Question: I am a tenant and I really don’t like the color of the walls in my apartment. Is it OK to paint a unit, especially when the tenant supplies the paint and labor? Is there anything that I should do to protect myself from being charged when I move out for repainting?

Property Manager Griswold replies:

Changing the color of the walls with new paint is typically not allowed without the advance written permission of the owner. The landlord has a vested interest in making sure that the work and materials are of high quality. You are savvy to be concerned about your security deposit as a sloppy paint job in a non-traditional color could lead to the landlord having to completely repaint the rental unit upon you vacating the property. Of course, it would be likely that the full charge of repainting back to a traditional color would then be deducted from your security deposit. Some dark paint colors could even require primer coats and two coats of paint thus increasing the cost significantly. As the tenant, I would strongly advise you to not paint unless you have the advance written permission of the landlord and let the landlord supply the paint and materials. I emphasize the written permission, as a few years from now your landlord may develop selective memory or even have sold the property to another owner who would not be aware that you had requested and received permission to repaint. Once you have the protection of a written agreement, then the only concern will be the quality of your work and naturally you would be responsible for any damage.

Question: I am having a problem with a neighbor in the next complex. The space between both apartments is small, and I recently had a baby and also have a young dog. The woman who lives in the next complex complains constantly about noise from my apartment from both the baby and the dog, and has harassed me, my neighbors and the onsite manager with the situation. I have tried everything to get along with her; however, she complains up to 15 times a day. At times when I am not even home she states to the management that the baby is crying. There are many documented complaints from this woman regarding various things with other tenants over the past four years. What can I do short of moving?

Tenants’ Attorney Kellman responds:

Your situation is more like a dispute between two neighboring homes rather than a landlord-tenant matter. The person causing the problem lives in a different complex with a different landlord. This eliminates the option of forcing your landlord to take action against based on a lease violation against a tenant who may be harassing another tenant within the same property. While your landlord may have certain responsibilities to enforce the rules among and between the tenants at your complex, he/she will have little control over a tenant at another complex. If your baby and dog are not causing excessive and unreasonable noises, your neighbor’s complaints will be unfounded. You should notify your landlord, in writing, of the problem and ask him/her to contact the neighboring landlord to see if anything can be done. If that proves unsuccessful, you will have to take action on your own. You may write a letter directly to that neighbor asking her cooperation in handling the matter. If you do not get her cooperation and you are harassed beyond the occasional baseless complaint, you may wish to seek a restraining order to stop any such future harassment.

Question: While on vacation, a tenant arranged for a friend to care for his cat. While in the apartment, his friend left the door of his three-year-old refrigerator open, causing the freezer to defrost. The leaking water traveled through the sub floor and emerged in the kitchen ceiling of a lower apartment. The damage was so great that the ceiling had to be removed, replaced and repainted. In addition, the cat was allowed to escape from his apartment and defecated on the common-area carpet. There is a standard month-to-month lease in effect, requiring that the tenant be liable for damages caused by a guest or invitee. Who is responsible for the damages?

Property Manager Griswold replies:

Based on your description of the facts – the tenant is clearly responsible for the negligence of the friend. The tenant should make a claim to his renter’s insurance policy carrier. The landlord should also file a claim with his/her insurance carrier so that the repairs can be done right away and then the landlord’s insurance company can subrogate the paid claim with the tenant’s insurance policy or directly pursue reimbursement from the tenant if they are uninsured.

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,” and San Diego attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant’s Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords.

E-mail your questions to Rental Q&A at

Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.


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