Hardly shabby chic
June 22, 2010 8:26 AM   Subscribe

My rental house's paint is peeling and generally looks incredibly shabby. My landlord said (verbally) when we moved in last July that he planned to paint it in a few months. A year later, it still hasn't been done. I've asked for updates several times and he says it's on the top of his list but temperature/weather have gotten in the way. Other than that I don't have anything in writing. Complication: his wife is hospitalized with stage IV cancer. He's notified tenants of this as a reason why he's less than responsive lately. Other than the painting issue, he's a great person/landlord. Should I press the issue? If so, what can I do? I'm really torn because his reasons are valid, but my house looks so bad at this point that I'm embarrassed to have guests over.
posted by emilyd22222 to Home & Garden (40 answers total)
My opinion is to back off or offer to paint it yourself for reduced rent.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:31 AM on June 22, 2010 [10 favorites]

Would he pay for the paint if you did it yourself? Or give you a discount in rent one month?
posted by MsMolly at 8:31 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, paint it yourself. Have friends over for a painting party and have him pay for the paint (or agree in writing your rent will be reduced by the same amount next month). This way you get to choose the colours too.
posted by saucysault at 8:33 AM on June 22, 2010

Response by poster: Clarification: this is the exterior paint.
posted by emilyd22222 at 8:34 AM on June 22, 2010

I gotta say, his wife's cancer is probably sucking a lot of his time and money away from stuff like maintenance. Battling cancer is a huge money suck, even if you DO have insurance.

Any chance you could spring for a paint crew to do your house (or do the work yourself) and then work-out a reduction in your rent to pay yourself back? Your landlord might be receptive to a small reduction in his monthly revenue stream than the larger one-time outlay for a paint crew (unless, of course, he was going to do the work himself.)
posted by Thorzdad at 8:36 AM on June 22, 2010

I would do the legwork of finding painters and getting price quotes, then present all this to your landlord for him to ok. If that doesn't get set into motion immediately or if he says he'll get to it, then (I assume it's about time to be re-signing a lease?) get something in writing saying that if house is not repainted by [DATE], then you will pay less rent at [AMOUNT] until the house is painted.
posted by phunniemee at 8:37 AM on June 22, 2010

Response by poster: He was going to do the work himself.
posted by emilyd22222 at 8:37 AM on June 22, 2010

Honestly, it's probably about money. People with cancer often have silly medical bills. It's quite possible that his REAL priorities are with his wife and her health. Offer to do all the leg work of finding a reputable house painter and take the cost out of rent.
posted by Lizsterr at 8:38 AM on June 22, 2010

If your would-be guests are friends, as opposed to clients or business contacts you need to impress, I think you could just explain about your landlord's situation and your friends wouldn't think twice about the house's paint job. Even a new boyfriend/girlfriend - they want to see you, not your exterior aluminum siding.

For business-type guests, I'd just arrange to meet them elsewhere until your landlord's wife is out of the hospital. You say he's a good guy, so I'd cut him some slack here. If your positions were reversed, you'd undoubtedly hope for the same from your tenants.

On preview, painting the house yourself is an option, but it's a really big job. You'd probably have to scrape, fill, and prime all over the place - old failing paint has to be removed, you can't just paint over it or the new paint will flake off too. I'd think really hard before committing to painting a whole exterior myself.
posted by Quietgal at 8:39 AM on June 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

If the house itself if in good shape and it's just the exterior of the house that looks shabby, I would let it ride. He has more important things on his mind than flaking exterior paint on one of his rental properties.
posted by crankylex at 8:41 AM on June 22, 2010

Best answer: He was going to do the work himself.

Well he's not going to because his wife is probably dying. I think your best bet is to accept this compassionately for the near term future and make a longer term plan. Obviously your friends will accept that your house is shabby because your landlord has other things on his mind. If they do not, I'm sorry but they're jerks. You know what his situation is at the moment and you can reflect it to them however you feel is appropriate.

