Maintenance left paint on things. What now?
May 2, 2008 8:55 PM   Subscribe

While fixing a problem with my bathtub, maintenance guys got a nice mini-layer of paint all over everything in my bathroom, and some stuff in my bedroom. What do I do now?

I queried my apartment building management to fix a crack in my bathtub from wear-and-tear. After a week of no communication, they finally showed up today without notice while I was leaving for a dentist appointment. It turned out to be 2 guys I couldn't understand and they couldn't understand me--an unfortunate the language barrier. I had to leave, so I left my apartment. Note that they had entry to my apartment either way (i.e., they locked the door when they left, a deadbolt). They seemed to know that the tub was the problem, however.

When I came back this evening, there was a nice white-paint soot over everything in my bathroom. They threw everything I had in my tub into the sink (I could have done this for them if I had known they were coming in advance) as well as on me and my girlfriend's contact cases, glasses, her hairdryer and straightener, my weight scale (a nice frosted look now), among other things one would find in a bathroom. Also, outside of the bathroom door, within ~3 foot radius there is also a nice white-paint soot on things. For example, my black chair had a book sitting on it, and the chair now has a nice outline of where the book was sitting.

I've taken pictures, documented things that would need replacing and I would never use again (a new toothbrush I just opened...). My girlfriend and I calculated up everything that has one-side of paint on it now, and it's around $300-$400 with the glasses included.

So my question is what is my recourse? Can I just tell the landlord to cut me a check for the stuff? Can I threaten small claims court? Is what they did legal (I hope not, but you never know).

Details: I'm in Atlanta, GA and am a tenant in an apartment.
posted by djpyk to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd check your lease first; see what it says about this sort of thing. Assuming it's not specifically covered, write a letter to your landlord. (Explain what happened in detail, list the damaged items and the total cost to replace them.) Send it with signature confirmation. They might pay you with little hassle. If they refuse, then you have a good case for small claims court.
posted by hjo3 at 9:27 PM on May 2, 2008

This kind of damage may be covered under your renters insurance - worth checking. Of course, the deductible may be more than the cost of your damage depending on your specific agreement.
posted by meerkatty at 9:46 PM on May 2, 2008

What exactly do you mean by "white paint-soot"? Are we talking about something which can wiped up, or is there actually a fine layer of now-dry paint on your belongings?

Not sure how a crack in a tub (seriously, a crack in your tub? Or a bad seal around the tile?) equals repainting the bathroom, unless they did serious repair.

Anyway, if it's something which can be wiped up then your in a much looser position of leverage with your leasing company. If it actually is paint, then I'd really approach it as politely but firmly as possible.

A few things could happen:

1.) Rather than take a loss or pay out money, your landlord may refuse to do anything other than graciously allow you to break your lease early.

2.) I'd ask for a rent deduction. Leasing agencies are nortoriously stingy, so make it easy on them by saying you want $100 off the next five or six months rent. That way they don't take such a hit all at once. Also be sure you factor the time you spend replacing your belongs into the bill.

As always when dealing with leasing vultures, make sure you document EVERY LITTLE thing - every phone call (whether you reach anyone or not), every voice mail left, the name of everyone you talk to... keep all this info and be sure to include it in every correspondences. Say, "Look here: I have a log of how bad you guys are dropping the ball."

One piece of advice I've heard recently here was to threaten to withhold rent until they rectify the situation, but place the rent in escrow and show them proof. Say, "Look, I've taken the rent and put it here for safe keeping until you fix my problem."
posted by wfrgms at 9:59 PM on May 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

If they had to cut into the wall, it's probably drywall dust. It's hard to contain as the particles are very fine and take a while to settle out of the air.
posted by D.C. at 12:38 AM on May 3, 2008

If they redid the finish on your bathtub, it is paint. Paint applied with the type of machine that they use to paint cars. We've had two bathtubs refinished and (luckily) our very good tub guy puts brown paper over EVERYTHING including bags around the faucets, etc. That stuff is not to be messed with. I'm so sorry.

If it is something that wouldn't be ruined by chemicals, test a spot with paint thinner or denatured alcohol to see if that removes it.
posted by jeanmari at 5:11 AM on May 3, 2008

The folks at Midwest Chemicals are very nice and they sell the products used for "in-place" tub refinishing and repair. You might try calling them and asking them if there is any cleaner for taking off the residue.

For any chemists in the MeFi crowd, here are the compounds they use on the tubs. Not all of them are for "in-place" refinishing and I'm not sure which ones are which.
posted by jeanmari at 5:15 AM on May 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

If it's actually a layer of paint that can't be wiped up, there are plenty of options for removal. The bad news is that if it was the sort of paint used to refinish tubs, it's harder to get up than normal wall paint.

Obviously, show the landlord what happened and extract some kind of compensation.

For things that are scrubbable like the fixtures, get a blue Scotch Brite sponge. The no scratch one. (DO NOT USE A GREEN ONE! Sorry for yelling. These are abrasive, might as well be using sand paper. Great for some things, but not for anything that has a nice finish.) The blue scotch brite won't scratch anything except paint and softer plastics, in my experience. I've even used it on car finishes- it mars up the paint, but that is easily polished out. Anyway.

Mix up some soap- start with something like Lysol, or laundry detergent. If those don't work, maybe even something like TSP from a paint store.

Give everything a good scrubbing with that, and it should come off pretty easily.

If anything remains, try using the edge of an old credit card or a plastic knife (or a plastic putty knife from the hardware store) to scrape the stuff off. That's gotta work, but it's brain numbing tedious work.

As for the glasses, check with an optician. If they tell you that it's a lost cause try this: go to an autoparts store and get a cheap "clay detailing" kit. What this is is a lump of a clay-like material that is slightly abrasive. You spray the surface with a slippery compound (the stuff that comes with it, very soapy water, AstroGlide, stuff like that), and gently slide the clay bar across the surface. What it does is conform to the contours of the surface of your object. As you are rubbing back and forth, the clay glides over the surface causing no damage. But when it runs into a paint speck, it very gently abrades away a small amount of the speck. After a while, the speck is gone and your surface is, hopefully, undamaged.
posted by gjc at 8:34 AM on May 3, 2008

If the soot is made up of particles that have settled on everything but aren't adhering, you might be tempted to wipe them up, but that can make matters worse. It's much better to use a vacuum. Very fine particles can escape a lot of home vacuums, and they can clog others. You should rent a shop vac with a hepa filter; they're available at rental centers. They're used by painters who have to remove lead dust, and by workers cleaning up dust from the sanding of joint compound. You'll need at least a brush attachment, and probably a crevice tool and a dusting-brush attachment.
posted by wryly at 12:54 PM on May 3, 2008

While fairly fresh, paint will come off with water & detergent. Googone is good for paint removal. Be gentle with the finish on the chair.

Decide what you want as compensation. Do you want the landlord to call a professional cleaner? Replace towels and other ruined items? Then ask for what you think is fair. Most cities and states require that you be notified before the landlord or someone acting on landlord's behalf can enter. Also check with a tenants' rights organization in your area, as they will know local laws.
posted by theora55 at 3:54 PM on May 3, 2008

Here's an update and thanks for all the help!

The "painter" was a contractor, so the contractor came in and made an assessment. He ended up paying $210 in damages, and also cleaned up things in the meantime.

In addition, the landlord gave a $75 reduction in rent for the next month.

Not bad, but quite the experience.
posted by djpyk at 7:10 PM on June 3, 2008

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