So You Want to Paint Your Apartment?

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Unless you’ve just signed a lease in a luxury apartment building, your first look at your new place may be a disappointment. Countless renters have opened their new front doors to find yellowing and peeling paint, scuff marks and stains on the walls or a hideous paint job in the bedroom. A few calls to the landlord or maintenance company may solve the problem. If you’ve just signed a lease with an unresponsive owner or want an unconventional look for your walls, you may be tempted to paint the apartment yourself. Here are some things to think about before you take the plunge.

1. You May not be Allowed to Paint in the First Place
Check your lease carefully. Many leases contain clauses that prohibit tenants from painting their own apartments. Often, these clauses are the result of poor do-it-yourself paint jobs in the past. Other landlords will only allow painting if you return the walls to their original shade of white or off-white when you move out. If you don’t comply, you can kiss at least part of your security deposit goodbye.

2. Painting Requires Serious Prep Work
If you’ve never painted a room in your life, you may not fully appreciate the amount of work that it takes to simply get a room ready. It takes more than a can of paint and a brush. You’ll need different sized brushes to handle corners and trim and rollers for the main part of the wall. If the walls are full of nail holes or cracks, you’ll need spackle to fill those spaces before you paint. Uneven wall surfaces may require you to sand them down first. And don’t forget about keeping the rest of the apartment clean while you paint! You’ll need a bucket to clean your brushes in, painter’s tape, drop cloths, and cleaning rags. Not only is it a lot of work to gather all this stuff, but it can get expensive too. Before you rack up a serious charge on your credit card, call around to friends and see whether anyone has leftover supplies and paint that you can use.

3. Pick the Right Paint
To the uninitiated, paint is just paint. After a trip to the paint store, you’ll know that there are different types of paints and finishes, each with different advantages and disadvantages. Latex paint is easiest to clean up but doesn’t work as well in more humid rooms like the bathroom. Oil-based paint is stain resistant and adheres well to the wall, even in wet areas. However, turpentine is needed to be remove it from brushes, the floor and your skin. Different kinds of finish will affect how light reflects off your walls and how easy it will be to remove stains and scuff marks once the walls are painted. Staff members at paint and hardware stores should be happy to speak with you about your options. Don’t pass up their important (and free) advice.

4. Consider the Lighting in Your Apartment
Wall paint can look surprisingly different under different sources of light. Remember that the paint that looks so good under the store’s fluorescent light may not look the same in the natural light that comes through your window. Don’t leave it up to chance. Instead, bring home some samples (sheets of painted cardboard or poster board) and examine them under the various light sources and light fixtures in your home.

5. Think About What You’ll Want in the Future
Bold shades and unusual color combinations can really transform your apartment and make your home unique. However, choosing an unconventional color scheme requires some forethought. Will bright orange walls get old after a few months? Also, remember that some colors can actually make rooms appear smaller–a big problem for small spaces. Run your ideas by some friends who can help you visualize what your apartment will look like in the end.

If by painting the walls you’re bending the rules of your lease, think twice before transitioning to a screaming shade of red. The darker the color of the walls, the more coats of white paint you’ll need to effectively cover it. At the end of your lease, when you’re searching for a new place or trying to sell your furniture, you may not have the time or energy to cover up those crazy colors. Unless you’re dying for an unconventional shade, it may be better to keep the wall color light and conservative.

6. Don’t Rule out a Professional
If you have a lot of wall space to cover, have little help or experience, or just have trouble finishing the tasks that you start, painting on your own may not be the best choice. After all, there’s a reason so many landlords have a Do Not Paint clause in their leases: there are a lot of really bad do-it-yourself paint jobs out there. Shop around and get a few quotes before you assume that hiring a professional isn’t worth it. Remember to factor in what your own costs will be before you make a decision.

20 Responses to “So You Want to Paint Your Apartment?”

  1. February 23, 2008 at 12:13 am, Guest said:

    I did paint the walls of my living space in my previous apartment a few years ago, but upon moving
    out, I did return them to the original color. This seemed a bit of a hassle in the end. If I had started sooner maybe it would not have been so bothersome. I was only moving to a different unit in the same complex but I did credit for my full deposit amount.


