Front row: Landlord-tenant sparks fly

If you've got the afternoon of April 16 free, you might want to take in the showdown that's slated for Charlottesville General District Court at 2pm. The players, Andrew Logan and Wallace Gibson, will be facing off over $600 withheld from a rental security deposit, but if you didn't know the amount, you'd think 10 times that much was at stake.

Relations between the two are so nasty, in fact, that it's put me in mind of the days when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier would take turns detailing how they planned to destroy each other. Tenant Logan says that landlord Gibson "can go to Hell." In response, Gibson declares Logan "crazy" and promises, "My lawyer is going to have him for lunch."

In September 2002, Logan and his wife Jennie rented a house on Nelson Drive. The lease required six months' notice to renew, which meant they'd have to decide by March 1– but it seemed like a moot point, since they didn't plan to renew. A couple of weeks into March, however, they learned that Jennie's mother had terminal cancer, and Jennie went to Boston to be with her.

Logan claims that he explained the situation to Gibson and said that since the situation was so "up in the air," they'd like to be able to wait till May or June to make their decision. "She flat out refused," Logan stated in his email account of the dispute.

Logan claims that he emailed the property owner in Northern Virginia, who replied that "he was fine with a 90-day notice, but also deferred to Wallace for a final decision, as she was actually our landlord. I provided [Gibson] with a copy of his email, but the fact that I had gone 'over her head' incensed her no end." After that, things got nasty.

Jennie's mother died in mid-July, by which time they had a contract on a house. When it came time to move out, Logan claims that they put 37 hours into yard work ("weeding, vine removal, reseeding, and adding 280 pounds of mulch) and cleaning ("hand-washing walls, stairs, woodwork, and floors, removing pre-existing nails and hooks, patching holes, cleaning mini-blinds," etc.).

After a contentious exchange of emails, which included dueling citations of the Virginia Landlord Tenant Act, Gibson notified Logan that she would meet them at the house sometime between 10am and noon on September 3. When she hadn't appeared by 11:15, Logan claims, they left a note on the door with their cell-phone number and "took refuge in a coffee shop two blocks away."

Gibson asserts that there was no such note, that she was "on a tight schedule," and that when she arrived and realized they weren't there, she went on to her next appointment. When she finally did the inspection, she withheld $600– $100 for lawn maintenance, $400 for "repairs to plaster from nail holes," and 20 percent of the total, or $100, for her efforts (as specified in the lease, in the event that damages are assessed).

Logan disagreed– vehemently– with her verdict, claiming that they had inherited the house in less than pristine condition, with "20+ years of accumulated nails, picture hooks, drapery rod holders, etc."

Gibson, in turn, told me that Logan had removed three "big hooks" that were meant to be permanent fixtures– and, further, that the walls in question are "faux-painted red with black streaks." Logan's white spackle, in other words, wasn't exactly inconspicuous. Repairing it, Gibson claims, would require digging out the spackle Logan had applied, replastering, and applying six coats of paint and one of clear gesso– a job one painter estimates would cost $1,200. (The current tenants, she says, have hung pictures over the spots.)

According to a January 28 letter Gibson wrote Logan, unless he drops his suit for $600, she'll counter-sue "for the entire amount of the estimate to repair the damage, as well as attorney fees as provided in your lease– approximately $1,500."

If the two sides settle their differences outside a courtroom, I'll let you know. Otherwise, I plan to be there for the battle– in a front-row seat.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.