How to Paint a Rental Property

Paint a Rental PropertyOne of the ways I am able to turn an apartment so fast, is the way I have my painting method set up.  I know how to paint a rental property, and paint it efficiently and fast.   When I first started with my rental properties, I hated painting.  I hired a guy to paint for $20 an hour, and it would take him a week to paint.  I now paint an entire apartment, in about 16 hours, including the trim.  Often even less.

If you are afraid of painting, or just do not like it, fear not.  It is not that hard.  Here are some tips for landlords, and even home owners, to help make the job easier.

Here is how I am able to do it quickly and efficiently.

You do not have to Paint a Rental Property Between Tenants

There is no law that says you have to paint between tenants.  That is an ‘old wives’ tale.  If you had to paint a rental property at every turn, you should add another $100 per month to the rent for a year lease.  I would gladly paint one of my rentals for $1,200, but not for much less.

Use a semi-gloss paint.  For the most part, it will wipe clean.  If you can wipe the dirt off the walls, it saves the cost and labor of paint.  Never use a flat paint.  You are almost guaranteed to need a full paint job if you do that.   Especially if there are pets or kids living in the property.

Never Let  a Renter Paint for You

Some renters my very well know how to paint.  Most do not.  You are better off painting yourself, or hiring a professional to paint, than having to re-do all the damage that may be done if you have to recover from a bad paint job.

Here are some examples of bad renter painting.

Always Carry a Wet Rag with You

A damp rag is a painter’s best friend.  When I am touching up, most of the spots can be wiped clean.  When I am painting, and I have a drip (or two), I can wipe it up right away, while I am there looking at it.  If I have to go back to the sink to get it, I waste time.  And the paint dries.  Or I forget where the paint dropped.  If I step in the spot, I track the paint all over.  Carry a wet wash cloth sized rag with you.  Put in in the hammer loop of your painters pants so you have it with you at all times.  Sure, it will get your pants just a bit wet, but you need to be efficient.

Paint a Rental PropertyDo Not use White Paint

Forget about white walls.  That is a product of the 60s and 70s.  If you have to paint a rental property, any color other than white will hide the underlying dirt and other underlying colors much better.

My color is a color called “Interactive Cream”, which is a Sherwin Williams color.  I picked it by accident, but it works great.  I purchased a rental in 2010 that was using that color, so not it’s ‘mine’.  It’s not too dark to make a room look small, and dark enough to cover any underlying blemishes in the base paint.

Any extra tint in the base paint will help you cover in one coat.

Use One Color for all Walls, in all your Rentals

If you are even thinking about using some sort of color strip in the center of a wall, forget about being a landlord.  I would even go so far as to say if you are thinking about a “accent wall”, forget about it.  You want fast apartment turns, and your accent color may not be the best color for the next tenant.

You want to be able to show up and be ready to paint.  Going off to match a paint color at a paint store before you start takes time.

All my walls are the same color, in all my apartments.  Stick to that and you will be better off.  I know what color I need when I show up.  I know it will match.  I have plenty on hand, as I buy in 5-gallon pail.  I know I can get plenty more of it when I need it.  I never have to see a property to know what color I need.

Use Masking Tape to Protect Areas

I use Sherwin Williams masking tape.  It’s fairly cheap, with my account pricing, and works great.  It’s sticky enough so that it doesn’t start to loosen.

Stay Away from Blue (or Green) Tape

I know the blue tape has a 30 day “safe removal period” or some other number that makes people feel good.  If it takes you longer than 30-days to paint, that’s too long.  When you are a landlord, you need to be done in two days, tops.  And you need to save money.  Do not pay $5 and $6+ a roll for some special tape to paint a rental property.

Remove the masking tape as soon as the paint is starting to get a bit tacky.  When you remove the tape, you should get some wet paint on your hands.  That way, the tape does not pull the paint off the walls.  If you have ever had a perfect paint job ruined by pulling the tape off, you will understand the importance of this step.  So, about 30 minutes after you paint a wall, take the tape off the baseboard.

You should only need to mask off baseboards and other horizontal areas.  There is no need to mask off a ceiling or door frame.  You will be using a roller, and cutting in the ceiling line with a brush, just do not hit the ceiling with the roller.  Learn how high you go to the ceiling with the roller and do not touch it.  The same with window and door frames.

Skip any tape dispensers.  Just use a roll of tape, and apply it while you pull the roll along where you need to tape.  Cut it with a putty knife and use the same knife to make sure the tape is stuck to the area you are putting it on.  You do not want the paint to run under the tape.

