Everything you need to know about refurbishing your rental

Easy ways to give your rental a new lease on life

As the housing market spirals to near unattainable heights for many Kiwis, renting is fast becoming the new way of life. While renting has its perks, such as being able to live in beautiful, old villas without worrying about money-pit surprises — the practice can be restrictive if you want to adapt your home to suit your personal tastes. However, thanks to a change in tenancy law regarding minor changes and fittings to rental properties, there are some nifty ways to upgrade your space.

Know your rights
In the past year, tenancy law changes have come into effect that provide improved rights for tenants, especially for those that are DIY dreamers or interior lovers. Tenants can now ask to make small alterations to a property and a landlord cannot decline if the change is minor. A minor change is defined as any fixture, renovation, alteration or addition to the property that has a low risk of damage, can be easily reversed, and doesn’t require regulatory consent. So, while you can’t knock down that pesky extra wall, you can paint walls or put up some shelves.

Before you get too ahead of yourself, you need to write to your landlord about the changes you plan on making and they must respond to you in 21 days. You’ll likely have to foot the bill yourself, and you’ll have to remove any minor fixtures you’ve fitted when you move out, unless agreed otherwise. All in all, it’s a big win for renters and a step in the right direction for helping make a house a home.

Cotton chindi rug, $59.99, from Trade Aid; Maison Levy Cafe Creme cushion, $259, from Madder & Rouge; Brass drawer knob coral floret, $17.90, from Folklore Store

Marie Kondo your space
For any house, decluttering is one of the simplest (and cheapest) steps you can take to revamp your home. Interior designer Carley Lloyd from Colourbolt Interior Design says one of the silver linings of being a renter is knowing exactly how much “stuff” you have because of regularly boxing it all up and moving between properties. She advises picking a weekend, choosing a room and removing all furniture and accessories back to the bare bones. After cleaning the room, put one piece back in at a time and see how you feel, starting with the biggest pieces.

“Each time you put something back in the room, think about whether it sparks any joy, holds any special memories, or functions in a way that makes your life easier, if it doesn’t, get rid of it. Not into the garage, the boot of the car, the junk drawer, or the spare room, but actually get it off the property,” says Carley. “Whether you sell it or donate it, I promise you’ll never think about it again – and it will make you feel instantly lighter and ready to continue tackling the interior of your rental, room by room.”

Quick swaps
Refreshing your kitchen hardware can be done in the time it takes to boil a kettle. Unscrew old knobs and replacing them with vintage-inspired finds will help add character to your kitchen. From brass handles to ceramic flowers, there’s a world of fun to be had with your cupboard doors. It’s also a low-cost solution to all your scullery decorating woes.

Don’t let your drapes drag you down – a switch is easier than you think. Give the old curtains a quick clean and store away from direct sunlight, be wary of creating any creases when folding them into containers. When looking for replacements, there are a tonne of ready-made curtains out there, Carley says, that will make an instant impact and often provide better warmth and insulation. Best of all, you can take them with you when you move. If you don’t feel like splashing out, look for fabric remnants in op-shops and sew your own. For those less craft-oriented, check out bamboo blinds for a cheap-yet-chic inspired look. Don’t forget, in kitchens and laundries you can simply remove any curtains and leave your windows au natural.

If your rental came with furniture, fear not. Just because your landlord has bad taste in lounge suites doesn’t mean you’re doomed to spend a Saturday night on sub-standard seating. Sofa and chair covers are small godsends for inserting serenity into a space. Add a throw and a couple of cushions, and away you go.

Hit the ground running
Whether you’re stuck with scratched-up vinyl or thread-bare carpet, flooring can often feel like a renter’s nightmare. Sometimes the most obvious answer is the best answer: rugs. Maximalist floors are having a moment so make sure to capitalise on the hot trend. Quite simply, you can never have enough rugs. Layer classic oriental prints over earthy textiles or consider an eye-catching tufted piece from a local artist. Before you panic about the price, Carley says, “This sounds expensive, but there is such a great range of price points out there. You can always find carpet offcuts for sale on Trade Me, Marketplace and garage sales as well. Finding a bargain or getting offcuts bound will provide a comfortable new aesthetic.”

Eight-piece wall photo frame set black, $17, from Kmart

If you don’t want to invest in flooring, consider diverting the eye upwards. A gallery wall full of fun and funky art is easy to hang and sure to distract from any less-than-desirable linoleum or carpet.

