Should you allow a renter to paint?

sherwin williamsThe topic of this post is should you allow a renter to paint?  With 24 units, I come in contact with many renters.  They all have their ideas of what a great place to rent looks like.  They might want their boy’s room to be blue, and their girl’s room to be pink.  I get asked all the time, “What do you feel about painting the bedrooms?”

When I first started as a landlord, I painted all my walls white.  I painted any baseboards that were painted, white.  I painted the ceiling white.  Everything was painted using semi-gloss paint.  I could literally have a roller and paint baseboard to baseboard, running across the ceiling, and not have to cut in any paint.  It was fast, it was easy.  No worry about getting paint on the trim, or a roller hitting the ceiling.  No waiting in line for a special color to be mixed, I used a white paint right off the shelf.  No worries about what color the next apartment to be painted was, it was white.

When you show an apartment, white walls, ceilings and baseboard are boring.  It creates an institutional look.  Renters get tired of seeing white walls.  White matches everything, but it also gets dirty faster.  So you need to have a better strategy than paint all the apartment walls white.

Proper Colors

When I bought my third 4-plex, the wall colors in that apartment were a color by Sherwin Williams, called Interactive Cream.  It was painted in flat, which covers any underlying colors or dirt very effectively.  It is also a dirt magnet.  You cannot wipe dirt off of a wall that is painted with flat paint.



Unauthorized Paint

Despite the flat sheen of the walls, I actually liked the color.  It could have been most any lighter shade of color and it would have been better than white.  But I did make the decision to use that color.  At that time, I had four units painted in the cream, and eight units painted all white.  As tenants moved out, I painted in the cream color.  All were painted in semi-gloss.  I learned how to paint fast and efficiently.  I learned the value of a Purdy paint brush.


Two coats to cover this mess

The cream covered better than white paint; and although the semi-gloss was a bit thinner than a flat paint, it is easier to keep clean.  That saves a lot of time over re-painting an entire unit.  Almost all of my units are now the semi-glass interactive cream paint; I only have a few long-time renters in a color and sheen other than that.  Touching up a painted apartment is fast, and turnovers are easy.


Now, when a renter wants to re-paint a different color, I have a dilemma.  If they paint a different color, they need to repaint it back to cream before they leave.  If not, I am stuck with their color, and at some point I need to repaint that color, or paint with cream.  I need to have another color of paint in my closet, or take a longer time turning the apartment repainting whatever is not painted in my standard color.

Renter Painting
Nice cutting in…

If the renter was a sloppy painter, I may have to replace carpet, or repaint the ceiling where they hit it with a roller.  I may even have to re-paint the baseboard and door trim, or even the doors themselves, if the renter was extremely poor painter.  That makes a one-day apartment turn near impossible.

I have had renters paint my rentals before.  One used a deep red to paint some walls.  One painted a knotty pine wood wall white; they painted over the wood and did a horrible job.

Renter paint
nice color, nice paint job…

I have never seen a renter that was a great painter; and despite whatever they say, when it is time to move, they are trying to move out, not re-paint your place.  You are lucky if they clean it, let alone re-paint it.  They are there for a few years, maybe only one.  Does it really need to be painted for that one year?



Renter Paint
The edges are not supposed to be painted…

So, I explain what repainting means to my ‘system’.  I say I really do not want anything painted.  The colors are neutral, and match most anything.  Use a picture on the wall to jazz things up.  If you really want to paint, I need to be sure you paint it back to my color.  I need to make sure you do it in a neat and professional workmanship manner.  I need you to paint it to your color, and paint it back, before you leave.  And if you do not, I need a larger deposit to hire a painter to do it.  The painter might have to fix the mess they made.  If they want to put up an extra $1,000 deposit, they can paint.  So far, no one has wanted to paint that bad.

Pink, green, electric blue, fuchsia

Here is another example of bad renter colors, click the picture to get the larger version for more detail.  Pink, green, electric blue, fuchsia.  All great tenant colors but a nightmare to repaint.  And no one in their right mind wants to live there with these colors.

If you have to paint an apartment to get it rented with these colors, tack on a extra two months of vacancy.  You cant even show it with these colors.  Remember, great renters look  6-8 week out.

Renter Painting Advantages:

  • Possible faster tenant decision to rent your apartment
  • Longer Tenancy (maybe…)

Renter Painting Disadvantages:

  • Another color to keep in stock, or repaint over
  • The renter could be a sloppy painter, and ruin carpet and trim
  • Slower apartment turn if you have to re-paint back to your stock color

Want to know how to paint properly?  Read this post.