  2. March 03, 2008 at 10:45 am, Anonymous said:

    Don’t paint, KILZ IT, Babycakes!

    If you need to paint over a dark color, or even wallpaper use KILZ Primer Sealer. I’ve used KILZ several times and it is great for “painting over” darker colors. Remember though, it is ONLY a primer, you’ll still need to paint your walls again with actual paint. Speaking of paint, use water-based latex to ease and speed-up clean-up. Use “flat” colors for walls and “semi-gloss” or even “gloss” for trim (gloss finishes are washable) In kithcens and baths, where there is water, use “gloss” finishes, too — for ease in cleaning up. I’ve used this technique many times and I ALWAYS get my deposit returned. Get it in writing with the landlord, too. Be clear about what YOU intend to do, and what you expect your landlord to do when you move and get signitures.

    Whatta LewLew!


  3. June 27, 2008 at 12:52 am, Guest said:

    Isn’t there a rule of tenants rights that says the landlord has to put a fresh coat of paint on your walls every five years or something?


  4. July 23, 2008 at 11:00 am, Guest said:

    Im a first time painter. I want to paint my kitchen walls,on one side of my wall i have dried grease is there anything i should put on it before painting it.


  5. August 07, 2008 at 12:26 pm, Guest said:

    No. I am a property manager, and know the laws very well. Technically, the landlord does not have to ever do anything to make the apartment updated and look nice, but they will loose good tenants or new tenants by not doing anything.
    Tenants really just need to be diligent about keeping their walls clean. By washing scuffs off walls when they happen, or just keeping touch-up paint around, then you don’t have to worry about your walls showing wear over time! Plus it is very costly for a landlord to paint an apartment, with additional fees for one that is occupied ($400-1500+)
    Since your wall paint is not something that really affects your ability to safely live in your apartment or affect your daily needs, the landlord is not in any violation of tenants’ rights for not painting your walls every five years. You might want to consider buying a bucket of paint if you intend to live in your place long-term!


  6. August 07, 2008 at 12:34 pm, Guest said:

    Depending on the amount of dried grease there is, you may want to try a bleach cleaner or a strong alcohol based cleaner (usually for getting off graffiti or heavy grease.) If you have already tried everything on the market to get it off, try just using a good primer (like KILLZ…check out the blog below!), KILLZ can cover up anything and make it so you don’t have any of that grease bleeding through. You may try two coats of killz if it’s that bad. But in the future, just make sure any grease that get on the walls to wash it off immediately or at least weekly to keep your paint job looking new.


  7. September 22, 2008 at 4:17 pm, Guest said:

    No comment…just HELP!
    I’ve been living in this apt. for 15 years. It was not re-painted prior to my arrival. I have re-painted the living-room, kitchen, hallway & bath myself, but the bedroom has needed spackling & new paint since I moved in. May I insist that this be done by my landlord? I’m a great painter, but the preparation scares me, & I want it done well. Thanks!


  8. October 07, 2008 at 5:57 am, Guest said:

    I’m going 2 hire ——–! 2 do the job….


  9. October 13, 2008 at 9:42 pm, Guest said:

    thats not true for every state, actually.

    in my state a landlord has to put at least one coat between each resident.


  10. October 23, 2008 at 10:11 pm, Guest said:

    I know in NY (so most likely other states have similar laws) the landlord is legally required to paint every 3 (I think) years.


  11. November 18, 2008 at 7:26 pm, Guest said:

    being a apt manager,If you asked to have maintenance patch/fix things so you could paint, I would have no problem getting that done. The unit should be painted at least every 5 years. It is hard for us to get in and try and paint around your stuff, so anytime a resident wants to paint themselves, its a BIG help to me. Have you talked to your manager/owner?
    good luck to you.


