Landlord has to paint apartment himself

An important judgment: tenants do not have to delete an unrenovated apartment when moving out – even if they have promised the previous tenant to do so.

Agreements with the previous tenant do not oblige tenants to carry out cosmetic repairs.

Dhe Federal Court of Justice (BGH) strengthens tenants’ rights when it comes to cosmetic repairs. You do not have to delete an unrenovated apartment when you move out, even if you have promised the previous tenant to do so. The highest civil judge decided on Wednesday in Karlsruhe. Such an agreement has no influence on the obligations of tenants and landlords in the lease, it said. (Az. VIII ZR 277/16)

According to a landmark ruling from 2015, the landlord may not oblige the tenant to make cosmetic repairs without compensation if he has moved into an unrenovated apartment. Otherwise he might have to leave it more beautiful than he found it. Corresponding clauses in rental contracts are ineffective. With the new judgment in a dispute from Celle (Lower Saxony) it is made clear that an agreement with the previous tenant does not change anything.

The tenant had painted his apartment in Celle, Lower Saxony, himself before moving out. The renting housing association had asked him to do this. The ceilings and walls were too streaky for that – she had a painter come for just under 800 euros. The tenant was supposed to pay for it, but he refused.

Basically, the law obliges the landlord to keep the apartment in good condition. However, deviations from this can be made, which is why the exception has long been the rule. According to the German Tenants Association, there is hardly a rental agreement today that does not burden the tenant with the so-called cosmetic repairs.

Put simply, this means all painting work in the apartment, i.e. painting or wallpapering the walls and ceilings, but also painting radiators, doors or window frames from the inside. It doesn’t necessarily have to be done by a craftsman. As long as the tenant works “professionally”, he can also pick up a brush himself.

But even a look at the lease is not enough, as the courts have declared a number of common clauses on cosmetic repairs to be ineffective because they put tenants at a disadvantage. For example, landlords are not allowed to stipulate that the kitchen and bathroom must be painted every three years – regardless of how shabby the rooms actually look. If the tenant has such an ineffective clause in his contract, he is fine: He does not even have to do the work.