Should you allow your tenants to paint?
This is a subject we get asked about a lot. We often get asked by new tenants if they can paint, we also have landlords and property managers asking what we do. This topic has to be addressed every time we have a tenant turnover.
I am going to share with you four stories, then I will tell you our current position. The stories will show you how we arrived at our current position and you can take it from there.
Story 1: Adding color to a multi-family – Several years ago we purchased an apartment building. We had a few vacant units when we closed on the property. We had also just completed a renovation on a personal property. This meant we had various colors of paint. In our personal house we do not like to have just one color. This gave me an idea. I felt that the units in this building were in good condition, however, they seemed boring. They were off white. Not quite white, and not quite beige. I decided I would paint the apartments I was redoing with our left over paint. I thought I was taking a stand against boring apartments, I figured I would be making a difference in peoples lives.
Here is how it actually turned out. Everyone I showed the apartments too complained about the colors. I did not have one person say, wow, awesome paint, or great job. Even my superintendent questioned my judgement.
I did manage to get tenants for the apartments, but I had to paint them a new color. I bought a five gallon bucket of high quality, one coat paint. I named my new color renters beige. It is actually a really nice non-offensive color that most people seem to like.
I talked to other landlords about painting apartments, and if you should allow your tenants to paint. I have to agree, that if you are dealing apartments in regular buildings, you should include painting in your “make ready” process.
The time spent may depend on how fast you need to turn over the unit, and what the history of the tenure of the tenants are in the building.
There are three ways to paint an apartment:
Made for speed- walls, ceiling, baseboards / trim all one color.
Deluxe – baseboards / trim and walls one color, with a white ceiling.
Luxury – white ceiling, white baseboards, and colored walls.
I would suggest using a light beige, however, I did see a recent headline on an article and it read something like this: notice to landlords from your tenants, put down the beige paint and back away slowly. That may be an indication that beige is being played out.
Story 2: The sports fan – I got this story from a landlord in a meetup group I belong to. The landlord did not know about it until the tenant moved out (they did a mid-night move). When this landlord went to inspect the flat, it had one wall in the master bedroom dedicated to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The whole wall was a logo. I am sure you can see some obvious problems with this. The background to the logo is dark blue. It took a lot of paint to cover up this logo. This situation may have been unavoidable, however, my landlord friend had to admit they did not discuss paint, when the tenant moved in. This particular tenant ended up skipping out on rent, so it was not something he could deduct from the damage deposit. If you do run into this type of situation it is important to tell the tenant before the final inspection, how much will be deducted from the damage deposit, providing a specific amount may encourage the tenant to do the painting themselves, or they may decide to leave it, either way it will prevent any surprises.
Story 3: My tenants only thought they knew how to paint – We rented a house to a family a few years back. I will say they were great tenants other than this one thing. When they moved in, it was a situation where the other tenants were moving out at the same time they were coming in. We did not have time to paint, now the place did not look too bad, but the tenant moving out had been there for a couple of years, so a couple of rooms could have used a refresh. The new tenants did not mind, but they asked if they were allowed to paint. We said yes, you do the work and we will pay for the paint. I sometimes forget and I do not want to brag, but Shelly and I are really good at cutting in. We do not use tape and our paint jobs always look great. We just assume that everyone else will be as good, or use tape until they get the experience required to do a great job. In the case of this house, when I was doing the move out pre-inspection, I realized that my tenants did not know how to paint. They only painted a few rooms, but the cutting in job where the walls met the ceiling was terrible. It may have been one of the worst cut in jobs, I have ever seen. The lesson learned from this story is that if a tenant asks if they can paint, it is important to ask about painting experience and what colors they are going to use.
Story 4: The double paint job – We aim to have give every apartment a fresh coat of paint before a new tenant moves in. We hire a painter to do the work. In our area you can get a two bedroom apartment painted for $400 – $500 it could be more, if all the trim and baseboards need to be done. We provide the paint. Most pro-painters usually bring there own brush. This is a story of a bit of mis-communication. The tenants viewed the apartment before they moved in and asked about the painting policy. Shelly explained it to them, and asked if they were interested in painting the apartment themselves. The current tenant had moved out early, so we had agreed to give them the place early for them to paint. They filled out an application and accepted the apartment. They decided they would rather have us paint the apartment before they moved in, so we did. They lived in the apartment for about three months, then they called Shelly and asked if she would still honor the deal where we pay for the paint and they do the work. Shelly and I had to way the pro and cons of saying yes or no to this request. In the interest of customer service we said yes. The down side is that we paid to have the apartment painted twice. The upside is that these tenants were happy, did a great job painting and stayed another couple of years.
Where we stand today: I can sum it up in three sections – Timing, expectations, budget
Timing: this is always a challenge in our business. We want to turn apartments over quick so we do not lose revenue. We also like to have a fresh coat of paint on the walls before we do the move in, inspection. That is the theory, however, we all know, theory and reality are often two different things. I do find that even if you have to do some painting after a tenant moves in, they are generally understanding. If the unit you are renting is a house / flat, you may want to talk to your tenants about the painting. We notice on flats and houses, the people looking for this type of accommodation are a bit more fussy about paint color. I will have to leave it on this thought. Shoot for the ideal, but be willing to negotiate timing of paint with your tenant.
Expectations: One of the main reasons we like to have an apartment fully painted before a tenant moves in, is that it demonstrates how we would like the apartment to look at all times. If you do not do the painting, it makes your move in inspection more difficult, and could set the expectation that paint and cleanliness is not a big deal. The other side also is that the tenant may think you are lazy and do not care. That could be a red flag for your potential tenants. The bottom line is that whatever, you decide it is important that you and your tenant understand the expectations of each other, in regards to the painting.
Budget: there are two parts to this. One is your apartment turnover side. The stage is set in our area for how much a painter can charge to paint an apartment. Unless they are doing something special, the market price exists. We always buy 5 gallon buckets of the same color paint, so we have some available at all times. The other part is that if you allow your tenants to paint, and agree to pay for supplies, explain what that means. Get a quote in advance. We have been caught off guard with receipts sent to us for expensive paint brushes and high end paint. You can also set a maximum limit, and tell them you will pay up to that amount. Then if they want to use expensive paint, they still can.
The apartment rental business is competitive, so we feel it is important to be flexible. The key is in communication. Make sure you and your tenant are on the same page.
Michael P Currie