Updated August 2023
Who is responsible for painting a rental property: the landlord or the tenant? And how often should a property be painted?
As the owner, you’re usually responsible for repainting the property, as it’s part of the property’s upkeep. Regular repainting also counters wear and tear, offering an affordable way to rejuvenate the property and attract potential tenants.
But how often should landlords paint their rental properties? And in what circumstances may it be the tenant’s responsibility to foot the bill?
In this article, we’ll explore who is responsible for painting, when to repaint your rental, how to prolong paint durability, and whether tenants should choose their own colors!
Table Of Contents On Landlord Painting Responsibilities
What does the law require when it comes to painting rental properties, and what are best practices to ensure a clean and fresh property without overspending? Find everything you need to know about painting rental properties below.
- Painting Rental Property: Why Does It Matter?
- How Often Should Landlords Paint Rental Properties?
- Lease Matters: Include A Painting Information Clause
- Do Landlords Have To Paint Between Tenants?
- Apartment Painting Basics
- Painting Rental Property: How To Decide When It’s Time
- Who Is Responsible For Painting: The Landlord Or The Tenant?
- FAQs On Landlord Painting Responsibilities
- How often does a landlord have to paint?
- Should a landlord paint between tenants?
- How long should paint last in a rental property?
- Are landlords required to paint over lead paint?
- What is the most durable paint for a rental property?
- What paint do most landlords use?
- What is the best paint color for a rental property?
- Do most landlords let the tenant paint?
- Does a tenant have to paint when they move out?
- Do tenants have to repaint walls they painted?
- How much can a landlord charge for painting?
- Can a landlord charge for painting after a tenant moves out?
- Can a landlord deduct painting from the security deposit?
- How often do landlords have to paint in California?
- Painting With Purpose
Most people are accustomed to the walls of their homes having a fairly fresh coat of paint, even if they live in rental property. A good paint job doesn’t just add aesthetic appeal, it also protects the walls of your home.
Below are the main reasons that landlords should be concerned with maintaining their rental property’s paint work.
The smell of fresh paint and the look of bright, new walls can help make your property more attractive to new tenants. It’s a real psychological boost for prospective tenants to tour a freshly painted rental property.
New tenants are also likely to treat recently painted walls with more respect than old dingy ones. They are less likely to start sticking things to the walls and are more careful about not scratching the walls when moving furniture.
Painting can modestly increase the value of your property, especially if you paint both the interior and exterior walls.
Painting can be an affordable way to upgrade and refresh a property. It’s much more affordable than changing the floors or installing a new kitchen or bathroom, for instance, but can lift the property in the same way.
Repairing dings, nicks, dents, and holes in the walls is a pretty simple process, and with a fresh coat of paint, people viewing the property will never know those dings, nicks, dents and holes were there.
When you want to upgrade your property between tenants, painting is one of the least expensive ways to have a big impact.
Some cities have laws in place to regulate the upkeep of rental properties, including painting. The law might require that landlords repaint every two to four years. For example, in New York City, landlords must repaint every three years if the unit is in a multiple-dwelling building.
These types of laws are pretty rare, but they do exist. Make sure you review your state and local jurisdiction’s rules to find out if this will apply to any of your rentals. There are no laws that specifically require that landlords paint between tenants.
In most cases, the law is more general and says that landlords must maintain habitable premises, without specifically defining what that is. Tenants can ask the landlord to paint the walls if they believe they are unsanitary, for example if there is mold on the walls. They can also complain if they believe that lead paint has been used.
Repainting can help remove odors or stains left behind by activities such as smoking or vaping. It can also improve the interior air quality if you use low-VOC or zero-VOC paint. These paints release fewer toxins that can irritate the respiratory system, especially for those with asthma or allergies.
If you have plaster walls, paint can prevent plaster dust and in general keeps dust and dirt to a minimum.
A paint job can also protect against standard wear and tear. It can guard exterior walls from the effects of sun, ice, and snow, and protect interior walls from sun and moisture damage. Interior walls are generally made from materials that absorb moisture, so providing a paint protection barrier can make a significant difference.