  12. May 16, 2009 at 5:43 pm, Susan said:

    No comment either just need help. I am in an apartment with EVERYTHING BEIGE in the kitchen from (yes beige) cabinets to beige appliances even to beige (cheap) countertop. I want to add some color and liven it up but not sure how. I was thinking the “self stick” murals and borders but what about the cupboards? I cant paint them and they are so plain. Any suggestions


  13. June 06, 2009 at 7:25 pm, elizabeth johnson said:

    i want to know if the landlord should paint my apt it been over year he said that his la


  14. February 14, 2010 at 7:04 pm, randall said:

    Using cleaners on greasy walls is making a mountain out of a molehill. I’ve been painting apartments for almost 9 years and what I do is just scrape them with a putty knife, it’s fast and easy, but be sure not to use a razor scraper or anything sharp or you could do more harm than good.


  15. February 14, 2010 at 7:12 pm, randall said:

    some managers will let you paint with their paint, if you just ask. It could save time and money for the complex if done right. Most are specific about using the exact match already on the walls, but if you spill a lot you could lose some or all of the deposit. If they have their own on site painter, he could give you advice on making the job a lot easier, and won’t charge for it.


  16. March 21, 2010 at 12:23 pm, Tm said:

    Unless I’ve moved into a well-cared for building with a good paint job and everything is well-maintained, I don’t bother repainting the walls well when I leave. I either leave it completely as is, or paint over it with one coat of paint. I haven’t lived in any building yet that required a security deposit. And every place I’ve moved into has badly painted walls, bad patch jobs galore, and in my current place, the landlord lied to my face and said she just spent the whole day painting the whole apartment. But all she did was take a brush to a few parts. It’s quite clear by the yellow stained areas and the fact that the white nearer the ceiling is toned differently, she doesn’t bother with a ladder and sloppily paints what she reaches or feels like doing. I’ve had water damage from outside in one of my windows now for a week and she’s done nothing about it. I fear she’ll have somebody come in to patch over the wreckage, and not have somebody actually figure out what the h*ll started the water damage in the first place! I’m not going to spend the rest of my lease here with all my furniture and electronics away from the window in case we have more damage!


  17. March 21, 2011 at 10:45 pm, Laura said:

    You…want to paint the cabinets????

    WHy on earth would you do that.
    First of all, painting cabinets and cupboards is a real huge hassle, if you think masking off the windows is bad, there are a bazillion corners in cabinets. Second of all, you are going to kill whatever finish is on the cabinets-if its wood, the shine is going to be gone, and if its not even real wood, or if its plastic, the paint won’t adhere right and it will look crappy.

    Paint everything else. To repaint walls when you leave the apartment is easy, to sand down and refinish cabinets, nearly impossible.


  18. June 14, 2011 at 4:05 pm, Bob said:

    I used to own several duplexes in N. California. I have down graded to 1 because it is so much work and very stressful over time. I lasted 10 years. In my rentals, per the wording of my contract or rental agreement, it states that if you paint, you MUST return it to the original color (or very close to it) or be charged when you vacate. I make every attempt to be fair to my tenants, as I have been ripped off myself from landlords years ago with bogus charges. To keep everything worry free for both landlord/owner and tenant, have everything in writing. That goes for everything like having cable newly installed in a room where their wasn’t any previously.


  19. March 16, 2012 at 5:20 pm, Richard said:

    I have lived in this apt.for over 30 years. The landlord has never painted. The inspector came and said lall the cracks had to be plastered . The city does (LA) not require that they be painted. Now my intire apt. has plaster everywhere and nothing has been sanded. I offered to hire a painter to paint and the landlord told me that I must hire a bonded , certified, business licienced painter. He uses people that are none of these things. How do I find what a painter is required to have in Los Angeles? I think I am becoming a victum jof harassment.


  20. February 22, 2013 at 9:53 pm, Mookie said:

    Richard, 30 years? Time to buy a place buddy…just hire a reputable painter, or ask some friends if they know a good painter. Since it seems like you’re not moving out anytime soon, who gives a shit who and what color you paint your apartment.


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