I think pushing it at this point isn't really the right thing do to. It's unlikely to work and will just stress you out. Karmically it's uncool. It's a pain, agreed, but paint is really not one of those things that you're going to be able to really do anything but nag about [i.e. it's not one of the things that has to be provided to you legally]. So, your lease is coming up yes? I agree with phunniemee entirely, make sure you have some sort of written agreement and a deadline for getting the painting done and be sure he's clear that it's a dealbreaker from your perspective. Offer alternatives [i.e. quotes on getting people to come paint, doing some of the work yourself, etc] and think about what exactly the problem is you're trying to solve.
posted by jessamyn at 8:43 AM on June 22, 2010 [25 favorites]

Crap, hit post too soon. My advice would be different if something vital was not working, like a plumbing or electrical issue. But being unable to use your sink is a lot different on the priority list than having a nicely painted house.
posted by crankylex at 8:43 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you plan to stay in your current residence for awhile, don't push your landlord. You say he's generally good, but I can guarantee you that if you push him with what's going on in his life, he will cease to be nice (and I wouldn't blame him).

I had an apartment once that had an incredibly shabby exterior, but I made the interior a wonderful space, and the contrast between outside appearance and inside made it even better (and a wonderful surprise for guests expecting the inside to match the out!)
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:45 AM on June 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: The lease has already been resigned. When it came up for renewal (in April, I think) I said that I wanted assurance that it would get painted, and he told me that up until that point the nights were still dropping below 40 degrees so he couldn't do it yet, and as soon as it got warmer he would do it right away. That assuaged me at that point.

I should emphasize here that I'm really sympathetic to his situation here, and this is why I've essentially sat on this. I know it's just a superficial issue, but at this point it's more that it's been so long.
posted by emilyd22222 at 8:50 AM on June 22, 2010

Would you move out if he said he couldn't do it? Would you take it that far? That's the question you'll have to ask yourself, because that might be what you have to do if you aren't willing to compromise and find a painter yourself.
posted by Lizsterr at 8:52 AM on June 22, 2010

Response by poster: Also- thank you for the feedback so far. I love being part of such an empathic, reasonable community.
posted by emilyd22222 at 8:55 AM on June 22, 2010

Please reread the part of your post that says his wife has stage 4 cancer.

Read it again.

Read it again.

Just tell your friends that the landlord is spending time with his (probably) dying wife instead of painting your house.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:00 AM on June 22, 2010 [20 favorites]

Do you really want to see a man with a dying wife on a ladder in front of your house? Come on...

If this is really bothering you, doing a little landscaping will spruce up a peeling house; hit a nursery and spend the weekend installing flowers. This is not "so long," and "he's a great person/landlord." "It's just a superficial issue," yes. Embarrassed to have friends over? Again: come on.
posted by kmennie at 9:03 AM on June 22, 2010

If I were your friend, I might note the exterior as being shabby, but I wouldn't say anything because I would know you were renting and weren't responsible for the exterior of the building.

And then if you offered an unprompted explanation of how your landlord's wife is dying and he's been spending time with her and is in and out of hospitals or hospice care or whatever, I would say, "Oh my gosh! That must be so hard to go through! Poor family."

And my thoughts about your place then on out would be about that and not about your shabby exterior.

But if you were my friend and you offered an unprompted explanation of how your landlord's wife is dying and he never painted the exterior of the house in the time you've been there and how horrible it looks and embarrassed you are by it, I would think, "Why is my friend being such an asshole about this? The guy's wife is dying, for crying out loud!"

If the paint isn't otherwise adversely affecting your living space and if there's no health hazard associated with it, let it be.
posted by zizzle at 9:09 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Come on...