What is your policy for having tenants’ paint?  If you are a renter, have you ever painted an apartment and what was the landlord’s policy?  Did you re-paint when you left?


38 Replies to “Should you allow a renter to paint?”

  1. Since we only have one rental, we let tenants paint it. Only one has asked. We hire a painter because if we did it ourselves,it wouldn’t be done as quickly. That being said, we’ve never had a tenant follow through on their painting request, so we don’t have any positive or negative experiences.

  2. My wife and I have 34 units. With the exception of our one rental house, our rule is not to allow renters to paint. With the rental house, we do allow the tenants to paint but I approve the colors. We have found that letting the tenants paint the house gives them more of a sense that it is their home and not a rental. They in turn seem to take better care of the house and end up renting for a longer period of time.

    1. Thank you for the comment!

      It can work, and if it keeps a renter longer, it may be worth it. Most quality apartment dwellers want to live there for 2 years tops, and move on. They buy a home, or get transferred.

  3. Good topic. I have one SFH in particular that had a blue bedroom in the back (3rd bedroom). The entire room was blue walls and ceilings (well baseboards were still white). Not neon blue or pastel – somewhere in between.

    I probably should have repainted it initially, but the paint job was good – so I matched a quart of it. Without exception, every tenant has asked if they can repaint that room. Here is my policy.. I don’t trust tenants to paint either and I have hardwood floors in this house. However, given the room is blue…I tell them other people like it (lie), but if they want to paint it , then they can not get paint on the floor or make any mess, and I MUST approve of the color.

    I then follow-up with I just don’t want any hot pinks or anything….

    So far No one has painted that room and its still blue.

    For all my other properties, I use your initial plan. Semi-gloss, off the shelf-white, Behr paint from the Depot. Walls, trim and ceilings.

    1. I have seen neon green, electric blue, fire engine red, dark brown. Colors that should be illegal to sell, seem to be the colors that tenants want. I can do an apartment turn amazingly fast, assuming the tenants do their part. Vacancy is the number one expense that you have control of as a landlord. Taking too much time to turn an apartment will kill your bottom line.

  4. Good topic! We are not particularly big on letting renters paint, mainly for the reasons that you listed above. We use a cream colored paint through all of our rentals. It looks good, covers well, and isn’t the stark white that gets to be so boring. We have allowed our renters to paint the garage door and the trim work. They gave us the bill for the paint and we paid for it. Inside painting though, not so much.

  5. yes,they can paint but must sigh a statement they will repaint in orig color with my paint.
    A 500.00 paint deposit is given to me & will be returned only after completing the written
    terms of the agreement I will supply the orig paint..they will provide brush, roller, etc.
    floors will be checked prior to painting…only 1 person in 14 yrs…2 people painted without
    permission…took their sec. dep..period!

      1. Sorry but I don’t agree. Especially when you’re paying 3k+ for an apartment you don’t want to feel like you live in a hospital white dorm room. No amount of photos fixes that, especially with high ceilings.

        1. Thank you for the comment!

          If you want to pay $3000 a month for my places, I will gladly let you paint!

          I would guess the higher end apartments either do not let you paint, or have it painted for you? Or they know that you have plenty of assets to go after, including a large deposit, so they know their risk is minimal. They hire a contractor to fix your mess, if there is one, and bill you for it.

          Letting a tenant paint an apartment is generally a bad plan for most landlords.

      1. Thanks for reading!

        I used to live in MA, I know they can be tough. You can charge for damages, and I would hope that if a renter damaged a place with bad paint, it could be changed as a damage item.

  6. We have 2 colors in our units and my favorite is called “cream in my coffee”. A nice beige that is easy to make look more masculine or more feminine. It also hides most low-grade dirt pretty well.

    Mr PoP made the mistake of letting one set of renters paint once and it’ll never happen again – neon orange and a horrible job of it, too! Luckily we had plenty of time between move-in of the next renters since they were paying a month ahead of when they wanted to move in. Otherwise there would have been no way to get it turned around and re-rented quickly.

  7. as a renter, if I could not paint I would not move in. These days to make a place look like your own using any kind of neutral, other than wood , make the place look like a rental and not homie. the rise of warm dark colors on one wall or accents on cabinets can bring together my furniture and decorating scheme. well I am a good painter. in fact I have been hired to paint. that is a stereotype. I can see why the landlord above only has tenants for a year or two at the most I have been in my place for over 7 years.