Stick it out
Kitchen countertops can be easily remedied with the marvellous invention of peel-and-stick vinyl paper. The application requires a steady hand, but the results can transform formerly dark, dingy spaces. To apply, simply clean your surface with household cleaner and rubbing alcohol. Slowly peel back the contact paper and apply, using a smoothing tool or squeegee to flatten out any creases or air bubbles. Make sure to smooth from the centre to the edges, pushing the air out of the vinyl sheet. If the material starts to stretch, feel free to use a hairdryer on a low setting to revert to normal shape. For the best results, opt for thick stickers that are able to withstand wear and tear from everyday life. If you’ve ever had to apply contact paper to children’s school exercise books, you’ll be an expert at this easy life hack.

A quick tip before application is to spray lots of water on your counter; this will get pushed out when you squeegee down the paper, but will enable a slick, glossy finish for your dream kitchen bench. Caulking chalk is another great hack to finish off your edges when applying to particularly tricky corners. Any leftover vinyl paper can be applied to cabinet doors, or even to toe-kicks, for an unexpected pop of colour.

Peel-and-stick decorating doesn’t stop at countertops. Removable wallpaper is budget-friendly and, thanks to rising attention over the past decade, comes in a variety of chic patterns and colours. There’s no messy paste or primer, just wipe your walls down with a damp sponge and you’ll be ready for application the next day. If you encounter a DIY mishap, peel the strip off and reapply. Make sure there’s no chipped paint or uneven texture, otherwise this will show through your wallpaper. When in doubt, a quick primer can add certainty to any undertaking. Best of all, removable wallpaper is reusable and designed not to damage walls upon removal. Save the planet – and your bond – all in one go.

Lights up
Swapping out light fixtures can add new life to old spaces. Whether you’re changing out a lampshade or a lightbulb, every little bit helps. A fabulous pendant can be the talking point of any room, designed to catch the eye and your attention. “Think of pendants as 3D pieces of art that you’re investing in for the future,” Carley advises. “As with pendants, invest in good bulbs. Warm lighting just makes a space feel better.”

Metro ball lampshade, $279.99. from AC Homestore; Homelux peel & stick wall tiles $54.98 (pack of four), from Mitre 10

Off the wall
A good coat of paint can fix almost any problem, or at very least, hide it. Carley says, “If you’re handy with a paint brush, approach the landlord and see if they’d mind you doing some DIY. If you’re willing to do the work and they’re willing to supply the paint, you’re one step closer to creating a house that’s in line with your style.” While a full-room project might be daunting for any renter, a feature wall is a low-cost, low-hassle project designed to scratch your colour itch. Painted shapes such as arches, swirls and stripes are popular with millennial DIYers and with good reason. But with whatever painting adventure you decide to embark on, make sure to save a paint chip of the old colour. This will save you a lot of time when repainting prior to your departure.

If you’re still hesitant about bringing out the paint cans, consider washi tape to add strips of personality to your walls when covering the more unforgiving spots and patches that can blight older houses. Don’t be afraid to hang shelving and art; this is considered a minor change and any holes are easy to fix with spackling paste. Shelving also helps break up a bare wall and draw the eye upwards to appreciate the height of a room.

If you’d prefer to leave the walls untouched Carley suggests buying a plant. “In a beautiful pot or basket they will hide a multitude of sins. It’s amazing how a beige wall will just disappear when a large, lush plant is put in front of it.”

Bathroom beautification
It only takes a few simple solutions to help touch up your washroom. Upgrade your flimsy plastic toilet seat to a solid wood stunner, or at least to something that’s less mildewed. Replace your shower curtain for a fresh floral pattern or some eye-catching stripes. Peel-and-stick fixes can extend a helping hand with vinyl tiles. Designed for floors or sink splashbacks, these charmers will help lift your wet area into the 21st century.

With whatever modifications you end up making, be aware of both the cost of installation and the cost of removal. “Keep in mind that the landlord owns the property and could sell at any time,” Carley warns. “Regardless, if you’re prepared to put in the hard work, you’re guaranteed to enjoy the time you have, in the new spaces you have created.”

Remember, there’s no need to live in an uninspiring home. You deserve to live in a house that you consider is yours, regardless of whose name is on the deed.

Words by: Caroline Moratti Photography by: Are Media Syndication

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