Paint can also protect against damage from normal wear and tear such as chairs scraping against the walls and potential damage caused by pets and children.
But, exactly how often do you need to repaint? The general rule is to paint interior walls every three to five years. Exteriorwalls need painting every three to 20 years depending on the material and the environment.
Focusing on the interior walls, exactly how often you need to repaint depends on a number of factors.
It can be tempting to save money by buying cheap paint, but you may find yourself spending more in the long run. Expensive paints will usually have more color binders, which means you need fewer coats, and therefore less paint, to get your walls the color you want. More expensive paints also tend to be fade resistant.
A do-it-yourself paint job is likely to last less time than a professional one because the underlying walls probably won’t be as well prepared. A professional paint job should last approximately 5-10 years, according to the experts. If the walls underneath aren’t properly prepared, the paint can start to peel and crack surprisingly quickly after painting.
Preparation means proper cleaning, the removal of anything attached to the walls such as nails, and filling and sanding down any holes. Applying primer and base layers in the right color can also make a big difference to the final outcome and how long it lasts.
Low-traffic areas, such as a guest bedroom, are likely to need painting less often as they are less exposed to the human traffic common in children’s bedrooms and dining rooms, for example.
Walls in areas that are exposed to heat, moisture, and other potentially staining materials, such as in kitchens and bathrooms, are also likely to need painting more regularly.
Ceilings rarely need repainting, unless they are exposed to smoke or moisture. But if you’re clearing out a room for painting, it can be a good idea to do the ceilings while you have the opportunity.
It’s important to paint baseboards, door frames, and trim when you paint walls as they often see the most natural wear and tear in a living space.
While landlords aren’t required to repaint homes between tenants, turnover timing will probably greatly influence when you choose to paint, since it’s much easier to get the work done when no one is living in the home. Plus, people moving in and out frequently can lead to increased wear and tear.
If you’re getting new tenants yearly, you will probably need to repaint every two or three years, if not sooner, due to damages. If you’re dealing with long-term tenancies, you can probably go longer than that, but may need to repaint sooner at tenant request.
When setting up your lease agreement, you may want to consider adding a section that details the rules about painting. This can lay out your commitment to maintaining the property’s paint and how often the tenant can expect the walls to be repainted. It can also lay out rules about what the tenant is allowed to do in terms of painting.
Some tenants like to add their own personal touch to a home with interior decorating such as new paint. But it’s up to you as a landlord whether you allow this. You can include a strict “no alterations” clause in the contract if you don’t want the tenants to do any painting. If you choose to allow painting, you can place restrictions in the least on how this is to be done.
You can include clauses that:
- Restrict color choice or require that the tenant checks the color with you before painting. You don’t want the tenants painting the walls bright orange as this may be a turnoff for future tenants or difficult to paint over.
- Restrict which parts of the property can be repainted. Perhaps you’re fine with bedrooms being repainted and personalized, but prefer the main living area to be left as is.
- Specify the types of paint that can be used—for example low-VOC—and specify whether the tenant can paint themselves or needs to use the services of a professional painter.
It’s often a good idea to discuss painting when negotiating the lease at the start of a contract. You may word the lease differently for a tenant signing a three-year contract vs a rolling month-to-month contract.
While allowing tenants to paint your property can pose a risk, you may find yourself saddled with the expense of fixing a bad paint job. But tenants are likely to stay longer when they have a sense of autonomy to make the property feel like home.
In most cases, landlords are not required to repaint their property between tenants. If the new tenant is satisfied with the apartment’s condition and signs the lease agreement, the walls can remain the same.
Only in a few places is it required by law for landlords to paint a rental between tenants. In some areas, such as rent-controlled communities, landlords may have to paint rental properties when each tenant moves out. In New York City, landlords must paint every three years, while in West Hollywood, landlords have a four-year requirement.
