You love your apartment. Well, except for the chipping paint, those stains on the carpet and that tiny living room. With winter approaching and more time spent inside, you might be considering some home improvements to make those long, cold days spent at home more enjoyable. Whether that means installing a jumbo flat screen to watch all those football games or brightening the place up with a new paint color or new carpet, just make sure you’ve got permission before you break out your power drills and paint brushes.

When it comes to apartment customization and home improvement, it’s important to make sure that you have permission from your landlord before you make any changes. Your rental agreement should state what’s allowed and what isn’t. Even if your lease prohibits you from making the alterations you’re thinking about, there are ways to work with your landlord to get the upgrades you want. Read these tips before you redecorate or make any improvements to avoid any problems later.

Review Your Rental Agreement

Many rental contracts spell out exactly what you are not allowed to do to your apartment. Usually this covers painting walls, removing or painting kitchen cabinets or altering flooring. These rules are not there to sabotage your design efforts; your landlord is simply trying to protect his investment from alterations that could make the apartment more difficult to rent after you leave.

Do Your Research

Before you talk to your landlord about the changes you’d like to make, find out how much money and effort is involved. Seemingly simple tasks, like painting, can be more expensive and time-consuming than you might think, so the more you know about the effort that would be needed to make your improvements, the better you’ll be able to negotiate for what you want. Also, find out if state law requires landlords to make improvements for renters under certain circumstances, like a new lease; some states do have these laws, although many do not.

Talk to Your Landlord

Asking your landlord to make upgrades is far better in the long run than altering your apartment and hoping he won’t mind. Making unauthorized alterations that are prohibited by your rental agreement could jeopardize your relationship with your landlord as well as cost you your security deposit, and you might have to change things back (like repainting walls to their original color) before you move out. But, don’t be afraid to ask about an improvement that your lease prohibits. Often, rental agreements are written with the worst case scenario in mind. Depending on the specific changes you want to make, you may be able to get permission from the landlord.

Find Out Your Building’s Maintenance Schedule

Ask your landlord if the improvements you want are generally made on a set schedule, or check to see if this schedule is mentioned in your rental agreement. For example, if the landlord paints walls and replaces carpets every X number of years, you may be due the improvements in the near future. If not, you can try requesting the alterations as a condition of your lease renewal.

Offer to Take Care of the Improvements

If you’re willing to make the alterations yourself or pay someone else to make them, your landlord may be more willing to let you. This also gives you more leeway to choose the details you want, like paint color, carpet type or cabinet style. If you manage the alterations, ask if the landlord will deduct the expenses from your next month’s rent.

A Final Tip

This final tip is the most important: Get your landlord’s consent in writing! If you’re making changes that are prohibited by your lease, have your landlord sign a written document giving you permission to make these modifications.