Landlord taking unreasonable amount from security deposit
March 19, 2013 12:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving out of an apartment in NYC at the end of the month. Our landlord is charging us to repaint the entire apartment. I'm pretty sure this is BS. Help?

I've lived in this apartment (NYC) for almost two years and will be moving out at the end of the month. When we moved in, we painted (with permission) a little less than a quarter of the place -- a few walls here and there, but left most of it was left unpainted. We hung up a few pictures, but nothing extravagant, and the walls are in fine condition, minus a few nail holes.

Landlord came through today for review and said he would be withholding $800 from our security deposit to repaint the entire apartment. When we painted, we assumed we would have to either cover up our paint, or maybe pay for repainting of those walls. Not the entire apartment.

(It originally cost us $150 to paint the walls, as reference, so with a coat of primer, I expected maybe $200 max.)

I want to know if my understanding of NYC tenant law is correct, and further resources I can point our landlord to to or take advantage of. Our landlord only owns this one place, a three-family home, and he just shouted at me over the phone because he's always been a "good landlord" and I should just pay up because it's "morally right." I have no idea how to deal with this.

It is my understanding that legally:

apartments must be repainted every 3 years regardless -- it's been more than 3 years since this apt was last painted (unless us painting a few walls counts as repainting)

that tenants cannot be held responsible for repainting unless if it requires more than one coat of paint to cover (which two of our walls might, the rest are pale shades of yellow and blue)

nail holes are generally considered "normal wear and tear" and covering them shouldn't be held from the security deposit (I was going to fill them anyway before moving, but alas...)

landlords must provide an itemized list of charges if they are to take $ out of the security deposit (he plans to just repaint the apartment "with [his] friends" and said providing an itemized list of charges sounds "ridiculous")

Are these assumptions correct? What else should I know? How can we make sure we are only paying what is fair from our security deposit? I'm having a terrible time parsing what I'm finding from internet research, and neither of us can really afford a lawyer — we've got an out-of-state lawyer parent whose stationary we can maybe take advantage of, but that's about it. My roommate will be moving out of the state (and then, shortly, out of the country) at the end of our lease. I'm happy to go to small claims, but would like to try to sort something out first.

And just to state again: we are FINE paying a reasonable amount for painting over the portion that we painted, but not for painting the entire apartment.

What do we do?
posted by good day merlock to Human Relations (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
apartments must be repainted every 3 years regardless -- it's been more than 3 years since this apt was last painted (unless us painting a few walls counts as repainting)

This is the most important point.

that tenants cannot be held responsible for repainting unless if it requires more than one coat of paint to cover (which two of our walls might, the rest are pale shades of yellow and blue)

It would definitely require more than one coat of paint. But due to the fact that the apartment hasn't been painted in more than three years, this shouldn't matter.

nail holes are generally considered "normal wear and tear" and covering them shouldn't be held from the security deposit (I was going to fill them anyway before moving, but alas...)

Fill them anyway, and document the shit out of the condition of the place when you leave. $800 is worth fighting over. I got smaller amount docked from my last security deposit for bullshit reasons and my roommates and I decided not to take them to small claims court because it was not enough money compared to the rest of the deposit for us to care. But $800 is a lot, and it sounds like you have a good case.

Stop trying to negotiate - this guy is trying to take advantage of you.

I defer to those with more NYC-specific knowledge, though.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:19 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


in alberta where I live there's a phone number that you can call and they will discuss landlord-tenant rights with you and look up all the rules and how they apply.

does NYC have something like that?

$800 if you're painting with your friends is too much. I painted my whole apartment (900sqftish?) including the roof and the baseboards with really nice benjamin moore paint last summer for under $600.

here, you can request receipts to show how your dd was used or else they legally have to give it back. but I'm not sure about where you are. see if you can look up a tenants' rights phone number, they've been really helpful to me in the past.
posted by euphoria066 at 12:22 PM on March 19, 2013


[and as a side note -- I'm only 90% positive on the "it hasn't been painted in more than 3 years" thing -- I'm fairly sure the place hasn't been painted since before the last tenants moved in, but I'd have to double check, so if you could answer with that in mind it would be super]
posted by good day merlock at 12:25 PM on March 19, 2013


But $800 is a lot, and it sounds like you have a good case.

