Landlords often paint their properties in shades of white or gray, which are great colors to choose because they are easy to maintain, and they make rental units easier to show.
Your renters, however, might prefer more vibrant and interesting colors in the place they call home and might wish to repaint. Is it ever appropriate for tenants to take the job upon themselves? If you agree to let your tenant change the paint color, who should pay for it?
1. Tenants Should Always Check with You First
Color harmonization can improve a person’s life. But even so, this is not a basic human right or need.
If your tenant paints without your blessing, you can deduct from their security deposit the amount it will cost to repaint, assuming they don’t return it to the original color before departing.
It’s wise to have a paint policy in your lease to make sure there are no surprises. If you allow your tenant to paint, here are some ways to go about it:
- Discuss a color
Pick a suitable color scheme consisting of one or two hues. Sometimes, a tenant will feel as if it’s a vast improvement to simply change the color of a single wall.
- Go pro
Consider hiring a pro to make sure the job is done right. If you do the work yourself, put extra care into protecting the floors and woodwork. If you let your tenant paint, you can deduct any money spent toward cleanup needed when they move out.
- Don’t paint wood
Avoid painting woodwork and other surfaces that haven’t already been painted and that would have to be stripped to restore them to their previous unpainted state.
There is a good chance you’ll have to restore the original colors when your tenant moves out, but if you do an excellent job that significantly improves the look and feel of the unit, you might be able to rent the place with the new colors.
2. You Can Veto a Color
If your tenant feels out of place because of the color scheme, don’t laugh. The colors in a home can affect a person’s moods and overall sense of wellbeing. However, that doesn’t mean you should allow a tenant to paint the kitchen red. Reds and pinks are some of the most difficult colors to cover up.
Feng Shui and Color
Color plays an important part in the ancient Chinese art of space harmonization — or Feng Shui — and many interior decorators use Feng Shui principles to balance energies in the home. Color harmonization at home can help your tenant relax while boosting concentration. It can also enhance social interactions by helping visitors feel more comfortable.
Balancing the Elements
Although landlords and real estate agents think of white and gray as neutral, Feng Shui practitioners don’t. Both colors represent metal, and they give a space a sharp or crisp quality. Earth and wood tones, water colors (such as blue), or the reds and oranges of fire could be more relaxing, inspiring, and generally beneficial for your tenant.
3. Do a Good Job
Few tenants are professional painters, and even if you like the colors your renters use, you may not be happy with the workmanship.
But if you do allow them to paint anyway, here are some tips:
- Acknowledge good work
Recognize a good thing when you see it. If your tenants do a professional job, and the colors are attractive, don’t be too set on going back to neutral colors when they leave. Reward the tenants for their good work with a full refund of their painting deposit if you plan to leave the paint as is.
- Allow them to nest
Tenants are more likely to stay if they feel they have the freedom to decorate according to their taste, and they save you the trouble of having to do the painting yourself, which is part of regular maintenance.
- Put it in writing
Get a written agreement before allowing your tenants to paint. Among other things, the agreement should stipulate if and how the tenants are reimbursed if they pay for materials and labor.
With a few exceptions — notably New York City — no state or local laws require landlords to repaint when a tenant moves out. It’s important to know, however, that some small-claims courts have considered periodic repainting a condition of habitability in the case of long-term tenancies. That’s an incentive to give the green light (or the lime light, or maybe the emerald light) to tenants with the motivation to do the job themselves.
4. Make Them Pay for All (or Some) of It
For some landlords, it’s a standard practice to repaint between tenancies, and once a rental is occupied, the paint job can be expected to last for at least a year. If you select quality tenants and choose quality paint, you won’t have to repaint for three to five years.
If tenants wish to repaint during the first few years of occupancy, it’s reasonable to expect them to pay for paint and materials. Over the years, paint ages and loses its luster. Repainting then becomes a maintenance issue, and responsibility reverts to the landlord. Every material, including paint, has a natural life expectancy.
A willingness on the part of both landlord and tenant to negotiate is always beneficial.
A common solution is for you to purchase the materials and the tenant to contribute their time and labor (as long as they do a good job).
Credit to Chris Deziel
Chris has owned and managed 4 rental properties in Santa Cruz, CA, and Salida, CO and is a DIY handyman expert for popular sites like Pro Referral.