Cut in the side of doorways and windows with a quality brush.  It will be easy to stay away from the windows if you are using the roller with vertical motions.

Use Quality Roller Covers and Brushes

You need a device that holds as much paint as you can get.  Every time you go back to the paint bucket or can, you are wasting time.  Dip a 3” thick brush in paint, rather than a 2” skinny one, and you have about two times as much paint on each dip.  That makes for a faster paint job.

Paint a Rental PropertyI use a Purdy paint brush.  I have use the same brush on literally hundreds of jobs.  Some large, some small.  I will use the same brush with 2-3 different colors (walls, ceilings, trim) sometimes.  Each time I clean it up and it is as good as new on the next job.



IPaint a Rental Property use a sheepskin roller cover.  I have used all the fancy other roller covers.  They are all disposable, no matter what they say.  Once you use them and clean up, they are permanently disfigured.

A sheepskin roller cover can be reused many times.  They clean up like a dream, maybe because of the oil in the wool. I am not sure.  The sheepskin holds more paint, and gives a better finish.  Less trips to the paint bucket means more efficient and faster painting.

Paint a Rental PropertyUse a Painting Pole Extension

You do not want to be bending over to fill your roller cover with paint.  Or you can eliminate standing on a step stool to reach the ceiling.  If you use a 2’-3’ adjustable extension pole, it will save wear and tear on your back.  Each movement costs effort, minimize it so that you can paint without too many breaks.


Paint a Rental PropertyWhile you are at it, make sure you use an aluminum step stool when you are cutting in.  The aluminum will be much lighter to lug around, and you can save your strength to keep painting.

Time is money.  Taking extra breaks leads to an extra day of painting and maybe a lost month of rent.


12” and 18” rollers

I have used them.  Stay away from them.  They do not fit in a 5-gallon paint bucket, and take more strength to use.  There are not as many supplies available for them.  There is a reason why most professional painters use a 9” roller.


Paint a Rental PropertyPaint out of a Bucket, Not a Roller Pan

Have you ever seen a professional painter use a roller pan?  If you have, they were not a professional painter.  Use a 5-gallon pail, and a painting screen.  I use a 9” roller, which is the most common size.  It fits in a 5-gallon pail.  If it was better to use a 12” roller, that size would be the most common.

By using a 5-gallon pail to hold your paint, rather than a roller pan, you do not have to fill the “transport” paint container as much.  Put 2-3 gallons in the bucket and paint for an hour.  Save the time filling the roller pan, and you save a lot of time.

A bucket is also less prone for mishaps.  A roller pan may hold ½ gallon tops.  It can be dropped or tipped to easily, then you have a mess to clean up.  The bucket has a handle, the pan does not.

Stick to what a professional painter uses.  You will be better off.

Paint a Rental PropertySpraying Ceilings

If you are going to remove the flooring, by all means, spray the ceilings.  Even if they do not exactly need it.  There will be no easier time to paint the ceilings than when you can spray.  And if the woodwork is the same color, spray that too.

Use a Quality Drop Cloth

Use a long, but narrow, quality drop cloth – made from cloth not plastic.  Slide it along as you paint the wall.  Often, you will be spending as much time moving the painting cloth as you do painting.  My cloth is 5’ x 15’.   It takes about 5 minutes to cover the 15’ and it’s time to move the cloth again.  Do not use a plastic cloth, they always get twisted and torn.  And they catch on your feet when you walk on them.  And the paint doesn’t dry on them as fast, so an hour later you are still tracking paint on the bottom of your shoe.

Cleaning Painting Equipment

When I start to clean, here is what I do.

I fill up my empty paint cup with warm water to keep my brush from drying out, and to help with the cleaning process.

Fill up an empty 5-gallon pail with warm water, about half full.  I drop my sheepskin roller cover in it.

I then clean the rollers (not the cover) and any other utensils that I used.  Maybe the painting screen or other equipment.  A roller and a brush is 95% of the equipment that I use, so there isn’t much.

I go back and clean the brush with warm water.  I use a stainless steel wire brush, to clean the bristles like brand new.  Any paint left on the brush will ruin it very fast.  Even when you think it is clean, it is often not.  Shake it a bit in a paint cup filled with water to make sure it is clean.

I find it takes up to 2-3 minutes to clean a brush good.

I take my roller cover and shake it in the bucket a bit.  It has been soaking for at least 5 minutes.

Avoid Painting Gimmicks

Watching commercials on TV, you see all sort of painting gimmicks.  Things like “cutter inner” for ceilings, some paint poles, cheap paint sprayers, etc.  If they are that efficient, and a professional painter doesn’t use them, you have to wonder why.  They are not worth it.

