Painting and normal wear and tear

12 Replies

My tenants have been in the unit for 4 years and they're moving out soon. The walls were professionally freshly painted before they moved in and now they're thrashed. Every single inch (or it feels like that) of the walls have a mark, smudge, or indentation on it in the common areas. The furniture, especially dining room chairs have been propped up against the wall and scraped the wall behind it with indentations, drawing on walls with crayons that they've erased with cloth but now they have smudges, etc.

Are they responsible for any of this? 4 years seems like a long time on one hand, however I've lived in places that long and the walls looked nothing like that. Not even 1/10th of the dirt and indentations. This does not feel like normal wear and tear.

I was hoping to only do minor touch ups, but the way they are it needs complete paint job.

@Lorelai Gilmore

I feel bad for you. I know what it's like to pay for a item or service that you hope is going to last a very long time and seeing your investment vanish in a much shorter time period. Please be aware that if you try to deduct this from your tenant's security deposit and your tenant decides to fight you on this, there are very few judges that are going to unquestionably see things your way, at least in western Pennsylvania, where I live and operate.

You have to be aware that many professional painters are often far from professional and are generally more interested in profitability than in multiyear results. What they want is a job that looks reasonable good, happens reasonably quickly, and takes a reasonable amount of effort, especially when they're working for a landlord and not a retail buyer. I don't know what your professional painters wanted to do with your walls, I don't know what paint they used or how much they used. Even more importantly, I don't know what kind of primer they used.

It may be that you're looking in the right place and indeed, the tenants are to blame for the shape the walls are in. It be that you're not. Find out. Try washing down the walls and ceilings with a solution of TSP (trisodium phosphate) and see what comes off. You cover the floor, spray the solution on with a pump-up pressure sprayer, brush with a soft siding brush on a threaded handle, and wipe down multiple times with a sponge mop and a lot of water. See what stains and smudges come off. If it's not a lot and you really are stuck repainting instead of doing touch-up, resolve to make absolutely sure that this next base coat you lay on is very thick and can be repeatedly washed, scrubbed, and touched up successfully over a period of 20-something years.

To my mind with my purposely limited number of rentals and my handyman abilities to do the painting myself or supervise general laborers doing it, this is a smarter way to handle turning rentals between tenants than handing over repainting to a fresh batch of guys with mystery paint every few years.

For interior wall paint, I tend to use Behr Marquee and Behr Ultra. People whom I respect, @Matt M. among them, do not particularly like this kind of paint for a variety of reasons, and instead recommend high-quality Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore paint. You certainly can't go wrong with those brands. In order to improve adhesion of this wall paint when I renovate a new acquisition, I use multiple coats of Kilz2 water-based primer or Kilz Original oil-based primer under this paint. In my experience, there is no such thing as "primer+paint-in-one," this is the biggest lie in home improvement. A close second is "one-coat-coverage."

Please bear in mind that I am typically working in 60-90-year old properties that have already seen a lot of use and have questionable wall coverings over plaster to start with. I treat every renovation like I'm starting from scratch.

I start with at least two coats of primer and then two coats of paint, very often three. I want a very thick base layer of tough paint firmly adhered to the walls of my rentals, something that, again, can be scrubbed, touched up, recoated multiple times. I tend to prefer flat paint for normal walls and ceilings, satin paint in bathroom and kitchens, semi-gloss paint for trim. Most painters-for-hire will not go to these lengths on a job unless you specify it in a scope of work and are willing to pay a premium for it (or unless you're married to them).

Is my strategy perfect? No. But does seem to cut down on paint problems as the years pass. I don't let my tenants paint, I don't change colors, and future repaintings are kept down to cleaning + problem-area touchups followed by one coat if necessary, in-and-out, turn for the new tenant quickly. The base layer gets even thicker, more responsive to heavy scrubbing, and my hardened rental gets even more hardened.

I couldn’t have said it better myself, as @Jim K. is usually very thorough. 

In my area after 4 years, unfortunately this is normal  

@Lorelai Gilmore   Try cleaning the walls that just have smudges and crayon by using a magic eraser.  for the walls with chips out of the paint, I'd follow the advice of the others.  If you can't get a matching paint for those walls, try an accent colour (assuming it is one wall in a room).  Because you're doing an entire wall, it doesn't have to be a perfect match, but it should be really close.

I’m in agreement with everyone, that you have utilized the useful life of that paint job and should assume the repainting is due to reasonable wear and tear. Where I do not agree is with the dents and scratches you mention. If it’s excessive, I would ask the painter to itemize the invoice to break out the work to fix that and bill that to tenant.

You deserve some compensation from the tenant.