NYC-specific knowledge sez if you plan on sticking around here, $800 may not be worth having your name permanently tied to a case in Landlord-Tenant Court and screwing up your future ability to rent or buy an apartment. Previously.
posted by griphus at 12:29 PM on March 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


(Actually, I'm not 100% sure if this is a small claims or L/T matter, but either way, you end up on the list.)
posted by griphus at 12:30 PM on March 19, 2013


Normally, landlords have a time frame in which they have to give you an itemized deposit or you're automatically entitled to all your money back. Looks like NYC is de facto 45 days. So let him not bother to itemize. Once the time limit is up, write a letter demanding all your money back because you never received an itemized withholding list. Take that to small claims court and it will be a near-automatic judgment in your favor.

This is the best path because it stops being about the apartment, which can be very he-said she-said and starts being about failure to follow the law, which judges have a much easier time making a ruling on.

(on preview, if court turns out not to be an option for you, you're pretty much screwed unless you can argue with him successfully or offer to do the apartment painting yourself)
posted by zug at 12:33 PM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Of course they shouldn't be charging you at all, but even $600 would be ridiculous. I've painted an entire large apartment for under $100 before. 5 gallon buckets of white self priming paint are about $35-45, a couple $10 roller kits, and some $1.75 drop cloths. I think I only breached $100 with tax. Obviously with a landlord there's labor, but I still can't even see how you'd breach $300.

These types of landlord always use the cheapest paint and such too, so don't assume something nicer is being sprung for.

I've commented before that my parents were landlords at a large apartment complex, and that I know more than a bit about landlord tenant law.

NYC has to have some "renters solidarity" organization dedicated to fighting this crap.

Really though, if he won't even provide a list, it's small claims court time. Do NOT feel bad. If he can't come up with receipts and figures to prove what he spent he'll have to give all of your money back. Seriously, take photos and go file today. It's like $75 and you don't need a lawyer.

On preview, holy shit that court search thing is screwed up. That wouldn't ever fly around here. I bet the landlord is doing this knowing you won't file because of that.

I'd just fall back to the tenants rights organization thing. But know that this blatantly illegal flexing.
posted by emptythought at 12:34 PM on March 19, 2013


This would be small claims, not housing court, and as far as I could tell the tenant blacklist only is for housing court cases, not small claims. Either way, I'm not letting this guy dick me around just because there's some chance of being on a blacklist.
posted by good day merlock at 12:35 PM on March 19, 2013


Lots of bad advice above. Call 311, ask them to put you in touch with whoever in NYC government helps tenants with landlord-tenant issues. Ask those people what the best course of action is here.
posted by dfriedman at 12:37 PM on March 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm unfamiliar with NY law, but don't forget to look at your lease. You may have agreed to a provision promising to pay for the repainting of the entire apartment if you change a few walls.

Also, be wary about advice that you should try to bait your landlord into a trap of some sort, e.g. taking zug's advice and saying "Hey landlord, don't worry about that itemized statement thing" and then turning around and trying to jam it down landlord's throat when he doesn't give you an itemized statement.

Seconding the advice that you get in touch with the landlord-tenant rights groups; they'll have the best basis of knowledge in this sort of thing, and they've probably dealt with this exact issue before.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:38 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my NYC rental experience, repainting between tenants is standard procedure and shouldn't be "charged for".

That said, if you painted that "quarter" of your apartment deep red or charcoal gray or another color that will be difficult to hide with a coat of cheap landlord white, yes, they are probably within their rights to charge you because covering up what you did will require both extra work and specialized materials (namely, Killz primer).

You may be able to head this off at the pass by volunteering to paint it yourself.
posted by Sara C. at 12:39 PM on March 19, 2013


(It originally cost us $150 to paint the walls, as reference, so with a coat of primer, I expected maybe $200 max.)

So it cost you $150 just to buy the paint to cover some of the walls, and you think that a couple of coats of paint and labour should be max $50 bucks more? I'd press him for receipts, but I think your estimate is maybe half what it will be. (Have you ever tried painting over colored walls? Even 'pale yellow' will show through like anything - if you thought that would only require one coat of paint but realised that some of your walls would need more than one, then I wouldn't be surprised if some of those walls will actually need way more than two).

If you're still there for a month, then you've got time to get a painter to come in and do an estimate for you on what it would cost to paint just your walls, or even do the painting back to standard white.
posted by jacalata at 12:41 PM on March 19, 2013


I told him we'd be willing to paint over our paint before we moved out but he said that he would still charge us for the whole apartment's paint. (Sorry! I'll stop threadsitting now...)
posted by good day merlock at 12:41 PM on March 19, 2013


This would be small claims, not housing court, and as far as I could tell the tenant blacklist only is for housing court cases...

