocating furniture, masking off light switches and outlets, and making sure there’s appropriate airflow throughout the room…all before that first coat of primer even hits the wall.


Step 4: Paint!

When your prepping is complete, it’s time to don those scruffy overalls and get to painting! It’s recommended that you start with a brush, beginning at the edges and corners of the walls and feathering outward. Work from the ceiling to the floor. Once you’ve got that started, you can switch to a roller to cover ground more quickly. For best results, roll the paint across the wall in an X, V, or W pattern and fill in the connection points.

You should plan to use two coats of paint, leaving at least a few hours between each to dry thoroughly.


Step 5: Clean

Once you’ve painted your walls, it’s time to clean up. Nothing is more of a giveaway than paint being found in places where there once was none. If you spilled any paint on the floors or fixtures, clean those up ASAP. Clean any brushes and rollers you used, remove any tape & drop sheets, and bag up all the evidence in an opaque trash bag. After cleaning, sit back and admire your handiwork.

how to paint your walls if you rent

Painting Over Your Walls When it’s Time to Move Out

When the time comes for you to move out, you’ll need to get a head start on painting over your walls. Here are 4 of the best tips to help you paint over your walls. 

  1. Don’t leave it until the last minute. If you didn’t follow our advice on having the original wall color on hand, you might find yourself frantically searching for it. In addition, paint can take a  while to dry. To successfully avoid detection, walls will need to be bone dry and—this is key—free from that fresh paint smell. 

  2. Sand down the walls before repainting. Not only does this help the new (old) paint apply more easily, but it also helps remove any paint drips left behind from your previous painting job and ensures that your final coat will be a smooth one.

  3. After sanding down your walls, give them a good scrub with a sponge dipped in warm water and dish soap. This removes any dust left over from sanding and cleans stubborn dirt or stains that will affect your paint job.

  4. Use the proper primer. Using a high-quality primer increases the chances of the existing color being properly hidden. This is especially true if you’re covering a dark color with a lighter one. 

how to paint walls and get away with it

Painting Apartment Walls is a Risky Business

We’ll be blunt: by choosing to paint against the wishes of your landlord, you’re taking a risk. By doing so, you may be in breach of your rental agreement and can be forced to forfeit your security deposit.

On top of losing that money, you’ll also be jeopardizing your relationship with your landlord—which could make the rest of your stay a monumentally unpleasant one. If you apply to move to a new place and your current landlord is contacted, it’s safe to say you probably won’t get a glowing reference.


Not Keen on Taking the Risk? Here Are Some Alternatives

Not only is there a risk factor, but repainting is also a hassle that many people don’t want to deal with amidst the stress of packing and moving.

For those who prefer to play by the rules, there is still an opportunity to personalize your place. Put the paintbrush down and check out these alternatives to painting walls:

  • Removable wallpaper: Removable “temporary” wallpaper is becoming increasingly popular thanks to its easy installation and removal. It causes no damage to the paint or walls it covers, and comes in thousands of designs, styles, and colors.

  • Wall stickers: Wall stickers are a great way to create a feature wall without actually painting one. Applying wall stickers is super easy and they’re available everywhere from Walmart to Amazon. They’re also very easy to remove—perhaps too easy. In fact, they’re prone to peeling off.

  • Hanging art: This may sound like a cop-out, but hanging art pieces on your walls is a simple way to breathe new life into your space. You can pick up art pieces anywhere and buy them according to your budget, or even make them.

  • Wall lights: Okay, this one is a little out there—but hear us out! You can completely transform your walls using light. Create geometric patterns with LED strip lights, or create a magical mood by crisscrossing strings of fairy lights. Your electric bill might rise a little bit, but you won’t have to worry about being busted for painting your walls. 

Do any of these wall-painting alternatives tickle you? If so, make sure you have the right tools for the job on hand. If you don’t want to fork out the cash to buy them, download the Sparetoolz app to get hooked up with tool rental right in your neighborhood.

Happy painting!

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