Rent controlled apartment upgrades?
March 31, 2015 5:26 PM   Subscribe

Rent controlled apartment that needs paint, new carpet, etc. He doesn't want to move because the location is good. Can he ask the landlord to upgrade? Should he offer to split it?

A friend is living in a rent-controlled apartment in an expensive city in the US. The carpet and paint are showing from years of wear. (Carpet cleaning and wall-washing hasn't helped.) He doesn't want to move. The location is good and the price is great.

Can he ask the landlord to re-do the paint and carpet? Should he offer to split it? Should he just pay to have it done (with permission)?

How else have you approached this type of issue?
posted by 3491again to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I asked whether the paint in my apartment could be replaced, after I'd lived there about 18 years (with old paint when I moved in), my landlord declined. Then I asked if he would pay for the paint. He declined, so I paid for the whole thing myself. Don't ask, don't get. But don't be surprised if the answer is no in a rent-controlled apartment. The landlord has little reason to incentivize rent-controlled renters to stay.

Oddly, a couple of months after I painted, the 4 units in the building were all given new kitchens. It's a pride of ownership building that has been in the family a long time. My landlord was a complete idiot about that process, too, declining a few very reasonable requests that I made for nonsensical "reasons." In other words, YMMV. No harm in asking.
posted by janey47 at 6:00 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Rent control doesn't itself change the status of the landlord-tenant relationship, but it may change any goodwill by the landlord when it comes to putting money into the unit. Start by asking, and then work one's way into a negotiation.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:01 PM on March 31, 2015

Can he ask the landlord to re-do the paint and carpet?

The landlord's legal responsibilities of course vary with local law. In the relatively tenant-friendly San Francisco, the landlord is required to do maintain the apartment in a habitable state, but doesn't need to fix cosmetic problems. Apparently, here that means dirt, scuffs, and shabbiness fall into the first category, but peeling paint or holes in the carpet fall into the later.

So my recommendation is first read up on the local laws and see what's required of landlords. Second, review the lease and see if you're permitted to fix these issues yourself. Regardless of what your rights are, the next step is to ask the landlord to fix these issues. Then negotiate. They may not want your friend to be happy staying there, but they still may be willing to let him pay for some stuff they'd to have to do eventually anyway.
posted by aubilenon at 6:07 PM on March 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

Seconding aubilenon - it's entirely possible that the landlord cannot legally decline to fix these. Some places I've lived require repainting every X years, and it doesn't matter whether the apartment is rent-controlled or not. Your friend should do some research, possibly reaching out to tenant advocacy groups in his city, to find out what his landlord is obligated to do, and then ask for it.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:10 PM on March 31, 2015 [4 favorites]

Thirding the comments above. In some areas there are baseline requirements for this type of maintenance, in others there's only "normal wear and tear" where it simply means that if you move they cannot keep your deposit for wear on those items.

Personally, even if they aren't required and decline(or just go silent and pretend you never asked), i'd do it myself if they didn't if the place is a good deal... at least on the paint. Carpet can be $$$ especially for decent quality and not hideous stuff. I wouldn't invest in that unless i knew for sure i was going to be in the place for years and nothing could kick me out or cause me to have to leave.
posted by emptythought at 6:40 PM on March 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

Once you find out what the landlord's responsibilities are in your jurisdiction, make sure he knows that you landlords can tend to act like this is all crazy new information to them (it's not). Pick the carpet yourself...DO NOT USE EMPIRE CARPET...yes they come to your house. Yes they bring samples. Those samples are all white, the least practical color for carpeting, and come with a short warranty...this is a sleazy trick. For long life pick an industrial or office carpet in a darkish neutral will look neat and smart and your landlord will be happy because those kinds are on the less expensive side.
In most areas, the landlord is required to repaint every 3-5 years, but he is usually only required to paint it white. If you want another color it might be do-it-yourself. (My last long-term landlord I managed to talk into buying the paint and I did it myself...but I paint for a living, YMMV)
posted by sexyrobot at 9:01 PM on March 31, 2015

I don't know anybody who's done carpet, but I knew lots of people when I was college-age who weren't even in rent controlled places who got landlord permission and painted, but nobody who ever got the landlord to pay for anything. Either pay professionals or be very careful about that process, though. I did know someone who got charged by their management company for a re-paint after they moved because their own paint job was deemed sloppy. Even that might have been worth it to avoid several years living in a mustard-colored apartment. I mean, some places they might be required to repaint, but that's never been the case in any area I've lived in. If one was only intending on staying a couple years, carpet wouldn't seem worth it, but if he intends to still be there in a decade, I'd just offer to buy the carpet, too.
posted by Sequence at 9:06 PM on March 31, 2015

One consideration that may carry weight is that the carpets could be a health issue if mold is involved (if they are 10-15+ years old and/or there's a musty odor, there probably is). Painting you may be on your own though.

Check in with your local laws/tenant's association before asking -- there's little harm in asking. Whatever happens, even if they won't pay the landlord is unlikely to deny you permission to pay someone to do the work. Personally if I were denied and expected to stay for the foreseeable future though, I'd just quietly do the work myself. Painting is easy and cheap, and honestly floors aren't especially difficult either. Ripping up carpet is pretty easy, and replacing with click floors or a paper bag floor is too.
posted by susanvance at 6:17 AM on April 1, 2015

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