It depends a lot on the landlord and the resources they have. If it is Frank the Landlord, he's probably not going to run any sort of search. If it is We Own All The Buildings Real Estate Inc., they'll probably run a search through all five (Supreme/Lower Civil/L-T/Small Claims/USDC) borough courts because the cost of each individual search is negligible compared to the processing fee of the place doing the searches. But, generally, they won't run a search like that unless you're buying property rather than renting it.
posted by griphus at 12:41 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


To clarify, I am *not* suggesting you should bait your landlord. I am suggesting that if he chooses not to follow the law as he has indicated he will not, you take that shit to court. It isn't your job to nag your landlord about the itemized repair list with receipts, it's his job to provide it.

Also NYC is funny about a lot of things, and it is definitely worth talking to housing rights people. But in my experience, of all the legal options you have in front of you, not providing an itemized list is the easiest case to pursue because it's strictly about the law and not about the apartment.
posted by zug at 12:42 PM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


On your update, good day merlock, nonononononono. That is where I'd be getting into tenant law and housing court and all. Because it's ridiculous that they would charge you $800 to "repaint" a freshly painted white apartment.

Is it possible that your landlord thinks you're gullible and that you don't know that repainting between tenants is a standard thing and not something New Yorkers pay for? I would start by calling his bluff.
posted by Sara C. at 12:45 PM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Google Books excerpt from New York Landlord's Law Book discusses painting.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:49 PM on March 19, 2013


On your update, yea he sounds unreasonable. I would still get the estimate of how much it would cost to paint over your colored walls, because if it would cost twice as much as it would have otherwise then I expect he could still charge you that difference if normal repainting is not chargeable.

Before going to court, you could look into the Attorney-General mediation service for security deposits (not sure if this would affect your ability to go to court afterwards):

Rent Security Deposits: The Office of New York State Attorney General offers, as an alternative to filing a lawsuit, a mediation service to assist tenants in recovering rent security deposits and interest. To access the Office’s mediation service, simply file a rent security complaint form with the Office of the New York State Attorney General, Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection at 120 Broadway, 3rd Floor, New York, New York, 10271.
posted by jacalata at 12:53 PM on March 19, 2013


apartments must be repainted every 3 years regardless -- it's been more than 3 years since this apt was last painted (unless us painting a few walls counts as repainting)


this is true ONLY if the lease is rent stabilized or rent controlled. If it is not, there is no law about painting apartments.
posted by DMelanogaster at 12:53 PM on March 19, 2013


DMalanogaster -- so am I reading this wrong?

In occupied dwelling units in a multiple dwelling, the owner shall:

Paint or cover the walls and ceilings with wallpaper or other acceptable wall covering; and

Repaint or re-cover the walls and ceilings with wallpaper or other acceptable wall covering every three years, and more often when required by contract or other provisions of law.

posted by good day merlock at 12:55 PM on March 19, 2013


I told him we'd be willing to paint over our paint before we moved out but he said that he would still charge us for the whole apartment's paint.

It depends on the layout of your apartment, but I actually think it's reasonable for the landlord to want all the whites to match (as I assume they did before you painted the walls.) If you want to avoid small claims, can you paint the whole apartment?
posted by lalex at 12:56 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


good day merlock, whether A or B applies depends on whether or not you are in a "multiple dwelling". A quick read of your question suggests that if there are at least 3 units not occupied by the landlord, you're correct.

12. The term "multiple dwelling", as herein used, means a dwelling
which is occupied, as a rule, for permanent residence purposes and which
is either sold, rented, leased, let or hired out, to be occupied as the
residence or home of three or more families living independently of each
other. A "multiple dwelling" shall not be deemed to include a hospital,
convent, monastery, asylum or public institution, or a fireproof
building used wholly for commercial purposes except for not more than
one janitor's apartment and not more than one penthouse occupied by not
more than two families. The term "family," as used herein, means either
a person occupying a dwelling and maintaining a household, with not more
than four boarders, roomers or lodgers, or two or more persons occupying
a dwelling, living together and maintaining a common household, with not
more than four boarders, roomers or lodgers. A "boarder," "roomer" or
"lodger" residing with a family means a person living within the
household who pays a consideration for such residence and does not
occupy such space within the household as an incident of employment
therein. Within the context of this definition, the terms "multiple
dwelling" and "multi-family dwelling" are interchangeable.
posted by zug at 1:06 PM on March 19, 2013


