Rental Rookie

Rental Rookie: A primer on painting

By Michelle Castillo  | February 2, 2011 - 6:20AM

If you’re like me, about halfway through the year you start getting the moving bug. It’s not that you want to move to a new city per se, but the idea of living in a different area or apartment starts to sound really appealing, especially when you get to know people with cheaper rent and better apartments-- sometimes in better areas--than the one in which you reside.

But in New York City, where you’re normally locked into a one-year lease, it can be hard to convince your landlord that you want to vacate mid-year.  

Fallback option: Paint your apartment, like I did. A layer can really change things up and give a fresh spin on your suddenly boring pad. Instead of the boring white institutional walls that were hastily coated in cheap paint, just painting over their mistakes in one solid color made the whole apartment look brighter and cleaner.

A few pointers:

  • If you value your security deposit, check with your landlord before you do any painting. My landlord said I could paint my walls a color as long as I throw a primer coat on top before I leave on top if the color was really dark. (I wanted to paint one of my walls black.). My boyfriend’s landlord, although okay with painting, said that all the residents had to repaint the walls, returning them to their original white, or face additional charges.
  • It’s always better to paint when the weather is warm; trying to paint as we did when it was cold outside led to long drying times where we had to cohabitate with smelly fumes.
  • DIY painting is hard.  If you lack the funds to hire a professional, you might want to hire a handyman off Craigslist, but as I warn time and time again, you get what you pay for.   I opted to do it myself.
  • Whether you get some help or do it yourself, make sure you have plenty of newspaper to cover your floors; you don’t want nasty stains to stick on your hardwood floors. Paint thinner can get rid of those oops moments, but it tends to strip off the varnish so the quicker you clean up after your accident the better.  (Since I consume most of my news online, I resorted to grabbing a lot of the free newspapers that you find in the bins on the corner like the City Arts, New York Press and Village Voice, but you’ll also need to invest in some blue painters’ tape because those smaller tabloid-style sheets of newspaper tend to shift a lot.)
  •  If you’re feeling lazy or budget-constrained, consider painting only your moldings a different color. It will take half a day at most and will really change the look of your apartment. You can even do this in the wintertime because it doesn’t involve painting a large surface area. Just make sure to ventilate your apartment very well not only for you but your neighbors living close by.

In the end, after repainting my walls a cleaner white so I could even up the splotches and nicks left by the previous renter, I opted to use wall decals instead of painting designs or stencils. The vinyl stickers can be inexpensive if you find the right deal, and they do not remove the paint from the walls. Although they say they are reusable, if they are intricate designs of trees and birds, like mine, it can be tricky removing them in one piece. So be sure you put them where you want them to stay.

Next on Rental Rookie: Snowed In? Some essentials to break the ice in any NYC apartment.

Michelle Castillo moved to Manhattan last fall to attend Columbia University's Journalism School. She has covered arts and entertainment for The Los Angeles Times,, Hollywood Reporter, and, and she currently writes about geek culture for's TechlandRental Rookie is a twice-monthly column chronicling her first year as a renter in NYC.



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