Tenant wants to sand/refinish deck

9 Replies

Unit is part of a 4plex. Each unit has a small (8'x10') deck on the back, maybe a foot or less off the ground. They are in fine structural shape, but are probably due for a refinish. 

One of our new tenants (have rented for 2 months) contacted us asking if they could sand and repaint their deck. Part of me wants to let them go ahead since it needs it, but I'm leery of whether the job will be done well. 

Do you guys generally let tenants do updates like this? If so, do you have them sign an agreement stating they will be held responsible if the job is left incomplete or worse off than when they started? 

Hello Michael!  Your thinking about that work is close to correct.  If they have experience doing this would be my primary concern.  If they know what they are doing is an experiment I would be very concerned.  My next thought was about it possibly increasing the value.  The use of a legal document that relieves you of any responsibility and the fact they are totally responsible for anything related to it would be a good thing to have.  Best wishes! 

@Michael S.

What's the upside for you with letting the tenant do a DIY like this? I'd like to highlight three issues in your post that you don't seem to be looking at carefully and asking, "What can go wrong with this?"

1. You say, "I'm leery of whether the job will be done well." Who's going to judge that? You, the tenant, the tenant's cousin who comes over to help out?

2. What's an incomplete job? If your DIY tenant doesn't quite do enough sanding in the corners and the new finish doesn't look quite as good there as it does in more accessible areas, but the tenant thinks it looks fine, who decides it's incomplete?

3. How do you decide that the deck is worse off than when they started? Can you imagine going to them with whatever information/proof you have that they did a lousy job, having them agree, shake your hand, and pay you next month's rent on time?

Of course you can do what you want, but there's a good chance it will not go as planned, and either you or the tenant will not be happy.

If those decks are due for a refinish, and the refinishing is pretty easy, who don't you send a handyman over there to do it, or go over there yourself if you're a more active sort of landlord?

I don't let tenants do anything like this, for all the above reasons.

@Michael S. tenants always claim to be expert painters, but I have had paint on woodwork and even carpet when I let tenants paint. I have also had tenants do work that they said was free at the time, only to come back later when moving out and try to charge me. When you let tenants do work, there is lots that can go wrong.

If I let tenants do work, I always pay them fair market value for their work. I get them to sign a receipt that work was completed and paid in full. 

My recommendation is to hire a handyman to paint all four decks. Beyond the appearance, it will prolong the life of the wood. So pay a little now to have it painted or more later to have it replaced.

In general, we do not allow the tenants to do any repairs or improvements to properties. That said, we have enough property and experience with tenants to know that some tenants tend to assume 'ownership' of a home and want to do improvements, ask to do them or sometimes just do them. In those cases, we handle it as follows:

1. Tenant requests improvements from us - generally not done unless a) it was already on a list of work to be done, b) it is a true safety issue, or c) it is so insignificant and virtually cost-free that we don't mind doing it as goodwill. Example: tenant asked for some bathroom improvements. Bathroom was already on the list for rehab at next tenant changeover. Tenant made their own arrangements to be gone, at their expense, over a long holiday weekend and we had the bathroom rehabbed during that time. Everyone was happy, no money was spent that wouldn't have been spent anyway. 

2. Tenant requests being allowed to do improvements - generally not allowed unless it is completely reversible and causes no structural or cosmetic change to the unit. Example: a tenant asked if she could store our refrigerator because she preferred to use her own. A tenant with a permitted pet asked if she could hang her own pet door on the existing hinges and store the existing door. 

3. Tenant does improvements on their own without permission - if it is truly an improvement in our judgement then I don't say anything, because I don't care if someone wants to make my property nicer at their expense. Example: a tenant used a pile of leftover bricks behind a shed, that were of no value, to construct a very nice sand-based patio in a spot of the yard near the house that has always struggled to have anything grow there. The patio could easily be pulled up, but I wouldn't think of it as it's a great addition to the home. If a tenant repaints walls with neutral, nice colors and does a good job, without damage to the house, more power to them because it saves me a paint job. In my view, improvements the tenant does on their own without permission are either going to increase the value of my property, or they will be grounds for eviction and will be reversed using the tenant's deposit (and/or courts/insurance if more than deposit). 

As for your example: If the tenant asked me if they could do it, or if I would do it, and it wasn't scheduled, I would say no. If they did it on their own and made it better, that's great. If they did it on their own and tore up the deck, they'd pay for it. 

When in doubt about requests, the default answer should virtually always be no. 

@Michael S.    I stopped reading when I saw the title of the Forum Post.

There are so many cans of worms that can be opened with this that you simply need to tell them no. If they want to sand and refinsh a deck,,,,,they can buy their own property.....and sand and refinish their deck. 

What happens if they get hurt while working on the deck?    "Our landlord gave us permission so now we will sue him". It doesn't matter that you said "You do this at your own risk and I am not liable for any damage or injury"...you are still the property owner and will get sued. 

Did you say sand? LOL. I generally say tenants can not paint, and never let them do any actual work. That's because all sorts of people think they can paint, but really can't. The thing is, sanding is the hard part. I might do the paint if a tenant offered to do the prep!!! That said, if safety is a concern, then forget it.

On a deck you want to be sure you control the type and quality of the product applied. I use Cabot semi-solid stain ...it never peels, just eventually wears off. You let your tenant apply cheap solid deck paint in full sun and watch it start flaking off in some spots but not others and turn into a huge mess. Or could do a great job, but why risk it?