Also, look at section G. You should be able to find out when they were last painted.
posted by zug at 1:09 PM on March 19, 2013


You can just follow the advice I gave to the other poor dude in NYC whose landlord was trumping up security deposit charges:

http://ask.metafilter.com/173404/How-to-handle-a-greedy-landlord#2494863

Don't offer to paint anything for the landlord, and stop offering anything else. Just move out as planned, and wait for your landlord to either return your deposit or not. If and when he doesn't, send the certified letter, and let your attorney general take care of the rest. (Note: do your own math, based on your deposit amount.)
posted by juniperesque at 1:20 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can just follow the advice I gave to the other poor dude in NYC whose landlord was trumping up security deposit charges

I don't think the "move out and demand itemization later" idea is a good one in this particular case. It obviously depends on the apartment but it's pretty easy to imagine that the materials + labor cost of painting would get up to $800.
posted by lalex at 1:28 PM on March 19, 2013


The main issue, as I said before, is he is quite vocal about intending to charge us to repaint the ENTIRE apartment, not just the walls we painted — and that's where he's getting this $800 figure. I get that we'll owe some for painting our walls, but I can't figure out how much we SHOULD owe, legally. Painting the whole apartment might be $800 (personally, I think that's high, considering it'll be him and his friends and mostly one layer of white paint in a small apartment), but he could submit an itemized receipt for the entire apartment and I wouldn't know what to do, because part of it is overcharging me for normal wear and tear.

Sorry, I'm confusing myself here!
posted by good day merlock at 1:38 PM on March 19, 2013


Painting the whole apartment might be $800 (personally, I think that's high, considering it'll be him and his friends

Ya gotta get this out of your head. The fair cost of such work includes labor, and the fact that the labor might be done by friends for beer and pizza instead of a professional for cash seems immaterial, UNLESS the law requires not only an itemized list of charges but also invoices showing that that money was actually spent. If an itemized list is all that's required then he can put down whatever value he wants for his labor, and if you sue him then a judge may or may not agree with you on what is reasonable. My guess is that if you take the position that your landlord's and his friends' labor should be free, you will lose.

I don't know NYC landlord-tenant law but it sounds like you're not responsible for wear and tear, so if you haven't damaged the walls you didn't paint then he's not going to win on that part. Which leaves the walls you did paint, for which you are clearly responsible. The easiest way to keep him from overcharging for those parts is to do it yourself. Plan on 3 coats if you've got to cover dark colors with light. You should be able to match color and sheen well enough that, so long as you paint entire walls and not parts of walls, subtle transitions at corners won't be problematic. The light falls differently on differently-positioned surfaces anyhow.

he plans to just repaint the apartment "with [his] friends" and said providing an itemized list of charges sounds "ridiculous"

You may not realize it, but this is him telling you that you've got him on the ropes. He knows he can't win this one if it comes down to law, so he's appealing to you to agree with him that the law is 'ridiculous,' and shouldn't apply.

If you're otherwise leaving the apartment pretty much as you found it, minor wear and tear excepted, then I think the easiest way to keep your money is to do a good job repainting the walls you painted, and call his bluff. Point out that he can't charge you for wear and tear, and tell him that if you don't receive your deposit in full then you will take him to court. If he calculates that you're likely to follow through, and that he's likely to lose, then he's very unlikely to go down that road.
posted by jon1270 at 2:41 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


good day merlock, yes you are reading it wrong, in that first, you need to read this -- which will demonstrate to you that all of that information applies only to *rent stabilized* apartments.

You still haven't told us if you're living in one or not.
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:29 PM on March 19, 2013


upon further research I think I might be wrong! and landlords are required to paint every three years even if the apartment is not rent stabilized. I think!
posted by DMelanogaster at 6:44 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Security Deposits to be treated as trust funds, regardless of number of units.

Also useful.

You might not get a full refund, but you are entitled to an itemized accounting.

Do not use an out-of-state attorney's stationery.

It will be less hassle to negotiate. His back's probably up against a wall because he's got one property in NYC and it's probably mortgaged to hell and he is probably struggling to make taxes and water payments, even with his friends moving in.

It's in neither of your best interests to litigate, or to threaten that. But you do have the right to at least a partial return of your security deposit.
posted by jenad at 7:44 PM on March 19, 2013


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