The painters tape dispensers, junk.

Painting pads hold very little paint.  You need a roller pan to use them.  Blue tape costs too much, and you do not need it.  A roller pan is one more thing to clean, and tip.

I do like to use a paint spout, as it makes it easier to put paint than snapping off the lid on a bucket.  And a paint brush cup, with a magnet makes it easier to paint than using a 1-gallon can.

Have you already used any of the painting tips above?  What are your favorite painting techniques?



17 Replies to “How to Paint a Rental Property”

  1. I am very tempted to send this post over to my property manager since we’re just about to paint one of my rentals this week. These are extremely practical tips!

    Haha, I’ve definitely used those roller pan to paint rooms in our own home and thought, there’s got to be a better way. They were flimsy, needed to be refilled constantly, and prone to spilling. Next time, I’m gonna get a paint bucket 🙂

    1. Thank you for reading!

      It saves a BUNCH of time. I always have a surplus of 5-gallon pails. Every 5-gallons of paint I paint, I get a new bucket… I painted with a professional painter for a day, and I learned a lot.

  2. I have not yet had to do any paint work but this is a great list of tips and I’ll sure come back to this post next time I need to do paint work!
    You have so much experience, have you thought about starting a rental management company?

    1. Thank you for reading!

      I have thought about managing property for others, and even did at one time for a friend, but I am trying to get out of work, not get more… It is a great option if I ever needed extra money. It’s hard to leave a FT gig that makes great money in search of a retirement lifestyle.

  3. All good ideas. One more thought: For the woodwork — doors, casings, baseboards — I probably go overboard by using oil-based paint that matches the walls. Oil-based paint is harder to work with and messier to clean up, which is why many people shy away from it.

    But it holds up very well. And I have found that after a tenant has moved out and I have to repaint walls due to normal wear and tear, wood that I had painted with oil-based paint generally only needs a quick cleaning with soap and water.

    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.

  4. These are great tips. For the exterior, I powerwash, prep, & spray with a helper holding a shield around windows. I use an airless sprayer from Harbor Freight ($160) and a 24″ extension with swivel tip. The airless sprayer feeds directly from the 5 gallon pail, & you can put everything on a small wagon to save your back. With this setup I can prep and spray ranch homes in 2 days without a ladder. 2 story and taller take a bit longer.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      An airless sprayer is worth it’s weight in gold, for the right applications. I have a 3/4 HP Campbell Hausfeld sprayer. I have a good flexible hose and a quality gun and tip(s). The prep takes longer, but the painting goes a lot faster.

  5. This made me laugh out loud: “If you are even thinking about using some sort of color strip in the center of a wall, forget about being a landlord.” Haha! Not just “forget about painting a color strip,” but find a new profession. Too funny.

    I love all of these tips, and I had no idea that a good brush and roller cover really made that much of a difference. That partially explains why, in all my years of painting, I’ve never had a good ceiling line. Maybe I’ll have to give it another try.

    Totally agree with using one color for all the rentals. I ended up choosing a light grey for the interior wall colors with white trim, and on the outside of the building, I used the same light grey with charcoal trim. It’s funny because the difference in the trim makes it look like slightly different colors. The sheen is different outside and inside, but at least I won’t forget what the color is called when I need to go pick up more of it!

    1. Thank you for reading!

      For a renter, their home is one color. They only live in one home. They may, or may not know the colors of the other places you own, but it doesn’t matter. For a landlord, it is MUCH easier and more profitable.

  6. As you mentioned in some of your other replys, and as I have found out, prep often takes longer than painting. I too prefer the sprayer and best yet it was my Dads, so I didn’t have to pay for it. If I ever get into rental real estate then I may purchase my own, but his was fine for my basement. Thanks for the great site. I need to read here more often.

    1. Thank you for reading!

      Once the prep is done, spraying paint goes fast. And no ceiling popcorn falling off, etc. Even with a roller, a good prep job goes a long way to a perfect paint job.

  7. Just found your blog yesterday, so the response is rather late. I was using Sherwin Williams for a while (really like their Property Solution paint – reasonable price and great coverage in a single coat). I recently switched to PPG(Glidden/Dulux) due to much better pricing. Still figuring out what what is good though. Glidden Ultra sucks (two coats often isn’t enough), and so far Super Matt in the Glidden X-pert line is quite interesting. Incredibly thick. So thick I’m going to try thinning or adding floetrol the next time I use it because brush and roller marks show too much.

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