When it comes to painting, it’s not uncommon for a landlord or property management company to apply a fresh coat to the interior walls after a tenant moves out; however, it’s often done with the hope of making the unit more attractive to prospective residents – not because it’s required. The fact is in most states, requirements for painting are far from cut and dry. And New Jersey is no different.
The short answer to whether New Jersey landlords are required to paint rental units between tenants is “no.” The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs’ Division of Codes and Standards says landlords are not obligated to paint rental units more than once every three years – and even then, only if necessary. That said, all leases for rental units in New Jersey carry an “implied warranty of habitability,” which means landlords must keep rental units free of health hazards and fit for residential purposes. In regards to paint, “interior walls, ceilings and other exposed surfaces in rental units must be kept smooth, clean, free of flaking, loose or peeling paint … and maintained in a sanitary condition,” the Division of Codes and Standards says.
Cracking the Code
If a tenant wants a rental unit’s walls painted a different color to match his throw rug, he should not expect the landlord to pick up the tab. But if the paint in the kitchen is cracked, peeling and falling onto the stove top while the tenant is preparing dinner, he may have a case – but even then, only under certain conditions. The implied warranty of habitability requires a landlord to fix problems resulting from “normal wear and tear.” But for issues caused by “malicious or abnormal use,” responsibility shifts to the tenant. In other words, if the peeling paint was caused by the tenant’s excessive use of a humidifier, the landlord could pose a valid argument against paying for a new paint job.
Beware of Backfires
Before demanding a new paint job, a tenant should first consider whether the landlord is legally liable. If he isn’t, the landlord could very well turn the situation around and dump the responsibility – and associated costs – back on the tenant. After all, in accordance with New Jersey’s codes and standards, the walls of rental units are required to be “smooth, clean” and “free of flaking, loose or peeling paint.” A tenant who’s sure the landlord is responsible should put the request in writing and send it via registered mail with delivery confirmation. This documentation could prove to be invaluable should a dispute arise.
If a landlord does not respond to a tenant’s demand for repairs, a New Jersey court precedent allows the tenant to make the repairs and deduct the costs from the rent. Another permits the tenant to withhold part or all of the rent until the repair is made. However, these laws provide for “vital facilities” – things people rely on to live a reasonably normal life. They’re also enforced in emergency or hazardous situations, such as having no working toilets or no air conditioning in the midst of a heat wave. For a painting issue to qualify, it would have to disrupt the tenant’s standard of living or pose a threat. A tenant’s best bet is to report the issue to the Bureau of Housing Inspection (see Resources), which will intervene and help resolve the matter.
John Machay began writing professionally in 1984. Since then, his work has surfaced in the "West Valley View," "The Sean Hannity Show," "Scam Dunk" and in his own book, "Knuckleheads In the News." His efforts have earned him the Ottoway News Award and Billboard magazine honors for five straight years. Machay studied creative writing at Columbia College in Chicago.