Here's a guide of what is not considered normal wear and tear...

and crayon markings are one of them.

Multiple scuffs on every square foot high and low is also not normal wear and tear.

HOWEVER, local rules will dictate how often you need to repaint.

While paint is generally supposed to last 7-10 years, your local rules can cut that short, and you may not be able to prorate your repair cost.

To add a bit to what @Jim K. said: Use real TSP, if it's sold in your area, and not "TSP substitute". Also, ignore the directions on the box about how much TSP to mix with water - use warm water and keep dumping TSP in until no more of it dissolves. This will make a strong alkaline solution, so wear long rubber gloves (Playtex "dishwashing" gloves are fine), and safety goggles too.

If I'm doing it from scratch, I buy Sherwin-Williams paint.  They will give you a 10% discount every day if you sign up for their "Paint Perks" program (which means you will get ads via email and snail-mail).  Every few months, they have a 30% or 40% off sale, which makes them more competitive with the big-box store prices.  If you're signed up for Paint Perks, they'll send you a postcard a week or so before the sale happens.  I think Benjamin Moore and other "pro" paint stores probably have similar programs.

The previous owners of my rental had done a recent repainting job, so the house came with several cans of Home Depot Glidden paint that matched the bedroom colors.  I used that paint for places that just needed touch-ups, and it worked OK, but it wasn't as nice to work with as the Sherwin-Williams paint.

For the dining room, you can install "chair rail", which is a piece of flat wood running horizontally along the wall at the average height of the back of a chair.  In a nicer property, you can buy real official molding and either paint it or stain it; in a more value-priced property, you can buy 1x4s, round off the sharp outside corners with sandpaper, and paint or stain those.  The chair rail will get slightly beat up by the chairs - that is its job.

I am not associated with any companies mentioned.

Originally posted by @Matt R. :

To add a bit to what @Jim K. said: Use real TSP, if it's sold in your area, and not "TSP substitute". Also, ignore the directions on the box about how much TSP to mix with water - use warm water and keep dumping TSP in until no more of it dissolves. This will make a strong alkaline solution, so wear long rubber gloves (Playtex "dishwashing" gloves are fine), and safety goggles too.

One issue that comes up if you go as strong as possible on the TSP, Matt. In the older houses I typically work in, the first layer of wall paint on the wall is often oil paint. If you mix up the TSP as strong as you indicate and you're dealing with only two or so latex coats over oil paint, the latex paint will soften while it's wet with TSP solution into, well, latex, and start to peel like a rubberized coating off the wall from the underlying oil paint.

This happened to me last year. @Mike Reynold helped me figure it out.

@Jim K. I am so sorry for the damages on your walls. Four years is a long time to be living in a given place. I would look into your state tenant laws and see what the norm is. 

@Lorelai Gilmore 4 years and all it needs is paint I consider that normal and consider yourself lucky how much could it be to paint the house 1k 2k ? Spend the money is my opinion now any holes or missing that takes place I’d bill them for that but it shouldn’t be much.

@Jim K. I had that happen to me, but it was before I even used the TSP. :) I knew the kitchen had several layers of paint, but I thought they were all reasonably OK. My plan was to fix the popped drywall nails, spackle over the new screws, and then repaint. The first few drywall screws I put in tended to raise a little curly sliver of the paint, around the edge of the screw. No problem - just pull or cut off the sliver, right? When I pulled on the sliver, the first couple of layers of paint came up, similar to the photos at the top of the thread you linked. I was hoping the peeling would stop pretty soon and I could chalk it up to a small dirty spot on the wall before it was painted in the past. 15 minutes later, with a few square feet of the old kitchen paint laying on the floor, I had to abandon that idea.

As far as I can tell, the first couple of layers of paint (house built in mid-50s) were oil.  At some point, somebody painted latex over the oil, and didn't clean or sand the walls first, which made the new latex paint not stick very well to the old oil paint.  On most of the walls, I could peel up the two layers of latex paint by just making a little divot with my fingernail and then tugging on the edges; in some places I had to use a putty knife.

Once I got it all scraped and sanded, I did the saturated-TSP-solution wash on the walls, and it didn't seem to cause a problem - but then again, I had already removed most of the latex paint at that point.

Thanks for all the inputs y'all. It was BEHR paint but I'm not sure what primer was used. I'll make sure to pay attention this time to the primer as well.

I've lived in my house 4 years as well and looking at my walls they're not even comparable. They have also made some missing chunks in the flooring (4 years old laminate from Home Depot), water damage from not telling me early enough about leakage, etc. Definitely disappointed and trying to see what to do differently next time so it lasts longer. These were my first tenants.