Of course I wouldn't want to do anything that would be an inconvenience to him at a time that's guaranteed to be incredibly difficult. This is why I haven't pressed it to now- you all have validated the approach I have already been taking. Responses here have presented reasonable compromises that wouldn't take him away from his wife, and reminded me that it's OK to do nothing. If it was me in his shoes, I would want an understanding tenant. I am trying to be that to the best of my ability.
posted by emilyd22222 at 9:10 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If the appearance of your house is that important, then you need to do something about it yourself—make arrangements (after speaking to your landlord and getting it all in writing) to have it painted and be paid back by the landlord, ask the landlord for the contact information of his usual painter so you can get in touch directly and make arrangements on his behalf, see if you can move to a different house he owns, etc. If doing those things is unproductive, I still would not harass your landlord about this, especially given that he was courteous enough to disclose to you and his other tenants that he's currently going through such a difficult time due to his wife's serious illness. He was under no obligation to tell you that, and that he did so speaks of his general goodwill.

And sure, he's technically obligated to paint your house—as you've noted, you have a verbal agreement, which likely counts as a contract—but it sounds like the agreed-upon time frame was rather vague, which limits the agreement's enforceability. And the fact of having a contract really only matters if you're planning to break your lease or get some outside party (a court or other governmental body) involved in this situation—and the latter, well, would you really go to those lengths over a paint job? Does it matter when he promised it to you? Unless you suspect that he's up to something shady—e.g., his wife's not really critically ill and he's just giving you excuses to avoid cleaning up his property—I'd say you need to do as much of the legwork on this as you can yourself, and otherwise let it be.
posted by limeonaire at 9:19 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My roommate has been taking a "He's a landlord, this is his job, WTF, ask him again when he's going to paint" approach, which of course is super insensitive but also an ongoing stressor as the only tenant on the lease- I feel (probably not entirely rationally) like it's my responsibility to make sure the other people in the house are happy. I tend to let things go when they shouldn't be let go, so in part I think I needed validation that this wasn't one of those instances.
posted by emilyd22222 at 9:21 AM on June 22, 2010

While it's easy to dismiss paint as superficial, the paint acts as a barrier to the elements and protects the wood. If it's truly in bad shape, with major peeling and bare wood showing or caulking falling out of joints, it seriously needs to get painted, in order to protect the landlord's investment. I'm sure he realizes this, as well.

Honestly, I think your best option is going to be offering to do the work yourself in exchange for a lowered rent for however long you guys can agree to. Understand, too, that your rent is helping him pay for the medical bills, so you may have to live with stretching the cost over a year's rent payments or more, so he doesn't take a huge hit.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:24 AM on June 22, 2010

Offering to find a cheap house painter and then take the cost out of the rent seems like a reasonable solution. However, he might not take you up on it -- it's entirely possible he's budgeted the rental income and doesn't want to take a sudden hit like that. Or he may be anticipating a lot of medical bills or final expenses for his wife and feeling stretched thin.

If he doesn't, then you have to decide if you really want to be an asshole about this. And yeah, I think pressing him about house painting when he's got a dying wife is assholeish, to be really blunt. If I was in his position, I wouldn't be painting either. You can make the offer to have it taken care of, but if he says no, I think the correct thing to do is just let it go for a while. (Unless it moves beyond a cosmetic issue to a the-building-is-going-to-rot-and-collapse issue, then it might be worth crossing the bounds of courtesy over. But not if it's just cosmetic.)

Making the inside of your apartment nice, so that it's clear to anyone walking in that the deferred maintenance on the exterior is definitely not your 'style,' will go a long way if you have guests over. I've never (and I don't think most people have) judged someone based on the cleanliness / appearance of the common areas in an apartment building. If you keep your space neat and clean and just mention to guests that the landlord has bigger issues on his mind than paint, I can't imagine how it would possibly reflect on you.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:24 AM on June 22, 2010

My roommate has been taking a "He's a landlord, this is his job, WTF, ask him again when he's going to paint" approach

Ahhh, I see. Well, you can tell your roommate that I've known someone who put her job as a very high-powered, extremely busy and in-demand OB/GYN/psychiatrist on hold completely for more than a year while caring for a family member with just Stage II cancer. It can be an extremely tough disease to fight, and it's an everyday battle, regardless of what stage one's been diagnosed at—and his wife's at the worst one. You're lucky your landlord has been as responsive as he has. Yes, this is his job, but cancer doesn't care about people's jobs.
posted by limeonaire at 9:38 AM on June 22, 2010

I feel (probably not entirely rationally) like it's my responsibility to make sure the other people in the house are happy.