Most areas don’t have any kind of regulations, though. As long as interior paint meets all conditions for habitability (not lead-based or chipping or peeling), paint does not have to be new for a tenant to take occupancy. Worn or scuffed paint is not considered a hazard and doesn’t affect the warranty of habitability. That said, many qualified tenants may pass on a property that isn’t freshly painted for cosmetic and aesthetic reasons, making it more challenging to attract the best applicants.
Nevertheless, many landlords choose to do it for marketing and aesthetics. Due to cost and inconvenience, most landlords paint every three to five years and try to coincide with a turnover.
Because painting is such a hassle for both the painter and the occupant, and empty rooms are much easier to paint than those with furniture and other personal belongings, many landlords choose to paint between occupancies. Of course, it’s easier for both landlords and tenants to document the condition of a rental when there are near new walls in place, making it easier to note and track any damages.
If you’ve never thought much about paint, it’s a good idea to learn the basics so you can know what you want your paint crew to do or start the process of doing it yourself.
The most significant factor in how long your rental property’s interior paint job will last is the quality of paint you use. Another thing that impacts durability is the finish. Choosing the right one can mean the difference between years of durable and lasting painted walls or dull, inadequate coverage in all the wrong places.
Here’s a brief overview of the types of paint finishes and where they work best:
- High gloss: Durable and easy to clean, this paint dries with a shiny finish that reflects light. It’s perfect for repelling sticky fingers and oils, so use it for things like trim, doors, and perhaps cabinets.
- Semi-gloss: Perfect for areas that have moisture, like kitchens and bathrooms, it’s also good for trim and cleans up easily thanks to that glossy finish.
- Satin: Just right for high-traffic areas like children’s bedrooms and playrooms, hallways, and family rooms. This velvety finish is tougher than it looks.
- Eggshell: For rooms that don’t get a lot of traffic, this no-shine finish is very forgiving on walls that have bumps and imperfections. Use in living rooms, dining rooms, and even studies or offices.
- Flat/Matte: With no shine, this finish soaks up light and makes walls look rich and thickly coated. Not as easy to clean, this type of paint finish works in low-traffic rooms like bedrooms.
When looking at paint, it’s also important to considersome other features. For example, lead paint cannot be used in most environments, but for this reason, it’s not commonly sold.
However, you can choose to purchase low-VOC or zero-VOC paints for your property. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds, and low- or zero-VOC paints contain less of them than other paints. VOCs contribute to air pollution and reduce indoor air quality.
Unless you have lots of experience painting, it’s best to hire a professional paint service to care for the rental property. They can accomplish the task that looks great in a shorter amount of time than you could do the job.
Painting the interior of a home is much more than just moving a paintbrush around. Professionals know how to tape down protective sheeting so you don’t ruin your other fixtures with paint splatter. They know where to start painting, when paint is dry enough for another coat, and how to achieve an even finish. You’ll probably save money on the amount of paint that you need to get your walls done.
You’ll be happier with the results of a paint crew unless you know what you’re doing. That said, there are plenty of landlords who paint their rental properties themselves with impressive results.
When choosing a color for your rental property, most landlords recommend sticking to relatively neutral colors so that the walls will appeal to as many potential tenants as possible.
It can be cool to have a bold accent wall, but this might put off some tenants who simply don’t want that kind of paint job in their home. Sticking to tan, sage, cream, beige, off-white, and other neutral colors is likely to be most popular with those coming to tour your rental unit.
Landlords have many responsibilities, but it’s generally up to you to decide when to paint your rental property and how often. It’s important to find the balance between keeping the apartment looking fresh, new, and lovely without spending a lot of money every time the unit turns over.
Here are five things to consider that might help you decide to paint or not to paint:
After a tenant has moved out, take a close look at the walls during your move-out inspection. You’ll be able to see any damage when the place is completely empty and can best evaluate whether or not rooms need paint.
Make sure to also compare the condition of the walls to what they were like during the move-in inspection. If there are chips or damage beyond what was expected, make sure to quote the repair cost to the tenants and withhold that amount from their security deposit.
