Question: I just moved out of an apartment that I rented for about 6 1/2 years. I had painted the apartment a terracotta color after asking the onsite manager for permission in advance. We never discussed the actual color that I would be painting, but he indicated that it was OK because the apartment would have to be painted when I moved anyway. I think the apartment looks much better in this color than the dull boring colors used by the landlord. Now I have moved out and I received my security deposit disposition statement with a deduction for $350 for repainting because I had painted the unit “dark orange.” They claim the total cost to repaint was $950, as two coats were required. I feel that being charged more than one-third of the cost of painting to be exorbitant. If he had told me that the cost would be so high I would have painted over the color myself. Is there any advice that you can give me or should I just pay the additional amount and learn a lesson?
Property manager Griswold replies:
Most owners and property managers of rental properties typically prefer to use neutral colors when painting in order to appeal to the majority of prospective tenants. And many tenants want to personalize their rental property, as it is their home. So if you indeed did paint the apartment any other color than a neutral color, it is not surprising that you would be charged. While you did live there a long time, the fact is that you did paint the apartment in a dark color and thus it is not unusual that it would take at least two coats to bring the color back to the preferred shade of bland. Therefore, the charge of $350 does not seem unreasonable, as that would generally be the extra cost incurred for the second coat of paint required to cover up the dark color you chose. Since the landlord paid for the $600 of the repainting cost, it seems that you were not really charged for the cost of painting the apartment. If you had used a light color that could be covered in one coat, then the total repainting cost would likely have been no more than the $600 paid by the landlord. I would suggest that you ask for a copy of the actual invoice to verify that the work was done and at the price quoted of $950, but otherwise, it seems like you were treated fairly. In the future, you might want to have the specific paint color approved in writing and agree to the specific repainting scope of work or charges in advance to avoid any surprises.
Question: I had a month left on my lease when I decided to move into another apartment. I told the landlord I was leaving and asked her to try to let out my old apartment. She put one ad on an online Web site advertising the place at more than what I paid, which was market rate. There were no for-rent signs on the building or anything else, just one ad. The place did not rent. Three days before the month was up, the landlord put up another ad advertising the apartment at the same rent I paid. The place rented in just two days. Am I responsible for that last month’s rent?
Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:
When you moved out leaving one month left unpaid, you, in effect, abandoned the premises in violation of the lease. Your decision to move appears to be based on personal reasons and not due to any misconduct of the landlord or defects in the premises rendering it uninhabitable. Therefore, the landlord may hold you responsible for that last month’s rent unless she re-rents the apartment out during that month. The law requires her to make a reasonable effort to attract a replacement tenant. Failing to properly advertise the unit or taking action that causes a difficulty in re-renting the unit (i.e. by charging a higher rent) may prevent her from claiming any rent from you at all. Some landlords use lease-break situations to test the market by looking for a higher-paying tenant while holding you responsible for the time they spend doing this. The law does not favor such conduct because your lease did not promise anything but the contract rent. Here the landlord took action against the lease by trying for that higher rent. Therefore, she will probably have a tough time holding you responsible for any lost rent in that last month since when she advertised the apartment at the contract rate, it rented out right away.
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.
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