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Should I Let Tenants Decorate or Paint My Rental?

What’s your least favorite color? Is it mold green or dark brown? Or maybe it’s a certain shade of pink? Chances are there is some color that pisses you off and makes you wanna keep your eyes closed. Ok, this might be a little bit overdramatized, but you’ve surely got the idea.

Now imagine yourself waking up to the walls of your least favorite color every single morning. How crazy would it feel to see something you don’t like first thing in the morning day and day out? Correct me if I’m wrong but I assume you’d want to remove the irritant once and for all.

Hope the above two paragraphs were enough to make you better understand the renters who want your permission to painting rental property. In nearly all the cases, they either don’t like the current colors and style or want to renovate their home and make it cozier. However, regardless of their reasons, it’s you who decides whether or not any changes will take place. But if you’re having hard times deciding which approach to follow, make sure to read this article A to Z.

What Are Your Landlord Painting Responsibilities?

Neither state nor local laws provide clear guidelines as to whether or not landlords are obliged to pay for and take care of repainting. New York City is the only exception to the rule since the local ordinance requires landlords to repaint walls every three years or even sooner if they become unsanitary through no tenants’ fault.

At the same time, it’s clearly stated that it’s you who’s responsible for repainting when the same tenants have lived in your rental for several years in a row. If your tenants have moved in less than 6 months ago, and the walls were freshly-painted at the moment, there is no way for them to ask you to pay for repainting just because they want their walls red or dark blue.

What Are Your Rights?

The answer to this question stems from the previous one. As a landlord, you have the right to reject tenants’ request to repaint walls unless (1) there is some serious paint-related damage that makes the rental inhabitable or (2) you’re based in NYC and it’s been three years since your last “repainting” time or (3) the walls were proved to be painted with lead-based paint and your tenants want it to be changed ASAP.

Tenants Want to Paint Walls: To Allow or Not to Allow?

Like it or not, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Although I encourage landlords to always meet the wishes of their tenants (as long as it’s adequate), I understand that the circumstances might be different.

Here’s the list of questions thinking of which will help you make a decision:

  • Do you like your current tenants and want them to stay long-term?
  • Does your rental look fresh and modern enough now?
  • How radical are the changes your tenants want to make?
  • Will you have time & opportunity to keep the process under control?
  • Do your tenants agree to return the unit to its original condition upon move-out?

Generally, if you’re happy with your current tenants, and changes they want to make won’t make your apartment look too weird and unusual, go for it. But make sure to mitigate the risks when allowing tenants to paint.

Allow renters decorate walls

How to Mitigate the Risks

  1. Include a Special Clause in Lease Agreement

If you’re about to let the new tenants in and want to be clear about your ‘paint-the-walls’ policy, a smart move would be including a special clause in your lease agreement. Indicate whether or not tenants are allowed to make changes to your property and clearly state who’s the one to pay for them. This way, you’ll have your expectations clear, and this will help you avoid conflicts and misunderstanding later on.

  1. Sign a Painting Contract

If including a special clause sounds like way too much for you, consider using a painting contract (yes, you heard it right). Discuss your decoration-painting policy with your tenants and type up an agreement based on the results of this conversation. Then get it signed by all parties and ensure to keep it for the entire term of the lease.

  1. Have Some Limits Set

Another smart approach would be setting some limits for your tenants. For instance, you can veto certain colors or indicate what types of decor are absolutely not acceptable for you. Make it clear if you’re only open to minor rental upgrades and won’t approve any major changes. Make sure your tenants understand that whatever change they decide to make, they’ll have to run it past you first.

  1. Control the Process

Ensure that your landlord-tenant painting agreement (no matter verbal or paper-based one) safeguards your right to control the process of painting and decoration. This way, you’ll protect yourself from sloppy results and won’t have to worry about the outcomes of your tenants’ stretch of the imagination.

Who Is the One to Pay?

If none of the three situations mentioned above are the case (read: you’re not in NYC, the current state of paint doesn’t make the unit uninhabitable, and the paint is not lead-based), the answer to this question depends on your principles and preferences only.

In this matter, all the landlords seem to fall into two camps. Landlords from the first camp believe that paying for painting will encourage a tasteful choice of color as well as help reduce tenant turnover. Landlords from the second one, in their turn, think that it’s not their business to pay for someone else’s whim.

I firmly believe that landlords of the first camp end up with longer terms of lease agreements, reduced vacancy rates, as well as positive testimonials (and better karma). However, the decision is completely up to you.

For the Finals

There is only one thing you landlord should always keep in mind. Each time you take on new renters, your property becomes their home. So there’s nothing wrong with them wanting to make their temporary nest as comfortable and cozy as possible. Don’t be afraid to allow your tenants paint the walls or decorate them. As long as they understand that any major change should be approved by you and agree to return the rental to its original state at their own expense, giving them their head would be a smart decision.


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