I've just rented an unfurnished apartment. Obviously I need some furniture. However, wherever I look (IKEA and similar websites), the instructions for any furniture I look at say that it has to be fixed to the wall, to prevent it from falling over.

My tenancy agreement (and all tenancy agreements, as far as I know) doesn't allow me to make holes in the walls, for understandable reasons.

If I go ahead and buy furniture but don't fix it to the wall, how big is the danger of it falling over? Or, is there furniture that doesn't need to be attached to the wall?
There are no children or pets and earthquakes are almost unheard of.

I imagine that everyone who's ever rented a house or apartment has had to deal with this but surprisingly I can't find anything on the subject.

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    I'd read the lease again and check your local tenet landlord laws. Don't do anything that you're not willing to fix or pay for, including forfeiting your deposit. Exactly what furniture are you looking at having to attach? None of your neighbors have anything hanging on their walls? – Mazura Oct 17 '14 at 22:53
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    This is a very strange situation. 99% of Ikea's furniture does not need to be attached to the wall. What are you looking at? – wallyk Oct 17 '14 at 23:06
  • Bookcases, Armoires, anything tall requires an L bracket and a stud if you're looking to seismic-proof it. Not so strange if you live in California or Washington state. And now, Western Oregon since the discovery of the Cascadia subduction zone. – Fiasco Labs Oct 18 '14 at 1:09
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    @wallyk - Yes, very true, but the realization that it can produce a 9.0+ earthquake used to be one of those things only believed by cranks. Many a theory was put forward as to why it was so quiescent and that there would be no major quakes until a couple geologists started looking for evidence and the source for the Japanese tsunami of 1700 was suddenly pretty obvious. Slow slippage mapping shows it's hung somewhere around Gold Beach/Coos Bay in a fault zone that extends from Cape Mendocino, CA to Victoria Island, BC. Only since the 1990's has building code seriously changed to acknowledge. – Fiasco Labs Oct 18 '14 at 16:46
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    @wallyk - Sorry about the facetious original answer, I grew up with whole families of Californians who'd moved here because they wanted to escape the "Big One". We know that "from frying pan to fire" is the actuality because we're destined for the "Bigger One". For them, the Cascadia Zone is a recent discovery, I've know since I was able to read and discovered the ring-of-fire. Western Oregon Klamath Knot is mostly made up of either exposed sea-floor or the remains of igneous rock overlaying sedimentary with large granite intrusions. – Fiasco Labs Oct 18 '14 at 16:49

As a landlord I would say it's not the putting holes in the walls that I don't like, it's the leaving holes I have a problem with. As long as it's a normal sheet rock and paint wall, not paneling, finished woodworking, or masonry, that's a different story. A few holes for a noble cause (keeping your bookshelf from crushing a toddler for example) is not an evict-able offense, unless your landlord is out of his/her mind, so the worst thing that can happen is getting dinged on your damage deposit when you move out. And if you properly patch and paint your holes that won't be an issue either. I'd still ask first though just to be safe, we landlord's hate the old "ask for forgiveness instead of permission" trick:)

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    Thanks for the advice. I spoke to the landlord and they're OK with it as long as they know about it (which they do now) and I make sure to fix the holes before I leave. – George T Oct 18 '14 at 11:44
  • George, that was the right thing. Any sane landlord will work with a tenant on basic, practical, and obvious safety matters. They may limit where you put things before the anchoring, but it's unlikely they'll say you simply can't have the type of furniture that would require anchoring. Now they might object, reasonably, to unusual things like lag bolts for swings... – Matthew Wetmore Jul 15 '17 at 7:11

That changes when you live in earthquake country

I live in earthquake country (Tokyo)

Every home center here has an entire aisle of brackets, braces, anchors etc. designed to hold things up without drilling - useful as most apartment walls are bunker-grade concrete. However, nothing in our place is attached. We deliberately pack it bottom-heavy, don't buy the tall, thin shelving units, and don't place them where a fall will damage anything. Some lightweight items are held down with gel pads, and the TV has both gel pads and a retaining line on the back. The 2011 quake produced zero damage.

Regarding the instructions from IKEA etc. this may have more to do with liability than instability. If you don't anchor it to the wall and your 2-YO climbs the shelves, they can point to the lack of anchors and the instructions (and enclosed bracket) saying you didn't follow the instructions and therefore it's not their problem.


It is good practice to anchor any piece of furniture which could topple [or for that matter anything which could topple]. Some reasons furniture might topple:

  • Seismic activity: Beyond moving, this is out of a person's control.

  • Improper Loading: e.g. bookshelves with heavy items on upper shelves above light items on lower shelves or file cabinets with full top drawers and empty lower drawers.

  • Abnormal contact: e.g. children climbing or an inebriated person using the item for support.

Assessing the risks associated with unanchored heavy furniture requires prudent judgement specific to the circumstances. It may makes sense to discuss the safety issues with your landlord, and otherwise worth the risk of financial penalty in order to create a safe living environment.


I have never fastened freestanding furniture to the wall, until recently when I had children. I have never had a dresser or shelving unit tip. I don't live in an area where earthquakes are common, and I'm guessing you don't either if the landlord won't let you fasten furniture to the wall.

However, in defying the manufactures instructions you are doing so at your own risk. So be careful, and don't open all the drawers of a dresser at once, for example.

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    That changes when you live in earthquake country. – Fiasco Labs Oct 18 '14 at 1:06
  • @FiascoLabs I agree. Though I feel like landlords in those areas would be more understanding about the situation. – Tester101 Oct 18 '14 at 1:11

Do they prohibit you from nailing pictures to the wall too? If so, that's ridiculous. If not, then do this:

  1. Use a stud finder to find a stud.
  2. Drive a 2" drywall screw through the furniture anchor and the drywall and 1.5" into the stud.
  3. Anchor the furniture.
  4. Plan to move out in a few years.
  5. Patch the hole with a dab of spackling compound.

The hole you'll make will be tiny and insignificant; barely distinct from a picture's nail hole once filled in, especially if the drywall has any texture to it. Your landlord will never notice. If the wall is painted a bright color that makes the patch stand out, it probably still doesn't matter because your landlord is most likely going to repaint the whole place once you move out and withhold a portion of your security deposit to pay for it regardless of what you do.

  • But for shear in limited applications, drywall screws are not suited for structural applications. At least toothpaste wasn't recommended for filling the holes after removal. – ben rudgers Oct 18 '14 at 0:38
  • He's not trying to hang an engine block, just provide some support to keep a piece of furniture from falling over. He doesn't need to hire a structural engineer and memorize the building code to accomplish that basic task. – iLikeDirt Oct 18 '14 at 0:58
  • City Gent One: Well, I don't know whether I'd worry about strengthening that much. After all, they're not meant to be luxury flats. City Gent Two: I quite agree. I mean, providing the tenants are of light build and relatively sedentary and er, given a spot of good weather, I think we're on to a winner here. – ben rudgers Oct 18 '14 at 1:23

If I don't have kids or pets and live outside a quake zone, is there furniture that doesn't need to be attached to the wall?

Yes, anything made out of real wood that has a foot at each corner or generally, anything not from [expletives] IKEA.

  • It's still a good idea to attach any tall narrow furniture like a bookshelf to the wall. Even if you don't have any children or pets, you may have a visitor someday who does, and you don't want to discover that the child pulled the bookshelf on top of himself while trying to climb up it. – Johnny Feb 10 '15 at 22:14

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