Should You Allow Tenants to Paint?

Should You Allow Tenants to Paint?

Tenants often ask if they can make improvements on the home or apartment they are renting. Painting interior walls is usually the most common request.  After all, they are going to be living there. Being flexible to keep good tenants is key to successful landlording.

However, as simple as this request may sound, the fact is painting mishaps are common and expensive. From spills on rugs, drips having to be scraped from glass that leaves permanent scratches if the blade isn’t brand new and pristine without nicks, drops that have to be removed from doorknobs that also removes the finish that had kept it from tarnishing until it is touched with a cleaning solvent can make painting an expensive learning curve.

These common accidents aren’t on most people’s radar unless they’ve done a lot of painting – and mistakes not knowing these crucial success factors can require doorknobs, hinges and handles having to be replaced which doesn’t show immediately the same day it happens, but over time.

Chimpanzees have been taught to roll walls and handle a brush.  In this way painting looks deceptively simple. But the reason you don’t want chimpanzees painting your house is they aren’t very good at keeping it where it’s supposed to go!

There are few construction occupations that can cause as much damage so quickly as someone on a ladder who is tired at the end of the day and a half gallon of paint suddenly goes flying onto unexpected surfaces – like wood paneling or open masonry which can absorb the paint faster than you can stop it. 

We are talking about a landlord’s most important investment being painted that cannot be removed once it is applied to the walls – and sometimes cannot be removed from spilled surfaces.

When your tenant asks to paint their rental, here are six things you need to think through very carefully to know if it is or is not a good idea.

  1. How long have you known them and what is your sense of their attention to detail and skill level to know if they can keep the paint where it is supposed to go – or make expensive mistakes? 
  2. Assess the vulnerabilities of the area they want to paint.  What’s the worst that could go wrong?
  3. Is the security deposit you have from them enough to cover any damages that could result? Allowing a tenant to do this work has inherent risks that you first need to think through because it may be more than the security deposit you asked for before this request was made.  That may require a temporary additional amount required until the job is done and cleaned up after.
  4. What would be the costs for you after they leave to restore the color to your original choice –rather than there’s?  Or of course hopefully, it may indeed be an improvement you will want to keep. But that won’t be known for sure until the job is finished.
  5. Questions you can ask the tenant making the request are:
    • How much painting have you done?
    • What do you have in mind in terms of color?
      If they are applying a darker color over a lighter, existing color, and if after they leave you want to return to the previous colors, any scratches on the walls next to heavily trafficked areas like around light switches will show scratches much more and will require more maintenance over the years to keep looking fresh.
    • Painting can seem deceptively simple – what would you say are the most difficult parts of doing this job?
      See if they have thought through what’s involved in both time and out of pocket costs.
    • Roughly, based upon your experience, how long do you think this job will take?
      Does their answer ring true?
    • Does that include time going to the store? 
      Figuring out the supplies that are needed and getting everything to the job site can often be a third of a job.  See if they are experienced enough to realize that.
    • What type of brushes would you use on the trim?
      Do they know to use a diagonal – or “sash tool” as experienced painters call it – on gloss and semigloss trim to or windows to reduce the appearance of brushstrokes?
    • What do you do to remove latex paint once it has dried?
      The overwhelming majority of interior painting these days is latex water-based paint with the most common product for removing latex paint is called Goof-off. It’s not paint thinner – which is for oil-based paint. Make sure they know the difference between solvents for removing drips that are oil-based or latex paints – which also use different brushes to assess their skill level.
      Solvents can remove the protective finish on the fixtures that keep it from tarnishing over time.  This is essential to know so as to cover fixtures with tape before painting near them to protect them and prevent having to clean up paint splatters after they dry.
    • How do you remove drips from glass?
      Make sure they know razor blades scratch glass if they have nicks and the damage is permanent – and usually happens much faster than the person doing it is even aware that it has occurred until the light shifts.
  6. Who is going to pay?  What is their estimate of the costs?
    Remember, the tenant is making the request.  This is going to take a certain amount of risk going from a known to an unknown as well as attention on your part until the job is finished inspecting and signing off on it to make sure the agreement is kept.
    If they are offering to do the labor but are asking for the landlord to cover out of pocket expenses for paint and supplies like plastic tarps, tape for masking off hardware or brushes, try counter offering that you will pay half – and judge how much they want it!
    These questions can help you discern the tenant’s skill levels and determine whether their request is truly an improvement or something that devalues your property. 
    Once paint is on the walls it cannot be removed.  That’s why getting good answers to these question before granting the request are key to assess whether what the tenant is proposing will ultimately be a plus or a minus over the long term with your rental property investment.

What if the Tenant Paints Without First Obtaining Permission?

If it comes to your attention the tenant has painted or made alterations to your property without first getting your permission you need to act quickly and decisively. Make clear to them in writing or verbally that you are aware of the changes they made to the property – that it was not consented to by you – and is a lease violation.

Depending upon your feelings regarding their actions – if you believe it is truly an improvement or a devaluation of your property – if it is the latter ask them to return the property to its original condition. If they do not do so tell them you will deduct the costs of doing it from their security deposit.

If you feel they aren’t cooperating or honoring the agreement, this is grounds for eviction.

Exterior Painting is Completely Different Regarding the Skill Level Required than Interior Painting

Most requests from tenants are to paint interior walls with water-based latex paint. Because the interior is not subjected to weathering from heat, wet and cold, you don’t have to be as careful prepping surfaces to make sure they are clean to make sure that the paintjob lasts.

Exterior painting for these reasons is much more dependent upon surfaces being properly scrapped to remove lose scaling and peeling paint, washed, and surfaces calked with the correct sealant before painting to make sure the paint job lasts. If the correct calk isn’t used that is compatible with the type of paint being used, the paint does not adhere to the calk making what were formerly cracks now unpaintable.

Exterior painting also usually has many more hazards working on ladders on uneven ground where paint can be spilled much more easily and can cause permanent damage to masonry surfaces and walkways.

For these reasons, requests for exterior painting are completely different than requests to do interior painting and should be left to qualified professionals. The average length of an exterior paint job is seven years.  However, it can vary from half to three times that average depending upon the quality of the preparation of the surfaces before the paint is applied. With the average length of an exterior paint job about seven years, the true lasting quality of the job takes a couple years to show whether or not the preparation work was done correctly.  Your tenant could be gone in a two years, but the problems trying to address paint peeling as a result of bad adhesion to surfaces that weren’t correctly prepared can be a major and ongoing problem for years to come.

At Fast Eviction Service, help on any of the issues discussed in this article is simply a click or phone call away. Email or call our office at (800) 686-8686 to discuss your questions for a free evaluation of your case.

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