Fess Up: Have You Ever Painted A Rental Without Permission?

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I'll go first: yes, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. I didn't want to sink a ton of money into a rental, but I needed a fresh start, my apartment needed a spruce up, and painting was definitely the way to go. Plus, I got a killer workout schlepping gallons of paint home!

I painted my walls as part of Post-Breakup Apartment Therapy, and I'm so glad I did. With fairly little investment, my home felt new and sparkly and — most importantly — mine. It was an impulse decision that served me well. Luckily, I had California law on my side (though I confess to not really researching this before acting). According to the California Department of Consumer Affairs:

One approach for determining the amount that the landlord can deduct from the tenant's security deposit for repainting, when repainting is necessary, is based on the length of the tenant's stay in the rental unit. This approach assumes that interior paint has a two-year life. (Some landlords assume that interior paint has a life of three years or more.)

Length of stay / Deduction
Less than 6 months / full cost
6 months to 1 year / two-thirds of cost
1 year to 2 years / one-third of cost
2 or more years / no deduction

Using this approach, if the tenant lived in the rental unit for two years or more, the tenant could not be charged for any repainting costs, no matter how dirty the walls were.


At the time that I painted, I'd already lived in my apartment for five years, so there was no risk of a deduction. Even still, I painted my walls an easy-to-paint-over cream, perhaps not a terribly exciting color but a vast improvement over the landlord-issued beige. I got to enjoy the paint for three more years, so I feel I got my money's worth. And the story has a happy ending: my entire security deposit was returned to me.

What about you? Have you ever painted a rental? What were the consequences? Were you prepared to take a financial hit from your landlord but felt it would totally be worth it? Tell all!

(Image credits: Marcia Prentice)