Landlord Responsibility to Repaint Apartment

Understand legal requirements to repaint your rental units.

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Question

One of my tenants wants me to repaint his apartment. Do I have any legal obligation to make this kind of cosmetic improvement?

Answer

Your legal obligation as to what repairs and maintenance are necessary depends on the condition of the rental unit. When it comes to paint, no state law requires you to repaint the interior every so often, but local ordinances might. (For example, New York City’s ordinance requires repainting every three years, or sooner if the walls become unsanitary through no fault of the tenant).  

If the paint in your tenant’s rental unit isn’t creating a habitability problem—for example, paint that’s so thick around a window that the window can’t be opened—you will ordinarily not have a legal obligation to repaint. Lead-based paint, however, may create all sorts of legal problems—for example, if a child becomes ill from eating lead-based paint chips, a court may find you liable because of your carelessness.

If the request to repaint is made by a good tenant whom would like to accommodate (and would hate to lose), it makes sense to approve the request. It will probably be a lot less expensive to repaint the apartment, then face the hassle of finding and screening a new tenant. Plus if your current tenant leaves for a better-maintained rental, you will probably want to repaint anyway before showing the place to prospective tenants.

If the tenant plans to do the painting him-or herself, and you’re confident that the tenant will do a good job, you should get your agreement in writing, spelling out details such as the maximum amount you authorize for spending on the paint, and the color of the paint. See Nolo’s  Sample Agreement With Landlord Regarding Painting Rental Unit for a model in preparing your own agreement.

The same legal advice outlined above applies to other cosmetic improvements, such as drapes and carpets. As long as the drapes are not sufficiently damp or mildewy to constitute a health hazard, and the carpets don’t have dangerous holes that could cause someone to trip and fall, you aren’t legally required to replace them—but it might make sense to do so for a good, long-term tenant you want to keep. 

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