    1. Thank you for the comment!

      All my places are painted a cream color. It’s a nice neutral. And when a renter leaves, I can turn the apartment without an entire re-paint. Painting will not keep a renter, but if you have to repaint between every renter, every year, you would go broke fast.

  8. the more I thought about this the more angry I became.landlord that kept my security deposit for paintingwith original colors? Well I would make you have to evict me and cost you money in the end. and landlords wonder why tenants Dont stay or care for their property. I advise renters too dont ask dont tell and then return it to the original color if they want their security back. And hire a professional if need be.I guess there are a lot of trashy renters I feel that I improve places where I live unfortunately the trailer I live in now needs many many improvements , repairs, mold etc. it’s a 1955. My landlord is not willing to do that but I cannot find another rental with such a great price…A dilemma.I just watched my landlord cut off your nose to spite her face by a victim a tenant that has improved the property next door so much but then got into a little tiff over the replacement washer that had been broken since she moved in 8 months ago. renters need more rights because in that case and I’ve seen in many others things that the landlord was supposed to provide don’t come through and a renter has no choice but to move

    1. You sound like a good renter.

      If you wanted to paint with my colors, I would have bought the paint for you. That is assuming I knew you could paint without ruining carpet and painting the trim work. If I cannot use my same buckets of paint after a move-out, and touch up without anyone noticing, it is a different color and needs to be put back.

      You are living for a decent price, because of the condition. No one wanted to pay more. Asking for improvements will only increase your cost.

      Renters have plenty of rights, and good renters suffer due to the extra expenses of a bad tenant. Just as shoplifters cause higher prices for all, good tenants pay for all the bad renters too.

  9. Ridiculous. Landlords should repaint in between tenants regardless. No one wants to move into a new place with scuffs on the walls, visible nail holes, etc., which will happen from one renter to the next. You could be understanding that even if you like the wall color, even if it’s a neutral, it might not match someones whole decor/furniture/etc. You’re providing people a home. I wish some landlords would take that to heart a little bit more.

    1. Thank you for the comment!

      If a landlord was required to paint between each tenant, it would add $50 to $100 a month to the rent. If you want to have fresh paint between each turnover, I suggest that you stick to the more expensive apartments.

      With semi-gloss paint, the walls are washable. I fully expect the tenants to remove the dirt they brought in, and that includes the dirt on the walls.

      I do touch up the paint, and fill in the visible nail holes.

      I am OK with a tenant that wants to paint, but it is going to cost them more to do it.

  10. As someone who has rented apartments when I first started moving into my own places (around 3 years ago, when I turned 18) and have switched in to houses in the past almost 2 years because I like the feel of it better, I would NEVER move into a place where I couldn’t decorate it the way I wanted to. I’ve also NEVER ran into someone who charged (or deposited) ANYTHING, let alone into the thousands when I did want to paint. I left the walls a cream color in my very first apartment, then never again. It felt like a hospital and depressing (which I was in hospitals quit a bit as a child). I know a few repaint after tenants move out, and some just let the colors and tell the new potential renters that they can paint whatever they like if they don’t like the colors. I do NOT rent in “high class” complexes, I think the most I’ve ever paid for rent for a 3 bed 2 bath was 1200 a month; the lowest was my first place a 2 bed 1.5 bath 900 sq ft apartment for 765 a month and that was because at the time I was in a bad position and needed something quick.
    My house I just signed a rental agreement on about 3 weeks ago is on a 6 month renewal system, which means I can either move out after 6 months or stay another 6, ect.and it is the first place I can see myself staying for longer than a year at a time, I can see myself here for 2, maybe 3 years before I finally buy a house in this town [it is also near a military town so houses sometimes vacate very quickly when assignments change / deployments are made for the families living in the area so to get someone who doesn’t have any connection to that type of issue, and who wants to stay in this town for a foreseeable future is a great plus for the landlords here.] It’s a nice house in the area that I wanted, and *GASP* I can paint it however I please! I absolutely ADORE the house, it hit almost all my checkmarks and was as close to a perfect rental as I was going to get, but had they told me I couldn’t paint it, I would never have even CONSIDERED the house. When landlords treat their tenants well, give them the ability to create a “home” out of the rental property, they’re rewarded with both longer stays and referrals.
    Back in the town where I grew up there was a newly built lot of about 500 duplex units literally right across the street from a major college branch campus. “Overflow” incoming students would go to this campus for a year before being transferred to the main campus where the dorms were. The landlords that owned these duplexes were very friendly and personal with the students and would routinely have all their units already to be rented for the next round of students, simply through referrals because of how they treated the tenants, 2 – 3 months before the academic year ever ended. Some who chose to stay at this branch campus kept their same unit for all 4 years of their schooling, rather than move a mile away where they could have gotten larger houses for a small amount more.
    It’s all about how you connect with tenants. Renting is becoming more the norm and landlords are realizing that in this new trend happening, they need to allow the rentals to become a home for their tenants in order to stay in business. Judging by your screen-name, you are precisely the type that people are going to be avoiding in this new wave and new generation.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Unfortunately, there are many tenants that paint very sloppy. And many tenants who would NOT rent an apartment that was not freshly painted. And many more tenants that would not want to rent an apartment painted in all sort of colors, such as the ones I have posted a picture of in this post. So, to make a place rent ready, a landlord has to take a vacancy hit, and a painting hit, to get it rented. To maintain maximum profitability, these expenses MUST be avoided.