Nope. And as an aside, Jesus Christ, your roommate sounds like an demanding inconsiderate ass. Tell roommate exactly this: "The man's wife has terminal cancer. A bit of understanding, flexibility and kindness is required in this situation. He may be a landlord, but he's a human being. We'll deal with the paint when it's appropriate."
posted by jerseygirl at 9:39 AM on June 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

My roommate has been taking a "He's a landlord, this is his job, WTF, ask him again when he's going to paint" approach, which of course is super insensitive but also an ongoing stressor as the only tenant on the lease

It's incredibly insensitive. And I'm sorry, but your roommate really needs to get a freakin' grip. Sometimes a situation calls for a certain amount of maturity, empathy and perspective.

His wife isn't dead. But at Stage IV the cancer has spread to other organs -- which means that he's watching her slowly fight a battle which he probably fears she is losing, day after day. Losing a spouse is never easy. Losing them to cancer means they're being taken from you in dribs and drabs. It's tortuous, merciless and emotional hell.

Their lives have likely turned into an endless series of victories and setbacks. I know from watching two of my friends go through this same process that it can be excruciating and mentally draining. Stage IV cancer isn't always a death sentence. But it's hard to have hope.

Assume his wife is dying. Then, please encourage your roommate to have empathy and compassion for that. You'd be doing your landlord a kindness.
posted by zarq at 9:45 AM on June 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

The "take it out of the rent" idea is not necessarily a good one. As a tenant, I've been at the receiving end of a tirade for doing so (and believe me, it was a small dollar amount ... maybe even less than $10?!?), and now that I am a landlord, it would hurt me financially if a tenant decided on their own to pay anything short of a full month's rent.

I've successfully worked out with trusted tenants in the past a deal that I would supply paint and materials, in return for their labor (this was for a bedroom repaint, not substantial like painting a house!).

If your roommate is chomping at the bit to get the house painted, then have them organize a painting party. This is after you've approached your landlord for him to provide paint and materials, and consider the labor to be an act of kindness and support for someone who is going through a difficult time. Perhaps on top of the worries about his wife, he also has that "oh, I also need to paint the house" worry, too. By offering to help him out when things have been difficult, you do a good deed and extend good will.

If you or your roommates equate this as 'work for nothing' perhaps you can get, in writing, an agreement that states that for doing the painting work, you'll automatically get your deposit back in full when you move out. You would have earned it for improving the property and leaving it in a better state than when you moved in. Getting a full deposit back may be the tangible 'payment' needed!

Good luck!!
posted by kuppajava at 9:51 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

If his wife is dying, he'd probably be extremely stoked if you offered to take this task off his hands by painting the house yourself. "I know you're very busy these days, so I was thinking..." and then ask if you can use his tools. But...it's a big job, so no points against you for demurring on that.

I'd take zizzle's approach for now if you must account for the house's appearance when people come over. "I can't wait until the house is repainted, but the landlord's wife is dying of cancer." will probably suffice for most people who might care about such things.
posted by rhizome at 10:04 AM on June 22, 2010

I was wondering why you might feel embarrassed ... Really, you don't even know if your house guests will think you are somehow inferior because of the lack of state of upkeep of the exterior. And as jessamyn says, if do they think so, then they're not really friends.

