It makes a certain sense to get a bargain apartment/house that needs fixing up and then fix it by painting, etc. You get a deal on the rent and the landlord will probably be delighted, as the slim profit margin won't allow for much renovation. Our old landlady gave us a month or more free rent for the makeover we did on my long-time place!
As a landlord this is not an idea that appeals to me. As you say the profit margin is slim but that is on a month to month basis. Most people that get into rental property do it for the long term investment and that means maintaining they property the best way possible: quality. I always do repairs, painting and such myself or have professionals do it. It's fine to have renters do it but if they drip paint on the carpet or baseboards trust me the security deposit is not going to cover fixing either of those things let alone both. I have had great renters and a good experience with being a landlord but it really annoys me when renters ask for discounts on rent for doing work. Having said all that, I suppose it varies from person to person so it can't hurt to ask but just another point of view.
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