Do Landlords Have To Repaint Walls?

Whether you are at the beginning of your leasing experience, or just about to move out and are wondering if you are going to get your security deposit back, there is the constant question about whether or not the landlord is going to have to repaint the walls. 

Or perhaps, you are moving in and don’t think the walls are in that good of condition, to begin with. Doesn’t the owner have to repaint every once and a while?

Yes, landlords must repaint walls every 5-7 years at a minimum.  While there is no legal requirement in most states for the landlord to do this, it is still considered ‘Best-Practice’ to do so between each renter or every 5-7 years. 

Whenever I rent out a new apartment at my complex, I always get the question asked of “when was the last time I painted the apartment?”.  Unless there was some unusual circumstance and the previous tenant didn’t live there for very long or was REALLY low impact, I make it a policy to repaint the entire apartment between tenants.  

This makes the apartment smell fresh, new, and clean and makes the entire unit ready to rent.  Many applicants that I get are impressed once they see inside the apartment. Often times, the renters site other apartment complexes that they are considering or talk about the last places they lived in and would comment that they didn’t think the landlord had painted in over a decade.  

Some landlords see the cost of painting as an unnecessary expense and something that is not going to affect the “Warranty of Habitability”, so they only repaint their units when it gets REALLY BAD.   

The rule of thumb and a “best-practice” for landlords is to repaint the unit every 5-7 years.  Paint CAN last longer than that if you are not damaging up the walls or smoking in the apartment the whole time, but generally, they need to be repainted at least this often. 

I choose to repaint all of my units every time a tenant moves out simply to make the apartment look and feel as new as possible when the next tenant moves in.  It makes the new tenants feel good and shows them that the landlord actually cares about the state and condition their apartments are in. 

If you are living in an apartment that hasn’t been painted this century or considering one that looks like that, you may want to consider looking elsewhere to stay.  If the landlord is this stringy on this, more than likely, there is going to be more than one issue you have with the unit before it is all said and done.   

ADDITIONALLY, many landlords are FORCED to repaint the apartment when a tenant moves out to make it ready for the next person to move in.  But, does that mean that you have to pay for it? Will this money come out of your security deposit?

Can My Landlord Charge Me For Painting?

There are two times when I charge my tenants for painting. 

When the tenant damages the walls to the extent where repairs, and then repainting has to happen, and also when they have smoked in the apartment and the walls smell bad. 

Because paint only has an expected life span of about 5-7 years, it is assumed that the landlord is going to have to repaint the apartment in the normal course of maintaining his property.  THUS, the cost of NORMAL PAINTING cannot be taken out of the security deposit.  

On a side note: As part of “Move-In Costs”, there is a provision that some landlords charge “Move-In Fees”.  These are fees they can charge you at the beginning of your stay to cover the cost of something like repainting the apartment.  But they have to be upfront about this, the cost of the Move-In Fees, and what they are used for.

They can’t just take the money out of your Security Deposit at the end of your stay simply because they know they need to repaint the unit. 

I charge my tenants for paint when my manager comes and tells me that they need to do patchwork on the walls and ceilings because of holes or straight up damage to the property.  If this happens, then the new paint isn’t going to match the old paint or the age and is going to end up looking like a beige dalmatian.

Unless the damage is in the corner of a back room, or in a closet or something and won’t be seen, we are forced to repaint, and thus I will charge the tenant for this cost out of their security deposit.  

The other time I charge the tenant to paint is when there is smoke or other odor damage to the walls.  Smoke permeates the walls of any building and collects in the little pores and holes of the wall, making it smell for years after the last person smoked in the apartment. 

Another thing that can happen is that if the tenant was particularly messy or unclean, there can be mold or other things that have sunk into the wall. In this case as well as part of the cleaning efforts, I am going to take the cost of making the unit whole again out of their deposit. 

In both of these situations, the tenant will have left the place in such a condition that they wouldn’t be getting their deposit back anyways.  If there are just some little things like some nail holes or scuff marks, I never charge them to repaint the whole apartment.  It’s only when there are basketball-sized holes in the walls, or the walls are nicotine yellow that I am forced to do this.  

This SHOULD be the case for any landlord.  If you think that your walls shouldn’t need repainting at the end of your lease, compare it with the pictures of what the walls looked like when you moved in, and try and determine if what the landlord is saying falls into the category of Normal Wear and Tear or not. 

Are Marks On The Walls Normal Wear and Tear?

Usually, small marks that don’t damage the drywall or plaster are considered “Normal Wear and Tear”.  These are things that are simply expected to happen during the normal course of living in and using, the apartment. 

However, if there are marks ALL OVER the walls, or maybe other paint or even a bunch of crayon coloring on the wall, don’t be surprised if your landlord is going to take money out of your security deposit to fix it.  Remember, it has to look as close as possible to what the walls looked like when you moved in. 

While there is no set definition of what normal wear and tear marks actually are, it is usually a common-sense thing for both the renter and the landlord.  This is ALSO, why it is a good idea to take a couple of dozen good pictures of your apartment when you move in, so if there is any discrepancy when you move out, you have the physical photos to back you up. 

Can I Paint My Apartment Myself?

You can paint your apartment yourself if your landlord gives you permission to make those changes.  Sometimes, people know they are going to be staying in their apartment for a considerable amount of time and want to make it feel as much like home as they can.  So, they decide to paint and decorate.   

This is fine as long as the landlord says it’s alright to do.  Otherwise, they may have you paint it back the original color it was when you moved in before you leave the apartment. 

If your landlord says you can’t paint your apartment though, don’t be surprised.  If you are painting it a different color than the pastel, they no doubt have it as it is going to be harder for them to rent it back out to someone else at the end. 

Many times, the landlord will either ask the person to paint it back to the original color or charge them to do so. So, keep this in mind when you are thinking about painting your apartment a different color. 

Another reason why tenants would want to paint their own apartment is so that they won’t be charged for it when they move out.  They can see that the walls aren’t in the greatest shape, or maybe they have a smell to them.

If you think you can have some people come over and help paint your apartment cheaper than what your landlord is going to charge you for it, then it would make sense to do it yourself, especially if you have the time and knowledge to do it. 

If you are thinking about painting your apartment yourself, I have written an entire article about Painting Your Apartment, check it out! 

Your landlord should repaint the walls in any of their units every 5-7 years, or as needed when tenants move out.  This is Best-Practice for landlords and something that is considered needed to be done during the normal course of business. 

If the tenant does damage to the walls, such as holes in the walls, or if they smoked in the apartment, then the landlord can take money out of their deposit to repaint the unit and make it whole again for the next renter. 

Otherwise, if they are wanting to just repaint the apartment in the normal course of things, they cannot use your security deposit to do so.

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John Boettcher

Co-Founder of Apartment School and a previous renter turned owner of many multi-family properties across the United States, with many years of experience in all aspects of the apartment, real estate, and investing world.

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