      Lucky for you, there are always less experienced landlords that either have not had a bad tenant, a bad paint job, or are willing to subsidize their tenants lifestyle. Paying to repaint it to a rent-able color would be an example of this. There are also many landlords that do not paint at all, and let the tenants paint if they want. The new tenant is left with the previous colors, no matter what colors they are. Many landlords are just desperate for a tenant they agree to anything, and then mistake deferred maintenance for profits.

      I prefer a neutral color. It might not please everyone, but it pleases 80%+. It keeps my turnover costs lower, and makes for a more profitable rental. I doubt that many of the ‘big box’ places let you paint. It is a standard clause in most leases, at least here in MN.

  11. So, here’s something from a tenant’s perspective.

    I totally get it, some people have terrible tastes. Some people are sloppy painters. However, there should be the option to paint if the tenant has signed a lease of a year or longer. White paint is ugly. As you pointed out, it catches dirt very easily. Not only that, but it’s hard to cover dings in the wall with white paint. Your apartments end up looking not so nice if you just stick with the easy route and go all white.

    The solution? Come up with a small book of approved colors that people can pick from that can be mixed at a local Sherman Williams, Home Depot or other paint store. Include possible trim colors to go with it, just as suggestions. Approve the colors that the tenant chooses so that you know what is being put in the unit and you know that the possibility of it appealing to someone else is high. If it doesn’t? Oh well, they can paint it what they want. Why do you have to repaint every time someone moves out?

    Some people cannot afford to purchase a house and, in my honest opinion, if you are going into the rental business, your first thought shouldn’t be “How much profit can I get from this?” but “How can I make rental living as hassle free as possible while remaining fair to myself?”. To those of us who have no choice but to get an apartment, “rental white” or “cream” is just plain depressing to look at. One place I rented from did accent walls and allowed you to pick from a list of approved colors (a lot of them were lovely and I had a hard time choosing just one!)

    1. Thank you for reading!

      I have seen some places use the accent wall strategy. I think as you get more expensive places, it makes more sense. My rents are a bit on the affordable side, so I am really at a disadvantage if I add another $200+ to my costs at every turnover.

      I do not paint between every turnover, unless it is real bad. Typically, all I have to do is touch up a few scrapes. With lower quality tenants, it requires new paint, and possibly new carpet. And refrigerator shelves. And lots of cleaning…

      While you need to be customer focused, it really is about the money. The better tenants can demand more, lower quality tenants have little to negotiate with.

      If there is not enough profit, there is no rental property. In the end, landlords that have the most horror stories are the ones that didn’t really learn and generally go out of business.

  12. My renters asked if they could paint before we signed a contract. I told them, sure, just as long as they repaint back to a standard off-white before they leave. They agreed. I also included a clause in the contract that stated the above. The paint is currently in good condition, mostly off-white and a few places where there is a medium gray. I didn’t repaint before they moved in. A couple of months have gone by now, and they said that they would like to start painting and that they would provide me with prices and run everything by me first. I assumed that they would be paying for this themselves. Are landlords usually expected to pay for tenant’s paint?

    1. Thank you for your comment!

      If a tenant wants to paint, and it is their option, it is their expense. If they were painting because you did not want to, and it needed paint, then the landlord would pay for the paint and the tenant supply the labor.

      Since your paint is in good condition, I would say the tenant pays for the paint and supplies the labor.

  13. I had two young women who wanted to paint the living room in a condo they shared. They had been in the place for a couple of years and weren’t any trouble. So I thought it was a reasonable request. Both claimed they had used a brush and roller before, and could easily do the job. All I had to do was supply the materials and they’d do the work for $100 reduction in rent.

