Painting and a tenant that smokes

27 Replies

I have an inherited tenant from a property I purchased from a tired landlord.

The tenant is great: pays on time, takes care of his own maintenance, also agreed to pay higher rents to match market prices, etc. 

He's a smoker though and the whole place reeks and has stains from his 20+ years living there.

I would like to keep him in the property for as long as possible. I want to refinance the house with a long-term lender and need a good appraisal. To get a higher appraisal amount, I would like to repaint the house in order to make the house cleaner.

Is there a solution that would fix the smoke/nicotine stained walls and keep it from being stained again? Or should I just paint over it with a cheaper paint for the appraisal and then get a more permanent solution when he moves out?

What kind of paint would solve the smoke and nicotine smell? I've heard of a stain-blocking latex paint. Can anyone speak to this? 

Many thanks!

@Kenneth Sok - I really doubt that a fresh coat of paint is going to do a lot to increase the appraisal. Additionally, you will need to scrub the walls down with TSP and primer before you paint. I would not do anything until he moves out of the property.

@Account Closed

I agree, I'm really just putting lipstick on a pig here. It's more the optics of getting the house in better shape for the appraiser. From your experience, will a new paint job not play a very big role in the appraiser's eyes? I feel very comfortable with the comps in the area but I'd like to make sure they don't have any additional ammo against me.

I've already taken care of other deferred maintenance: foundation, roofing, kitchen, and bathrooms.

I plan to keep the tenant in there for a while as he's been there for 20+ years already. Can't define a better long-term tenant than that.

Prime with Pro block oil in gallons or aerosol cans depending how bad it is and top coat with any latex paint. The issue is you have an occupied you would need to use an oil based primer in. There will be some odor. Try to coordinate with the Tennant if they are going on vacation in the near future. Best Tom

@Tom Brooks

Thanks Tom. I'll look into that solution.

If I decide to not get rid of the smoke smell, putting just a regular coat of paint may be another way to go.

The oil based primer will cover the stains but do nothing with the odor. If thats the issue you use a paint like harmony which absorbs odors. There are other options for the odor but again its kinda difficult with the unit occupied. Nice job with the long term tenant.

If he has been living in the house for 20+ years and is a moderate to heavy smoker, there may be rooms where scrubbing, sealing and painting simply won't keep the chemicals from coming to the surface and you will end-up pulling down the drywall and hanging new.

We renovated a house some years ago where the former owner had a favourite chair in one corner of the living room where she sat and smoked.  The ceiling immediately overhead was charcoal with rings in varying shades of brown radiating across the living room and into the kitchen.   We ended up, gutting that room - pulled down the drywall and removed the existing insulation (which looked like spent air filters) - while the remainder of the house was saved with scrubbing, sealing, and 2 - 3 coats of paint.

I don't think painting will make any difference for the most part. Appraisals are going to be done by SF, age, general condition, location, etc and sales of similar properties. Putting a coat of paint may make it more visually appealing but really won't do anything to affect the other major factors that go into a residential appraisal. I agree with other posters: don't waste your money on fixing the issues until the current tenant leaves. I do have one suggestion: if you can gently raise his rent consider that. He is damaging your property slowly but surely. I have a no smoking in or on the premises policy for my rentals.

@Kenneth Sok

kilz paint oil based has always worked for me, took care of the stains and odor. but I would not waste your time, but maybe it would keep your tenant happy if you paint his walls. He has been there for 20+ and he pays on time. We could trade, I give you a non smoker that's been there 1 year already late on rent, and does more damage then the smoker. Do we have a deal?  

@Tom Brooks - Thanks! I'll have to investigate how to resolve the oil-primer odor. I've read some odd solutions like putting a basin of water with an onion in it. Seems like a weird solution but I'll look into it.

@Roy N. - I hadn't thought about having to redo the sheet rock. That is a very actual possibility now that you mention it. I'll make this decision once the tenant vacates.

@John The

@John Thedford - I haven't had an appraisal done before but I've been told you can have 10 different appraisals and 10 different opinions. I'm trying to make sure I do whatever I can to ensure the appraisal I'm hoping for. Raising the rents further is already part of the plan as he was under market rates for so long.

Luckily for me, since I'm already doing more than the previous landlord, he's been happy to pay a higher amount. I'll definitely consider raising it a bit more to compensate for the added damage he's doing.

@James Clark - I've heard good things about Kilz. 

One of our big rehabbers has recommended it and I was just looking into it. Thanks for referring it as well. I'll be exploring this product more.

Haha, as for the trade, it'll depend on the terms. I'll need draft options, signing bonuses, and a first round pick on top of that too.

Best of luck with your "fun" tenant!

if it's just for show, then yeah..don't get all crazy about investing a ton of money if it's gonna practically stay the same. You should just slap up some pain, get your loan, then wait out your tenant until he moves out..then, to get rid of that smell, you'll have your work cut out..replacing flooring etc..good luck!

@Kenneth Sok

LOL.....I was trying to make a point.  It sounds like you have a great tenant, I would do a rent to own or a lease option . Get the house appraised. Do a down payment...Why?

1. He has been there 20 years, sounds like he is committed.

2. Cashflow

3. Less stress. Something goes wrong he fixes it.

4. More time to go find more.

5. If he does fail, then you keep the down payment and find a non smoker

That's what I would do. Whatever you do sounds like you have a nice investment. Good Luck

Or... If he ever moves out.  Advertise the property as smoker friendly and let them smoke it up indoors!  You can probably charge a premium for that ;)

We had to scrape just 5 years of nicotine off the vinyl window frames with a razor blade then scrub with ammonia !!! I then gutted most rooms to the studs & used a lot of Kilz Oil base on the popcorn ceilings etc. Opening a wall around the electrical panel to add circuits the inner cavity literally reeked...but they also always paid on-time.

