You Spent How Much?!
Allowing a tenant to paint can work just fine. On the other hand, it could end up with a landlord “war story.”
Lots of landlords do it. And most of the time there are few problems. But you never know. The next tenant you permit to paint the apartment could be the one that makes your ulcer flare up.
You know the ritual. You have a new tenant and the paint color doesn’t suit him or her. You get a nice request that you allow these people to paint the living room and bedroom. Thinking no harm can come of it, you give permission to get some paint, put it on the walls, and deduct it from the rent. “Just be sure to keep the receipts,” you say. The rent check arrives as scheduled next month with a pile of receipts totaling $450—for a 650 square foot, one-bedroom apartment! You had figured three or four gallons of paint at most. You can buy them for $20 each at the paint store where you have the account. But your tenants paid twice that and it took nine gallons!
Now the fun begins. But what can you do? You never told your tenant the amount you had in mind. You simply assumed (bad idea) that he or she would be as good a shopper as you are. Besides that, you wonder how anyone could use so much paint to cover such a small apartment. You’re afraid to go over and look at what they did. The receipt doesn’t say what color the paint was and you didn’t think there was any reason to paint the floor, which is the only way they could have used nine gallons of paint.
If you complain to your tenant, all you end up with is an irritating argument and a lot of resentment on both sides. That’s not the way to treat a customer. If you don’t say anything, your tenant will think that spending stupid is okay, and the next time you let him or her do something to the apartment, the same sort of thing will happen. After all, you don’t need $1,000 chandeliers in the place.
Now that you’ve messed up, here’s the obvious thing to tell her. “I guess I didn’t tell you what I expected, so you had no way of knowing. It’s not your fault. In the future, I will let you know exactly what I want. I figured the cost of the painting for everything would be about $100 including equipment because I know a place to buy quality paint at a reasonable price. I just assumed you would know, too. My mistake.” And it is your mistake. Here’s the system from keeping it from happening in the future.
What to do in the future
You have three options; all of them work.
1. Give your tenant a limit on the amount of money and direction on the kind and color of paint (flat, semi-gloss, off- white, etc.) Do it in writing.
2. Send your tenant to the paint store where you have an account. The paint store will be of immeasurable help by telling your tenant exactly how much paint it will take and will put the cost of the paint and supplies on your ac- count.
3. You buy the paint and equipment and take it to them.
How to notify them
Fortunately, these requests often come at the beginning of a tenancy. You can make any agreement you want before the tenant becomes a tenant. However, after the tenancy begins, you have a special problem. Any instructions about painting and such could be construed as a change in the rental agreement. That could take up to 30 days to be effective, depending on state law.
In that case, you would have to tell them that they can’t paint until the change in the rental agreement becomes effective. The alternative is that you buy the paint and equipment.
Three more thoughts
One landlord whom I know bought paint for her tenants and said she would lower the rent if they painted the house. She dutifully bought the paint and brought it to them along with all the brushes, rollers, tape, buckets, drop cloths and caps they would need to complete the job. The tenants dutifully stacked up the paint cans in the dining room in anticipation of digging right in.
One year later, those paint cans had dust on them and not a brush full of paint had found its way onto a wall. The landlord allowed as how the tenants had had plenty of time to get the painting done and put the rent back to where it was originally scheduled to be. The howls from the tenants were, well, you know.
Don’t ever say you will pay a tenant for painting, or for any work for that matter, by deducting it from the rent. Write a check. And only write the check when the work is done to your satisfaction, just as you would a contractor.
That brings up the second thought. Make sure the tenant is competent to paint. Ask if he has every painted an apartment before. If not, allow tenant painting at your own risk. As you know, painting requires forethought and care. It requires careful use of drop cloths and proper taping around doors, windows and floors to avoid sloppy edges. It requires the removal of switch plate and outlet covers. With an inexperienced painter, you could end up with paint in the general direction of the wall and your tenant coming back for more paint because it ran out. In those cases, do the painting yourself or hire it done.
Third, make sure your tenant under- stands how you want the job to look when it is finished. In addition to removing switch plate covers and outlet covers, they must remove any paint from windows, clean up any paint dropped or slopped where it should not be. Most important, if you have natural woodwork that you don’t want painted, make it clear that absolutely no paint is to appear on that woodwork.
Follow these procedures and you could have minimal problems if you allow a tenant to paint.