Whether you're moving to a new place or just want to spruce up your own place, you may be considering adding a fresh coat of paint to your rental.
In fact, we field paint-related questions all the time—if renters have to do it, or the landlord does, and what the ramifications are if nobody takes care of it. So to all of the paint-befuddled, here goes:
- If you paint a wall in your rental any color other than white, you'll have to repaint before you move out, or the landlord can withhold the security deposit. (City code also mentions "wallpaper or other acceptable wall covering" as viable options but in NYC rentals, we've only ever seen paint.)
- The landlord in a multiple-dwelling building (in other words, a place with three or more apartments) is required to paint or otherwise update your wall coverings at least once every three years, though this often goes unenforced, and isn't a strict requirement if both you and your landlord agree to postpone the paint job.
- If the walls become somehow "unsanitary" while you live there, you may be required to repaint yourself, unless you can prove to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development that the damage wasn't caused by you (or your roommates or guests), but by neglect on the landlord's part.
- In common spaces like hallways, lobbies, etc., the landlord is also obligated to paint or wallpaper the walls, but only "whenever necessary in the judgment" of the Housing department, not every three years.
Seems simple enough, but often, these rules don't account for the entire story. With help from Sam Himmelstein, a landlord-tenant lawyer, (FYI: a Brick Underground sponsor) we answered some reader questions on some of the more distinctive painting issues out there.
MY LANDLORD HASN'T PAINTED IN YEARS. SHOULD MY RENT GO DOWN?
"I moved into my rent-stabilized apartment in September 1993. In that time, my landlord has painted my apartment twice, but refused to paint the outside of my door. I'm approaching the 21st anniversary of my move-in date, and therefore, I should be approaching my seventh paint job. Since it's been much less than that, am I entitled to any rental rebate, rollback, etc.?"
While paint jobs every three years are, indeed, a required service for your rent-stabilized apartment, you're not likely to see any compensation other than a new paint job or, at most, a temporary reduction in your rent.
If you're currently overdue, you can file a complaint with the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, and if your landlord still doesn't paint after that, your rent could go back to the level from your previous lease, and stay frozen at that price until you get the paint job you've been waiting for.
But note that financial restitution for services your landlord failed to provide "are only retroactive to the day you filed your complaint, " Himmelstein explains. "You can't get a rollback for any time prior to the date that you file. That, and the city's six-year statute of limitations for rent rollbacks mean that even if you do get a reduction, don't expect rent to plummet to what you paid back in 1993.
Similarly, you may get a break on rent if the paint is chipping, peeling, or otherwise in so much disrepair that it violates the warrant of habitability, as opposed to just being an aesthetic issue. But that's not necessarily the most practical route to go.
"If you came to me, I'd say not to seek compensation, " says Himmelstein. "It would be a very small amount, and you'd have to show that the paint job reduced the value of the apartment or posed a serious health or safety issue, " which is rarely the case.
As for that front door, according to the same city code that requires your once-every-three-years paint job, "public areas" of a building are up to the landlord's discretion, so you may be fighting a losing battle on that one.