Is the Landlord Legally Required to Repaint Rental Units Between Tenants?

Landlords might have to repaint a rental in only a few situations.

Question

I’m moving into an apartment that really needs some painting. Is the landlord legally required to repaint the unit before I move in?

Answer

No state law requires landlords to repaint a rental unit in between tenants. Some local (city or county) ordinances might require landlords to repaint under certain circumstances. For example, New York City requires most landlords to repaint their rental units every three years. (N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 27-2013.) However, laws that require repainting are rare.

That said, landlords in almost all states (Arkansas is the only exception) have a duty to provide habitable premises. Your landlord will have to repaint or take other steps to remedy any unsanitary or unsafe condition—for example, if a window is painted shut or there’s mold on the walls. Also, your landlord must comply with all lead-based paint laws. If you believe the current paint (or lack thereof) creates a health and safety issue, or otherwise violates the law, notify your landlord in writing of your concerns. Consider consulting with a local landlord-tenant attorney if your landlord’s response isn’t satisfactory.

Alternatively, if your lease or rental agreement contains a clause stating that the landlord will paint before you move in (or at some other time), you have the right to enforce this promise. Depending on the laws in your area, you might be able to withhold rent or deduct the costs of hiring a painter if your landlord violates the lease or rental agreement. Check the laws in your area before taking action—rent withholding or other self-help measures might not be legal where you live. If you have any doubts about what’s allowed, you might want to seek help from a qualified attorney.

If the walls are merely an eyesore, it probably wouldn’t hurt to ask the landlord to paint. If the answer is no, you could ask for permission to do the painting yourself. Be sure to put any agreements in writing. For example, if your landlord agrees to provide the paint and supplies if you do the work, you’ll want to draw up a document containing the details and have your landlord sign it.

Otherwise, if your landlord won’t paint or let you paint, you’ll just have to live with it. Consider revisiting the issue when your lease or rental agreement is up for renewal—if you’ve been an ideal tenant who pays rent on time and maintains the unit, your landlord might reconsider in an effort to keep you in the rental.

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