I think that concern for his wife is probably trumping everything else at the moment. Further, any kind of 'deal' could get unnecessarily complicated. I'd let it go. In fact, if you think he's a great person, is there anything you can do to support him?
posted by carter at 10:06 AM on June 22, 2010

Response by poster: I am going to ignore the paint and send him and his wife a card instead. Thanks, guys.
posted by emilyd22222 at 10:07 AM on June 22, 2010 [16 favorites]

btw I'm not sure that tenant painting parties are that good an idea. The place could wind up needing a repaint again. I'm not a landlord but if I were one I would be wary of the idea.
posted by carter at 10:09 AM on June 22, 2010

{Ack - preview ...] Good for you!
posted by carter at 10:11 AM on June 22, 2010

Response by poster: I was wondering why you might feel embarrassed ... Really, you don't even know if your house guests will think you are somehow inferior because of the lack of state of upkeep of the exterior.

Good point, you're right. I do take pride in making my living space look nice and inviting, but I don't assume that people will think I'm inferior if I don't. I guess I needed to challenge that feeling, since I'm not even sure where it comes from.

is there anything you can do to support him?

I've been offering to do the home improvement stuff that's within my skill set for a while now, including paying for materials myself, but he usually wants to do it himself. Any other ideas of ways I can support him would be much appreciated.
posted by emilyd22222 at 10:12 AM on June 22, 2010

I think maybe trying to approach him as an acquaintance or friend with some serious problems, rather than a landlord, would help. He might be confused about the relationship too as well, at the moment. It can be hard though, as there's always that economic relationship.
posted by carter at 10:21 AM on June 22, 2010

So glad you put the paint behind you for now. You are truly showing empathy, consideration and class. There will be a time and place to address it, it's just not now at all.

Any other ideas of ways I can support him would be much appreciated.

If you cook, maybe bring over some freezer-to-oven kind of meals. Something that reheats well. If you don't cook, maybe a gift card to a local establishment that delivers.
posted by jerseygirl at 10:49 AM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Any other ideas of ways I can support him would be much appreciated.

The home improvement stuff is a great way to do so. You're relieving him of a less important priority so he can focus on what he needs to.

Without knowing his situation, how close you are to them or your comfort level... small gestures are probably best. A card is good. Chemo can cause sensitivity in some people, so I wouldn't send flowers to him or his wife. What about offering to pick something up for him at the market if you're going?

When you're a caregiver, you tend to forgo taking care of yourself. I've cooked for people in the past who were going through something similar. But that sort of gesture may not be a comfortable for you.

If you know his wife and neither of them object, she might like a visitor at the hospital every once in a while. Often, those going through treatment and their caregivers need someone to talk to. Or perhaps a book to read? It can't hurt to ask if they need anything.

Also see these two AskMe entries.
posted by zarq at 10:53 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Offering to find a cheap house painter...

No, no, no. The last place I lived (and I was there about a decade) the landlord (a not for profit org with a limited budget) was skimping on expenses and kept hiring low-ball house painters who made the building look much worse (after a few months had gone by and wide swaths began to flake and peel) by not scraping or priming properly, and using cheap paint. Exterior painting is a job that needs to be done right by someone who knows what they're doing.

On preview, good for you for giving the guy some slack during his difficult time.
posted by aught at 11:59 AM on June 22, 2010

I think this problem might solve itself. Depending on his financial situation and how long his wife survives, the exterior paint might become the new landlord's problem when he has to sell or let the house go into foreclosure. Your rights as a tenant will vary by state, but it seems like a reasonable thing to look into.
posted by Skrubly at 3:23 PM on June 22, 2010

I can't imagine anyone thinking less of you because the exterior of your rental house needs to be painted. That's usually understood to be the landlord's responsibility and not the tenant's. So as long as your friends know it's a rental, you shouldn't be embarrassed to have them over. It doesn't reflect on you.

I'm glad you're ignoring the paint for now, anyway. That is the kind way to handle this.
posted by litlnemo at 3:00 AM on June 23, 2010

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