Realty Bites

I want to make minor fixes to my NYC rental. Do I need my landlord's permission?

By Austin Havens-Bowen  |
November 2, 2021 - 1:00PM

If you paint your walls a color other than white or swap out a light fixture, you are supposed to return your apartment to its original condition before you move.


I want to make minor changes to my rental apartment, like swapping the light fixture in the kitchen. Can I do this without my landlord’s permission?

If you want to make upgrades to your rental apartment, the type of project determines whether you need to ask your landlord for permission. Major work definitely needs to be approved in advance but you can do minor improvements as long as you return the apartment to its previous condition before you move out.

First read your lease. That’s because it will outline what modifications you can—and cannot—make to your apartment. 

For example you might not be able to install wallpaper or refinish the floors, attorney Jeffrey Reich, a partner at Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas, previously told Brick. If you make these major changes without approval, you could lose your security deposit or even face eviction, Reich says.

[Editor's Note: Realty Bites tackles your NYC rental questions. Have a query for our experts? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]

What you can and can not do also depends on your building’s policies. Arik Lifshitz, CEO of DSA Property Group, says his property management company discourages renters from making changes to their apartments whenever possible. However, they do make accommodations when necessary, he says. 

When it comes to something like swapping out a light fixture, Lifshitz says the answer is typically “no.” And what happens if you swap it anyway? It would be your responsibility to keep the original fixture and install it back when you move out, Lifshitz says. 

So what kind of improvements are typically ok to do without approval? You can paint the walls (with some caveats), hang shelves or blinds, and swap out electrical outlet covers. Just remember that you must return your apartment to its original condition before you vacate. That means painting walls back to white or spackling over holes. 

Here’s a tip: When seeking permission for a larger project, offer to pay the building’s super or handyman to do it as opposed to hiring someone you found online. An owner is more likely to give you the go ahead if the job is being done by someone who knows the building.

You should also get your landlord’s approval for any modifications in writing.

If you want a more temporary way to spruce up your place, here are tips for using peel-and-stick wallpaper, and how to install landlord-friendly light fixtures. 



Austin Havens-Bowen

Staff Writer

Staff writer Austin Havens-Bowen covers the rental market and answers renters' questions in a column called Realty Bites. He previously reported on local news for the Queens Ledger and The Hunts Point Express in the Bronx. He graduated from Hunter College with a BA in media studies. He rents a one-bedroom apartment in Astoria with his boyfriend and their two cats.

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