@Pat L.

You took the walls back to the studs, but kept the popcorn ceilings? 

 Pat, you missed 'the' opportunity to escape the 1980s!! ;-)

I have a lot of experience with tobacco odor and have found that nothing works better than time. Kilz oil-based primer sprayed throughout and cleaning helps, but the odor still lingers for at least a year.  I always tear out carpets and old blinds, as they hold quite a bit of odor.  I have a 5 unit building that finally, after about 3 years of being completely smoke-free, doesn't smell bad anymore.  It had formerly been full of smokers, with windows like the ones in the post above.  I have also tried ozone shock treatment and various deodorizers, but none work.

Most appraisers won't care too much about the paint condition, as long as it's not peeling.

Originally posted by @Kenneth Sok :

I have an inherited tenant from a property I purchased from a tired landlord.

The tenant is great: pays on time, takes care of his own maintenance, also agreed to pay higher rents to match market prices, etc. 

He's a smoker though and the whole place reeks and has stains from his 20+ years living there.

I would like to keep him in the property for as long as possible. I want to refinance the house with a long-term lender and need a good appraisal. To get a higher appraisal amount, I would like to repaint the house in order to make the house cleaner.

Is there a solution that would fix the smoke/nicotine stained walls and keep it from being stained again? Or should I just paint over it with a cheaper paint for the appraisal and then get a more permanent solution when he moves out?

What kind of paint would solve the smoke and nicotine smell? I've heard of a stain-blocking latex paint. Can anyone speak to this? 

Many thanks!

 Kenneth: Just cleaning/sealing/painting the walls will probably not make more than a small dent in the problem. I tried that recently in a house I had rented to smokers but the smell remained until I pulled up the carpets as well. You don't say what your flooring is, but even wood floors will absorb smoke odor so I wouldn't try a partial remedy. Maybe call around to a few appraisers to get their take on this; you may find that your proposed remedies are unnecessary...  Best of luck!

@Maggie Tasseron

Thanks for your input! 

The flooring is carpet and vinyl. It hasn't been updated since the 80's so I'm sure there's not much to salvage there and will certainly get replaced once the tenant moves (however long that may be).

From the many inputs thus far, I believe slapping lipstick on this pig may not do much for the appraisal. Hopefully, a quick/cheap cosmetic treatment will help with the overall feel for the appraisers. That's probably the route I'll take for now until the tenant moves out and I can do a complete overhaul.

Originally posted by @Kenneth Sok :

@Maggie Tasseron

Thanks for your input! 

The flooring is carpet and vinyl. It hasn't been updated since the 80's so I'm sure there's not much to salvage there and will certainly get replaced once the tenant moves (however long that may be).

From the many inputs thus far, I believe slapping lipstick on this pig may not do much for the appraisal. Hopefully, a quick/cheap cosmetic treatment will help with the overall feel for the appraisers. That's probably the route I'll take for now until the tenant moves out and I can do a complete overhaul.

 Good choice, Kenneth. Best of luck with it.

@Kenneth Sok

Don't bother with the odor until your tenant leaves. He's only going to bring the smell back anyway after you do all that work, unless you tell him he can no longer smoke in the house (at the risk of losing your tenant). 

I inherited a fake plant from an elderly couple who smoke in their house. I have had it out on my pool deck, in the elements, for a year. I've sprayed chemicals, cleaners, hosed it down, etc. and it STILL has the smoke smell. 

The point is, you won't do enough to remove the smell unless you gut the affected rooms and doing so while you still have someone smoking in the house is a waste of time and money.

I would let the tenant know that he has cause serious damage to the whole interior of the property and needs to do some cleaning to remove the stains on the windows or pay you to hire someone to do this work, if there are carpets they will most likely need to come out and of course the paint issue, tsp will remove the majority of the stains but will still need a stain blocking paint, usually a oil based product, but there are some good latex formulas out that do all in one or two coats. This is comparable to a house fire with all the smoke damage and the renter needs to understand that he is destroying your property and that there is going to be huge expenses associated with this. In my opinion I would either let him live in his own filth or make him pay for the expenses and tell him he could no longer smoke in the property unless he give another large security deposit to cover down the road expenses. I used to paint apartments and ran into this issue a few times, It's not fun! Just my opinion! Hope you get things resolved and get a good appraisal.

kilz will cover the walls and get rid of the embedded smoke smell. Get an ozone machine to remove the rest of the odors. I've had plenty of houses with situationa like this. 

Kilz is awesome.  When I worked at Home Depot, it was a #1 seller, and the one I recommended the most.  Even when people purchased the Behr with primer in it, I still recommended getting Kilz to put under it.  

@Tom Brooks @Ton L. @Amy Arata all offer good advice. 

My experiences were similar. If you're going to paint, oil based primer is the only option short of a complete tear out of all drywall. I wouldn't waste money on latex paint & primer in an attempt to cover nicotine stains or smell.  

Even oil based primer will require at least 2-3 coats to get any coverage and unless you scrub down with TSP or something similar first you could still have spots show through.

Primer & paint will brighten things temporarily and give a "little" cover for the smell but short of replacing carpets and a whole house scrub down it will have only minimal effect and for a limited time. 

Whether it will have much of an effect on appraisal is a coin toss.           

Create Lasting Wealth Through Real Estate

Join the millions of people achieving financial freedom through the power of real estate investing

Start here