    Sounded fair enough. So I went for it.

    Here’s what happened …

    They decided to have a painting party and invited friends to come over for pizza and beer to help them paint. It turned into a mess. Besides streaks and missed spots, there were globs of paint on the carpet, and footprints leading to the parking lot after one of them must have stepped in paint.

    Afterwards, I realized how bad of a mistake I had made. What if one of them had fallen off the ladder I supplied and couldn’t work for six months? Who do you think they’d look to for free rent for those six months? Or worse yet, what if they sued me?

    When they moved out, I had to replace the carpet, which their security deposit didn’t come close to covering. Needless to say, I never made that mistake again.

    George Lambert
    Author, What You Must Know BEFORE Becoming a Greedy Landlord. How to build a portfolio of investment properties for an income that lasts a lifetime.

    1. Great point. Far too many people have never painted in their lives, yet they are an expert. When someone paints with a roller pan, rather than out of a 5-gallon pail and using a roller screen, I know they are not a painter. When they use blue tape, rather than a decent masking tape, they are trouble.

    2. All fair points! My only gripe is the fact that even when the carpet was damaged you chose to replace it. I never did understand the carpet trend. It’s 2016, nobody wants ugly dirty carpets. There are so many landlords out there that are out of tune with not only design trends but also have questionable taste. Pinterest, HGTV, lots of magazines, use them for inspiration.

  14. Came across the topic because my roommate wants to paint our apartment to make it feel more “homely” or grown up? My roommate also doesn’t see the need to at least ask our landlord if we can and just do it. But to be honest, I have to be on the landlord’s side on this one. Not only do I not want to take the time to paint, but at the end of the day, my feeling is it’s an apartment/ rental, it’s temporary, if you have the desire to call something your own, wait till you buy a house. I think finding some paintings or little details would be much more creative and effective at showing one’s personality. My roommate wants to take our bare white walls, and turn them into bare brown walls, it’s just silly.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Great points. There is no need for a tenant to paint. It’s only a short time, put up pictures. The existing paint is not bad in my units, sort of a cream color. Not white.

  15. We’re renting a house with the intention of buying it within the next year or two. The landlord is happy to get rent checks until then. But she is very much stuck in the “this is a rental, so it needs to be all beige” mindset, even though we’re basically permanent tenants. She says “bring color in with decorations”, but there is no wall space to decorate. I’m not going to cover my counters in decor, that’s silly. At this point, I’m tempted to just paint it butter yellow without her permission and avoid letting her in the house. The way I see it, she can kick us out and repaint it herself, find new tenants. Or let us paint the 20 sqft of wall and if we (for some crazy reason) don’t buy the house, we’d paint it back before leaving.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Wouldn’t it make more sense to abide by the lease you signed when you moved in? Do you already have a option agreement to buy the home, and put up the down payment already? Or are paying a larger rent to add up to a future down payment?

      Renters always say they will repaint it back, but when they move, they only want to focus on their new place. Many do not even clean. Offer to put up another $1,500 deposit, see if that will work. You get it back if you buy, or paint the room back. That makes the most sense.

  16. Good topic. I have just been renting in a new apartment in London (UK) – which had matt white walls in each room. Very soon after moving in – I was hanging things up all over the place to make it feel like a home (pictures, photos, maps and a big mural covering my living room wall). Also, I improvised on curtains and put up some throws instead.

    All of this was done with nails – and I realised when preparing to leave that I needed to remedy this if I was to have a chance of getting my deposit back. Additionally, the white walls made it impossible to clean off general scuffs and marks – as you just leave a new patch. Same if you try and do a paint touch up – it just shows up what you did…..

    In the end, I got a quote from a decorator to fill in all the nail holes in each room, and do 1 coat of matt white paint on several of the effected walls (but not the whole flat)

    In some way, I was doing part of the landlords job (to repaint between tenancies) – but I was left in a limbo as I was not sure I would get my deposit back given the state of the walls. Probably I was spending some money now – instead of it being deducted from my deposit.

    I think tenancy agreements should be clearer to confirm if the landlord repaints after you leave – otherwise the tenant feels pressued to take action to restore the walls back to a decent state – when really its not just not possible to have clean white walls without painting them…….

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Here in the USA, a landlord will be responsible for painting between tenants. It should not be a 100% paint, just touch up the areas that are scuffed. I use a semi-gloss wall paint, so the tenant should be wiping the walls for any dirt and grease.

      If a landlord uses flat paint, I would guess they have a crew do quite a bit of painting.

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