But remember that you can’t charge tenants for what is considered normal wear and tear. Sun fading and minimal scuffing cannot be considered damage.
Sometimes scuffs, smudges, dirt, and oils can build up on the wall, and an easy clean with mild soap and water can refresh the paint quickly. Magic erasers and spot scrubbers also work wonders on scuffs.
Focus especially on door frames, window trim, around light switches, and other high-traffic areas. You might be surprised at how good the walls look when they’re actually cleaned.
If the bedrooms appear fine but the living room has a lot of dings and dents, you can just paint the rooms that need it most. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing paint job.
Make sure to keep track of what you repainted, when you repainted it, and what paint you used. This will make it much easier to do touch-ups and upkeep down the line. Otherwise, you might end up repainting something that doesn’t need it.
Suppose your rental property is in a hard-to-rent area. In that case, your city is experiencing some economic downturns or you otherwise have a difficult time attracting quality tenants, and new paint may be just what you need to make your place stand out above the others.
It might seem like a tiny change, but paint can truly transform a space. It’s also an inexpensive way to try to attract tenants, so it’s relatively low risk.
To keep a good resident in place who has been there for several years, consider arranging for paint as a renewal incentive. Even after a few years, walls can look dull and lifeless, and a new paint job would make the tenant happy and keep the unit looking nice. When tenants have pride in their home, they take better care of it, so it’s a win-win for you.
When you find the balance between applying new paint at turnover and letting it go, you can feel confident that your paint schedule will be best for your property, business, and tenants.
As the owner of the home, in most cases painting is the responsibility and the right of the landlord. A tenant should only paint with written permission from the landlord. Most landlords prefer that tenants do not paint the rental or make any improvements or repairs without approval.
Tenants who respect your property will not paint without your permission, but it can sometimes be necessary to clear things up. Doing this in the lease is the best way to ensure that you won’t end up miscommunicating with your tenant.
In our Landlord Starter Form Kit here at RentPrep, you’ll find great sample documents that can help you to get the right lease, addendums, and other documents in place for your business.
Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about landlord painting responsibilities that allow you to optimize your property while minimizing expenses.
Unless required by city laws, there are very few situations in which a landlord is legally required to paint their rental property. The law typically only requires that the property be kept in habitable condition. This means that painting is only required for a specific reason, like mold or another safety issue such as lead paint, causing problems.
In most cases, landlords can repaint properties at their discretion and as they deem necessary.
Landlords are not required to paint between tenants, and it is not necessary to paint frequently if your tenants change every six to 12 months. However, if you have had a tenant in the property for two years or more, it can be a good idea to paint when they leave, to give the place a boost and potentially increase rental value.
It’s also a good idea to schedule repainting for periods of vacancy, even if you have already secured a new tenant for the property based on the previous paint condition. This is for the simple logistical reason that it’s easier to get the work done when no one is living in the home.
The general lifespan of a professional paint job is five to 10 years. But this is if the property is kept in excellent condition, so no excessive sun streaming through windows onto walls, no burst pipes, and no animals or kids bringing in dirt and accidentally kicking and scuffing walls.
In reality, you can probably expect the paint job on a rental property to last three to five years. Unless the tenant is actively treating the walls badly, faded and scuffed paint is considered normal wear and tear and it is the landlord’s responsibility to repaint when deemed necessary.
No, landlords are not required to paint over lead paint or remove it from their property. However, the landlord must give this EPA lead paint information pamphlet to renters and include a lead paint disclosure in their lease agreement in most states. This is only required if the property is known to have lead paint in it or it was built before 1978.
This information lets the tenant know what the situation is and what risks there are to having lead paint in the home.
If you do decide to paint over lead paint, it must be done the right way, and it’s probably best to call in a professional to make sure everything is safely removed. The dust generated by lead paint can be toxic, so take this risk seriously.
