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by Robert Griswold, Inman News

Red flag photoQ: I ran a search on Google to try to determine what laws exist regarding how often an apartment unit must be repainted, but had no luck. Can you help me? My landlord told me that because I have lived in the unit for at least 18 months, he would be required to paint the unit anyway and therefore the minor wear-and-tear damage I did to the walls was not relevant.

However, when I received the accounting for my security deposit today from the property manager, I was amazed to discover that they had deducted $570 out of my $800 deposit for “paint and material.” They also charged me $45 for carpet cleaning even though I saw them move entirely new carpet in. Does any law exist to determine how often an apartment must be repainted and what factors are considered to determine who is ultimately responsible for the costs incurred?

A: I am not aware of any state law specifically designating a requirement that landlords must repaint the interior of a rental property based on a certain number of months. While there are laws concerning lead-based-paint hazards in the event the paint is chipping or deteriorating, the determination of repainting for non-lead-based paint is more a function of the normal wear and tear and an evaluation of any damage to the paint by the tenant.

Of course, the paint will eventually wear out and the timing of the need to repaint the rental property is based on a multitude of factors besides just the treatment by the occupants. Other factors include the original quality of the paint, the quality of the application, the location (i.e. weather, climate), and the care and maintenance during the tenancy. It has been my experience (25-plus years and 40,000-plus apartments managed) that a typical paint job should definitely last more than 18 months if the paint quality and application are decent in most residential circumstances. Thus, if the landlord had to completely repaint the rental unit in less than 18 months then it is very likely the result of damage beyond ordinary wear and tear.

You could send your landlord a written demand to document their determination of the condition of the rental unit that necessitated the complete repainting as well as invoices supporting the costs for painting deducted from your security deposit. I don’t think it is appropriate that your former landlord deducted $45 for cleaning the carpet if they didn’t actually clean anything. It is possible that they tried to clean the carpet but had unsatisfactory results so they needed to replace the carpet. But you should contact them and ask for proof of payment, or I would agree the charge is not proper.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies” and co-author of “Real Estate Investing for Dummies.”

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Copyright 2008 Inman News

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