QMy roommate and I will be signing our lease for the third year. We have never asked for anything to be cleaned or painted during our stay. I know that between tenants, they do these things routinely. Do landlords typically or ever do these things for long-term residents? Is there anything we can expect or ask for when we sign again this year? I really want to have the carpets cleaned, but I'm not sure what else landlords may do. I don't mind hiring an outside company to do it, but want to check to see if the landlord would do it first. -- Bethesda

AYou never know what your landlord will give you until you ask. If you have been good tenants, the landlord may clean your carpets to ensure your tenancy for another year.

However, your landlord technically does not have to keep your place looking like new; there's no need for cosmetic upgrades until you move out. However, if there are things in your apartment that affect its habitability, then your landlord must fix those immediately. Most state laws do not require landlords to paint apartments every so often (even when a tenant moves out) or replace badly worn carpet, unless there is a fundamental problem with the paint or carpet that makes it dangerous for someone to live there.

Still, a lot of landlords recognize that they should keep their places in good shape, especially for loyal renters. In fact, some management companies happily do things such as touch up paint, clean carpets or install upgraded light fixtures for residents who renew their leases. In many buildings managed by bigger companies, there are policies that spell out when and how such upgrades or cleaning will take place.

If your landlord hesitates about the upgrades you want, propose that he pay some or all of the maintenance costs if you hire outside workers. It doesn't hurt to try.

When we moved into the townhouse that we are renting, the landlord seemed uneasy about us hanging things on the walls. He said that he left his nails and wall screws up for us to try to use if we can. Well, I have a ton of pictures and wall hangings, and I went ahead and put them up because I feel that we are renting the house -- and the walls. Plus, we plan on living here for at least two years.

I feel that this is normal wear and tear, but my husband is really nervous about the landlord stopping by and seeing all of our pictures up on the wall.

What do you think? Isn't this just normal wear on a rented home? -- Fairfax

Your rent covers walls and the space in between them. Just because you are temporary residents doesn't mean you have to put your precious art in storage until you actually "own" your own walls. What your status as renters does mean, however, is that you must restore the apartment to its original condition when you move out.

So, you shouldn't feel you must walk on pins and needles (or a bed of nails) around your landlord just because you put a few extra nails in the walls. It is unreasonable for a landlord to expect you not to put pictures, etc., on the walls. But if necessary, assure your landlord that when you terminate your tenancy you will make sure to use spackle and some paint to fill and cover the holes you made.

Also, do not assume this is normal wear and tear. If you hammer into a wall, that is not damage you cause just by virtue of living somewhere for an extended time period. Worn carpet, faded paint and appliances that die because they've reached the end of their lifespan are normal wear and tear. But actively changing the landscape of the unit, if only with some nails in the walls, does not fit this rule. That's why you should prepare to cover the holes if you want to ensure your full security deposit refund.

My lease just went month-to-month. When I inquired about renewing for a year, the landlord told me that she was exploring the possibility of selling the property. It appears some company is going to build a high-rise and all the buildings on the block will be torn down. If my landlord sells (which I imagine is likely), shouldn't I be entitled to all of my security deposit back regardless of wear and tear, because the building is being demolished? -- Arlington

I believe in logic. However, this is a case in which you might need to stray from what seems to be the logical path and just protect yourself as you would if your building were not to be demolished.

The fact is, your lease dictates what is expected of you to get your security deposit back. And that means you should assume that your landlord will deduct money from your security deposit for any damage you have caused that goes beyond normal wear and tear. That was the agreement you made, so that is the agreement by which you must abide.

Plus, you never know -- your landlord may want to gut the apartment herself and use parts on another rental property or sell such parts as cabinetry, appliances, blinds, etc. Or, your landlord could sell to another owner, who might rent it for a while before demolishing it. Because you don't know what is going to happen with the property after you leave it, and because you are legally bound by the lease, you should do all you can to get the apartment back into the shape it was in when you arrived.

Subsidized AC In these days of full-blast air conditioning, most people who are paying their own utility bills are concerned with staying cool while keeping costs down. After my column about this issue, D.C. resident Clarissa Peterson had this comment for the reader who claimed it is unfair that she pays a portion of the entire building's utilities based on the square footage of her apartment:

"This is really no different than a situation where the utilities are included in the rent. When utilities are included in your rent ('bills paid'), the landlord pays the utilities, and divides the cost among the apartments as he sees fit, but includes it in the rent without detailing a separate charge. Thus, the people who conserve electricity (or gas, etc.) are still subsidizing the people who use a lot of electricity. [It's] just not so obvious if you don't see a separate charge. And yet, nobody claims that bills-paid apartments are unfairly allocating utility costs, even though you have no way of knowing."

Peterson, who says she just bought her first house and wishes her utilities were included, has a good point.

Do you have questions, comments or ideas about apartment life? Contact Sara Gebhardt via e-mail at aptlife@gmail.com or by mail, c/o Real Estate Editor, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.