Satin and semi-gloss paints tend to be the easiest to apply, give the best finish, fade slowly, and stand up well against wear and tear. They are among the best paints to use for rental properties.
Most landlords paint their rental properties using satin or semi-gloss paints in light neutral colors. Egg-shell is probably the most popular color, followed by beige.
Light and neutral colors are the best options for rental properties. They make the rooms look larger and tend to combine relatively well with most color schemes. Pure white is generally avoided because dirt shows up too easily. Tans, creams, and very light shades of gray are among the best options.
No, to the contrary, most landlords choose not to let their tenants paint due to the risk of them doing a poor job or choosing colors that devalue the property. But the landlord’s decision depends greatly on the nature of the lease.
Landlords with several units in a complex are unlikely to let tenants paint, to maintain the uniformity of their offering. Landlords who have high turnover are also less likely to let tenants personalize.
But, landlords renting out family homes with long-term leases are more likely to let tenants personalize the property through activities such as painting, but with conditions that restrict what can be done.
Generally, tenants are not responsible for painting the walls, even if there are some light signs of wear. Normal wear-and-tear is expected, so this cannot be their responsibility.
But, repainting could be their responsibility in specific circumstances. For example:
- If the lease agreement legally includes a clause that the tenant must repaint the walls when moving out, then they must do so or pay the owner the cost to have this professionally done.
- The landlord has allowed the tenant to paint the walls on the condition that they repaint with an approved color before leaving.
But these are specific circumstances that should be laid out in the lease agreement.
This depends on the details of the lease agreement. Most tenants need to get permission from their landlords before painting, and the landlord will let them know the rules at that time. Depending on the landlord’s plan for the property after the tenancy ends, they may not need or want the tenant to repaint the walls.
Ultimately, it’s up to the tenant and landlord to come to an agreement on whether or not the walls need to be repainted at the end of the tenancy period.
The price to repaint a property will vary greatly depending on the size of the property, the number of rooms, the type of paint that needs to be covered, and a number of other factors.
A landlord can only charge tenants for the cost of painting what goes beyond normal wear-and-tear. For example, a landlord could not charge their tenant the full cost of repainting the entire apartment if they left it in good condition after renting for just one year.
A landlord could charge tenants who repainted all of the room’s walls a dark color without permission the full cost of a professional paint job because this goes above and beyond what would have otherwise been needed.
If there has been excessive wear-and-tear to the property for the length of time it was rented, it is possible for the landlord to charge the tenant for repainting after they move out.
If the amount of wear on the walls and paint is normal, then the landlord cannot charge the tenant for repainting after they move out.
This information should be clearly outlined and defined in the lease agreement so all parties are aware of and informed about the rules that will apply when the tenancy ends. That way, you’ll avoid unnecessary arguments or miscommunication.
Unless otherwise specified and agreed upon in the lease, a landlord cannot deduct basic repainting from the security deposit. This is because it is considered to be part of normal property upkeep and those costs cannot be passed to the tenant.
If, however, the landlord has to do extra painting or hire a professional service to handle excessive damages, the cost of this service could be taken out of the security deposit.
In West Hollywood, rent-stabilized units must receive a fresh coat of paint every four years. In the rest of California, landlords are only required to paint a property if there are lead paint hazards. Paint typically doesn’t fall under a warranty of habitability as it is considered an aesthetic and not a required living improvement.
In most cases, it’s up to landlords to decide when it’s time to paint their rental properties. It is not something dictated by law. But, there are a few counties where repainting is required in specific circumstances, so you should check your local laws. Outside of this, as long as the walls contribute to a habitable home—for example, they are not covered in mold—you are not legally required to repaint.
Therefore, it is up to landlords to decide when to repaint in a way that maximizes the value and quality of their property. A good paint job can push up rental prices, and maintaining the paint on walls can protect the underlying structure from damage from elements such as moisture.
As a general rule, try to paint the inside of your rental properties every three to five years. Time repainting for vacant periods between tenants, as it’s much easier to paint a property when it’s empty.