How to Discourage and Wipe Your Building Free of Graffiti

Building owners and managers often complain about graffiti. It’s not only unsightly but can lead to other problems. It can deter people from wanting to rent at your building, lower the quality of life there, and invite additional crime. Also, if you don’t remove the graffiti within a reasonable time and tenants complain, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) could issue a building-wide rent cut based on reduced services.

Building owners and managers often complain about graffiti. It’s not only unsightly but can lead to other problems. It can deter people from wanting to rent at your building, lower the quality of life there, and invite additional crime. Also, if you don’t remove the graffiti within a reasonable time and tenants complain, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) could issue a building-wide rent cut based on reduced services.

That’s why it’s important to take steps to rid your building of graffiti. We spoke to maintenance and security experts to find out what you should do. Below are four steps they suggest you take.

How Graffiti Hurts Your Building

Even one instance of graffiti invites trouble, says Chris E. McGoey, a security consultant. Having graffiti at your building can:

Make renting there less desirable. The sight of crude, sometimes obscene, inscriptions spray-painted or scratched on walls and windows is a turnoff for apartment seekers as well as tenants, who want to enjoy the building’s grounds and common areas.

Lower quality of life and invite additional crime. Besides being an eyesore, graffiti can have a negative psychological effect on tenants and others, says McGoey. It sends the message that the owner doesn’t care and won’t do anything about graffiti—or about other building problems, including tenant safety. As tenants feel less safe in their own building, they leave their apartments less often, McGoey notes. And as this happens, neighbors no longer know each other and no longer keep an eye out for criminals and other troublemakers, he warns. This opens the door for even more crime.

On the other hand, a building that’s clean, well maintained, and free of graffiti sends the message that the owner enforces the rules, says McGoey. And this makes for a safer building.

Open the door for reduced-service complaints. Tenants at your building may file a reduced-service complaint with the DHCR, and ask for a rent cut based on the graffiti. Rent Stabilization Code Section 2523.4(e) says that the DHCR will consider graffiti outside the building to be a minor condition not warranting a rent cut if you submit a sworn statement showing that you’re providing ongoing maintenance to remove any graffiti within a “reasonable” time.

But the DHCR has awarded building-wide rent cuts to tenants for graffiti outside the building if the owner doesn’t meet the above requirement. For example, in one case, the tenants complained of a reduction in building-wide services based on a number of conditions. The DRA ruled for tenants and reduced their rents. The owner appealed, arguing that the conditions tenants complained about didn’t amount to reduced services. The owner also claimed that, except for graffiti that it was in the process of clearing, the conditions had been corrected. The DHCR ruled against the owner. DHCR inspections were conducted in January and again in March 2008. The second inspection showed that the building entrance ceiling was stained and bubbled, the lobby steps were cracked, the sixth-floor ceiling and upper walls were stained and bubbled, and there was graffiti outside the building. All of these conditions showed that the owner wasn’t maintaining the building [PR Wadsworth LLC: DHCR Docket No. WF410038RO, August 2008].

In another case, a rent-controlled tenant complained of a reduction in required services because she claimed that the elevator wasn’t leveling properly, that a bulkhead wall was bulging and cracking in an area measuring 5 feet by 1/2 foot, and there was graffiti on the building walls. The DHCR ruled that the graffiti wasn’t a minor condition because it wasn’t removed within a reasonable time. The tenant’s monthly rent was reduced by $5 for the graffiti condition [Friedman: DHCR Docket No. YL220003RT, November 2011].

Four Steps to Take

Here are four steps experts suggest you take to rid your building of graffiti.

Step #1: Make your building a less tempting target. As a first step, do everything you can to discourage anyone from scrawling graffiti at your building. According to Barry K. Woods, president of Graffiti Control, Inc., three effective measures for preventing graffiti include: (1) Providing adequate security at your building, with regular patrols of the grounds and common areas; (2) promoting natural surveillance by installing lights that turn on when motion is detected in graffiti-prone areas; and (3) using natural deterrents such as shrubs and vines in front of walls to make these blank spaces less tempting to attention-seeking graffiti artists.

Step #2: Clean up graffiti within 24 hours. Despite your efforts at preventing graffiti, it’s bound to happen sometime. When it does, clean up the graffiti right away—within 24 hours if possible, says Woods. The longer graffiti is left on a surface, the harder it is to remove—and the more it encourages further incidents and contributes to other problems.

Your options for cleaning up graffiti depend on the surface (such as wood, metal, brick, concrete, stucco, glass, or plastic) on which it appears, and what was used to make the graffiti (such as paint, markers, crayons, or scratching). Here are some suggestions on what you can do to clean up graffiti:

Replacing surface. You may have to replace some surfaces such as scratched glass.

Painting over surface. You may be able to paint over some surfaces, particularly those that were already painted.

Removing graffiti. Here are some examples of graffiti removal methods. You may have to use more than one: Apply cleaning solutions, such as soap and water, denatured alcohol, paint remover, or products specifically designed to remove graffiti or “scratchiti”; scrub or scrape the surface using the appropriate tool for the surface, such as a wire brush or a window scraper; and blast with sand or soda—an abrasive cleaning method that only licensed and certified contractors should use because of the risk of damage to your building, warns Woods.

You may also want to fill out a “Forever Graffiti Free” Form online with the city. Once this form’s on file, a report of graffiti to 311 will immediately add your building to the queue. They will use a “power wash,” a high-pressure water and chemical solution that strips the graffiti off the original surface of the building, if the graffiti is on an unpainted brick, stone, or concrete surface. Graffiti on painted buildings is removed by painting over the graffiti. Selecting “paint” and indicating a preferred color on the waiver form instructs the Graffiti Free NYC staff to use the color indicated to paint over the graffiti. If no color is specified on the form, the Graffiti Free NYC staff will attempt to match the paint color to the color of the house or building. This service is free and the form can be filled out online at

Step #3: Prosecute offenders and evict tenants who create graffiti. If you catch tenants, their guests, or anyone else scrawling graffiti at your building, call the police, says McGoey. Follow through by prosecuting the offenders.

If an offender is a tenant, you can try seeking his eviction, but evicting on this basis will be difficult unless you can show that the tenant habitually and repeatedly defaced property. In one case, a tenant spray-painted graffiti in the building stairway. The owner sought to evict, but the court ruled against the owner, finding that although the tenant had placed the graffiti, this didn’t threaten the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of other tenants. The court found that the tenant’s graffiti was an isolated act and not a threat to other tenants [Sumet I Associates v. Irizarry, February 2013].

But even if the court won’t order the eviction, your eviction lawsuit may send the message to the tenant and others in your building that you won’t tolerate even one instance of graffiti at your building.

Step #4: Consider protecting surfaces with anti-graffiti treatments. These are treatments, paints, or coatings that can protect painted and unpainted surfaces such as brick, concrete, stucco, wood, marble, metal, and tile from permanent damage from graffiti and other assaults. Once applied, these treatments impose a barrier between graffiti and the original surface and make cleaning graffiti much easier—often hot water alone is enough, says Woods. These treatments are particularly effective for preventing permanent scratch marks on glass, plastic, or metal.

The cost of anti-graffiti treatments depends on whether you do it yourself or have a professional graffiti removal company perform the work, the type of surface to be treated, and how large an area you want to treat. The cost is often calculated on a per-square-foot basis.