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Make Your Landlord Love Your Paint Job

Front hall decor

Peer into the dim rooms of your military housing (or rental) and you know you need to do something to make it feel like home.

As part of a military family, you are probably going to be there only a few short years. Painting is the easiest way to make the space your own -- it’s easy, fast and inexpensive.

So get out that paint brush and get to work, right?

Not so fast. Your landlord (or the entire housing office) stands in your way. Since my friends and I started blogging about decorating at 11 Magnolia Lane, we have found some tricks that make your landlord love your paint job.

Get Permission Before You Sign. You should ask your landlord about permission to paint before you sign the lease. I usually have the specifics written into the lease so it’s clear what I’m allowed to do. 

Sometimes, especially in military housing, you have to paint the room back to white or off-white when you move, unless the incoming family accepts your paint choices. Since rules on painting vary from installation to installation, be sure to get that spelled out ahead of time.

Bring the evidence. If your landlord is uncomfortable about giving you permission to paint, you might have to make your case to him or her. 

Since a couple of rooms in our last home were featured in magazines {click here to see them}, I’m not shy about showing those to a potential landlord (See this?  I could do great things in your house!). 

Even if you don’t have a magazine feature in your portfolio (yet!), you can still make this trick work for you. 

Show the landlord pictures of your last house and let him know what you plan to do to improve the space. 

You can also give your landlord paint chips for approval. Sticking to lighter, more neutral tones will always work in your favor, especially if you are going to be covering over a more dated color. What landlord wouldn’t want you to paint over that bright red dining room with a light gray? 

Get Your Money Back. If you are painting to cover over something atrocious (say, a shockingly bright child’s room), be sure to ask the landlord to reimburse you for the cost of the paint. In this case, you are increasing the value of the home by painting it and saving him the work he’d have to do anyway.

Quick tip: Remember that you can paint almost anything. Maybe the front door needs a shot of red or aqua. Or there's a horrible brown tile backsplash in the kitchen. Get the go-ahead and paint it!

Use the right kind of paint. For the paint itself, I always use a flat finish, because I hate shiny walls and it seems to be more forgiving to novice painters. 

The only time I use semi-gloss is when I’m painting trim (which I usually don’t take the time to do in a rental, unless it’s a color other than white or off-white. Of course, I’m usually not going to be a renting a house that needs that much work, anyway!).

Quick tip: I keep paint chips of all the colors I have used. I label the paint with the name of the house and room I used them in. If I love a color, I’ll use it again at the next house -- why reinvent the wheel?

Keep your project small. Don't forget that your room doesn't have to be all one color. You can paint just one wall an accent color to set off artwork. Or you can choose two colors and paint vertical or horizontal stripes.  

In our last house, I added a painted wallpaper treatment to our laundry room -- although a stencil would probably be faster -- and I painted my closet with pink and silver harlequin diamonds. It's fun to decorate rooms that are normally neglected, like laundry rooms and closets, and make them pop!

Quick tip: You can have any paint color matched and mixed in the paint of your choosing -- the computer at the paint store does all the work. So if you're partial to a particular brand (or perhaps they have a great sale or rebate offer going on), you don't have to stick to their color selection. Also, if you like a particular shade but want it a little lighter, just ask them to mix it half-strength. Easy!

Paint First. Move In Later. While I'm one of those strange people who paints for fun, you might want to just knock it out as quickly as possible.  

In that case, I highly recommend that you set aside a few work days to paint your house before the moving truck arrives with your eight tons of stuff. It's so much faster to paint an empty room.

If you need some ideas or inspiration, come visit me at 11 Magnolia Lane. We just moved a few months ago, and I'm following all of my own advice in our new house!


Christy Black is a semi-professional mover after eighteen years of wedded bliss to an Army pilot. She's also the proud mom of two awesome kids and the keeper of a small zoo that includes two rescue dogs, a senile cat and a hamster. The Blacks currently live in Savannah, Ga., and Christy blogs about life, DIY and home decor with her friends Amy and Terry at

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