Brushed off: Color this tenant angry

The end of a lease can be as fraught with recrimination as the end of a marriage– and the rental ruckus we'll be considering this week, appropriately enough, centers on a marriage.


Marnie Walsh claims that when she and her sister rented an apartment on Gentry Lane from Richard and Susan Park, she assumed that dealings with one would have the effect of communicating with both– in other words, if Susan approved Walsh's proposal to paint the apartment, the agreement wouldn't later be overruled by Richard.


Instead, Walsh claims, permission to paint the apartment, which had been granted by Susan, "had not been approved" by Richard, and when it came time to move out, Walsh and her sister were required to either repaint the apartment or forfeit almost half their security deposit.


"I was very clear," Walsh asserts, "that I would not even consider painting if we would need to repaint at the end of our lease." Susan, she claims, agreed– but, as Walsh would come to regret, their agreement was never put in writing.


Walsh claims that when they moved into the apartment in August 2001, it was already "overdue" for a paint job. The walls, she says, were "marked up," contained holes, and appeared to have had been marred by furniture that had "bumped up against them."


The sisters proceeded to paint in colors Walsh admits weren't on the white-to-beige spectrum common to most rentals; purple and lime green were two of their choices.


But Walsh also claims that when she offered to show Susan color swatches, she declined– and that when Susan dropped by mid-paint job, she "saw every color on the walls (with the exception of the bathroom)" and not only said she liked "what they were doing," but suggested that they mix the latex paint with water and glazing liquid to achieve a particular effect. The sisters took Susan's advice– and also, by Walsh's account, paid for the paint themselves.


When, after three years' tenancy, they gave notice that they'd be moving out this past July, they were surprised to learn that they would be required to repaint. Walsh claims she protested to Susan on July 12 and 13 not only the painting demands but a list of alleged damages, but that no agreement was "made official." Once again, however, the discussions were verbal.


Walsh wrote the Parks on July 19 to formally dispute the list of damages– and, in particular, the requirement that they repaint– but claims she received no response. By then, the repainting was partly finished (the paint, once again, having been paid for by the Walshes) and Walsh proposed, in light of the time and money they'd invested, that the two sides call it even. In other words, the Parks could arrange to have the job completed.


The Parks, according to Walsh, didn't respond to either her proposal or some other points she'd raised. Instead, on August 10, the Walshes received an itemized list of $655 worth of deductions from their $900 security deposit. The largest was $400 for repainting.


I had hoped to ask Susan about Walsh's claim that she had not only approved the paint job, but stated that they wouldn't be expected to repaint. Instead, she referred me to her husband.


Richard wasn't much more forthcoming; the interview quickly fell into a pattern in which I would quote one of Walsh's claims and Richard, in response, would only say, "Interesting."


When I urged him to either deny or confirm the various statements– or simply discuss the situation– he asked, "Why would I? I don't think it's any of your business." He added, "Just be careful what you say."


So now I have another Rule for Renters: Get everything in writing. (Rule #1, you may remember, is "Document, both in writing and pictures, all conditions when you move in.") If you have more than one landlord, make multiple copies– and be sure to get approval from each if you make any requests.


Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville 22905.