It’s a familiar situation. You hire professional painters, get the whole interior a crisp, clean, incredible white, and some lucky tenants are swept off their feet just enough to bite. Surely it was the immaculate floor to ceiling coverage of that Sherwin Williams SW7028 that sold them. But then, about a month into their stay, you get a call.
It’s your tenants. They want to make some changes.
Should you let your renters paint?
Immediately horror story shades flash through your brain. Chartreuse flecks on that hardwood floor finish, a garrish stroke of aqua on that perfect crown molding. Those tenants. That paint. How could they?
But before you rattle off that crushing “better not” text response that takes your renters paint dreams and smashes them to mere paint chips, consider this. According to a study done by Google Insight on Home Improvement, only 39% of DIYers are “doing it themselves” to save money. Rather, 47% of home improvement projects are done because people take pleasure in doing them. This means your renters are not asking to paint because they feel like they need to, but because they want to. This may seem like an obvious statement; however, when it comes to tenant satisfaction and keeping renters long-term, it’s important to note the distinction. Leonard Baron, America’s Real Estate Professor and author of “Real Estate Ownership, Investment, and Due Diligence 101”, puts it this way,
“Every time your rental unit turns over, even if you have a new tenant ready to move in the next day, you will probably spend a month’s worth of rent fixing and repairing normal wear-and-tear items, not to mention countless hours completing the whole leasing process — advertising, taking phone calls, interviewing, showing the property, getting credit reports, drafting the leases, discussing the lease, move in day, etc. It’s a lot of work…So why not just try to keep your tenants as long as possible by treating them really well? And that starts by acting toward them the way you would like to be treated.”
So then, how do you say “yes” to letting your renters paint without the fear and worry of having your perfectly pristine walls become a poor man’s Jackson Pollock and the next big thing pulling pennies from your pocket? Three words. The lease agreement.
It’s your “get out of jail free” card, your safety net that’s a catch-all and answer for any question or cockamamie idea your reasonable to radical tenants may have. The almighty document agreed upon from day one that is the rulebook and testament for all things living and happening in your property. Script this card right and you’ll be playing it for every “Can we?”, “Will you?”, and “May I?” you encounter. This document is important for every reason, but especially when it comes to alterations of the space. Read on to learn just how to craft your lease so that you can be the good guy and let the renters paint their space without losing your mind.
**This blog post was not written by a lawyer, and Innago does not officially endorse any legal advice. Always be sure to consult your state laws before implementing any changes to your lease agreement!
1.) Specify what, in the space, you’ll let your renters paint.
Sometimes, renters can get ambitious with their painting. If you have special features in your unit (i.e. wood paneling, brick walls, crown molding), this could be at your very hefty expense. Clarify in the lease specifically what they are allowed to paint. Best recommendation for the safety and financial stability of all involved would be DRYWALL ONLY. As far as surfaces go, it requires the least prep and know-how and is the easiest mistake to reverse if, for some reason, things go awry.
2.) Lay down the law on type, not color, of paint.
Of course, upon reading this, our minds go straight to color; however, that’s probably the only thing you shouldn’t dictate. The whole fun of the project for your tenants will be picking out the perfect shade. Whether it complements the space appropriately or throws off the whole scheme really isn’t your concern. Repeat after me, “tenant satisfaction equals long term renters”. Rather than playing color creative director, you can save your precious walls and your space by setting some requirements for whatever shade they do choose.
- No flat finish: While the “matte” look is very popular among millennial renters, this is something that can be achieved without going the full monty. A true flat finish often comes off as chalky and is super difficult to maintain, an issue for you come turnover time. Require, at minimum on the spectrum, an eggshell finish. This is the next step up from flat, with just a hint of shine but miles better when it comes to ease of cleaning.
- Must use separate primer: “To prime or not to prime” is a question asked by anyone who picks up that ambitious brush. But the truth is, the answer is varied by many factors that certainly differ from space to space. Condition of the walls, base color vs. new shade, and finish of final product all play a role in making that right decision. If you are writing a lease to rent by for all properties, you can’t afford to consider these each time. Bottom line, you can’t go wrong with priming. It’s an extra step for your tenant, but will save you both time and money in the end.
- BONUS SUGGESTION: It would be a little much to demand that renters paint using a specific brand; however, one would imagine that the occasional DIY-er would be open to suggestions. According to a consumer survey conducted in 2015, at 40%, Sherwin Williams was the paint brand used most by construction firms. The next competitor was Benjamin Moore, quite a bit behind at 11.5%. With a full display at most home improvement retailers in addition to standalone stores, it’s a good choice for those needing some person-to-person guidance and support.
3.) Prep for success with the right tools for the job.
It may seem a bit much for a lease to go into such detail on what tools to use in a project, that, at the time of signing, would still be hypothetical. However, nothing can make a home improvement undertaking go south faster than the weekend warriors not being prepared. More than likely, your tenants will have some idea of what they’re doing. But, if for some reason they don’t, this short list serves as a good yellow light and indication that they need to hop on Google and learn more about the Do’s and Don’ts of the journey on which they intend to embark.
- Drop Cloth: Save your floors. Even the steadiest hand with a brush will spray flecks from a roller and onto your hardwood if given the opportunity.
- Painter’s Tape: Is not the same as masking tape. There is a reason why it exists as its own, separate blue entity. Painter’s tape is pressure-sensitive and made of a thin and easy-to-tear paper. It’s also designed to release easily from the surface it has adhered to. If they knew the alternative, they would thank you.
- Rollers and Extension Poles: This seems like an obvious one and is more for their sake than your sanity. Having an extension pole can cut your painting time in half, not to mention save your poor tenant’s back and body from the dreaded hunch and reach.
4.) Clearly define the standard and let them know what happens if something goes wrong.
Again, this might sound extensive for a project no one signed up for. But, if down the road, you find yourself in the unfortunate predicament of playing critic to a work that’s decidedly less than art, you’ll be happy to have some predetermined criteria to return to. Think about what your standard is and share that with the tenant. In addition, share what the consequence would be if that standard weren’t met. Could be as simple as retaining a set amount of money from the security deposit, or as extensive as requiring the tenant to contract professional painters themselves at the end of their stay. On the flip side, technically, according to the Ohio Revised Code under Chapter 5321.04 Landlord Obligations, Ohio landlords are not required by law to paint between tenants. The same goes for many other states. So, on the off chance your renters paint a spectacular addition to the unit’s decor, you could actually keep the walls as is. Of course, this is all up to your expert discretion. Either way, having a renter that is fully informed of the expectation and potential cost in consequence will eliminate any ambiguity and avoid some uncomfortable conversations in the future.
Additional Reading: Communicate with Tenants for Pain-Free Management
5.) Check it out!
This is a bonus round, but definitely something that shouldn’t soon be forgotten. It does nothing by the way of protecting your space and ensuring that your renters won’t paint another day; however, taking a tour and checking out the “after” of your tenants hard work will definitely forge even the smallest bond and boost that warm, fuzzy feeling your renters have of the space and their renting experience. Additionally, you get to go incognito and check out the final result, making sure it’s not disastrous under the guise of being truly impressed. A win for both parties.
Additional Reading: How Being a Silent Landlord Can Cause Problems
To sum it up, as long as you get it down in writing before you let your renters paint, you and your space will be protected. Whether your tenants perfectly execute a pale blush satin on drywall or totally butcher wood paneling with a crimson flat, your lease is signed and has you covered from day one. At the end of the lease, it’s easier to be the good guy if all terms and conditions are black and white. Because when it comes to paint by renters, there should be no gray area.
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