Bats in town home cause rent dispute in Chesterfield

By Diane Walker - bio | email

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - Whether you believe bats are beneficial, nobody wants to  live with a bat colony above their head.

You just might behave like Crystal Harris, and demand the landlord return your money.  But, there are steps to ending a lease, and getting that security deposit.

Never refuse to pay your rent because the landlord won't fix the problem, or as Crystal says -- sees bats as an annoyance, not a health issue.

This dispute is headed to court and there's also a criminal investigation.

Nothing says public safety like bat poop everywhere.  We took pictures just above the tenants' heads, in the attic of their Chesterfield town home.

"The smell of that feces is so strong, you can smell it next door," said tenant Anthony Jones.

"All three of my kids have asthma and you know bats have rabies," Crystal said. "If a bat slips thru one of the holes and we get attacked, we could possibly catch rabies."

Those brown flashes you see in the video are small bats -- flying out at dusk to feed on insects and returning to the roost by dawn.  They come in and out of a crevice between the firewall and an adjacent wall.

We have documentation of at least one bat, finding its way inside a tenant's home. Sean Johnson tells how his brother swatted a bat in the washer.

"All of a sudden you hear flip, flap," he said. "So he slammed it down. He peeped back in it and you could see the bat laying in the washer. We had to wash him out, to kill him."

Sean's landlord sealed the holes in one part of the roof.  But, Crystal and Anthony's landlord waited weeks to block the bats' access on their part of the roof.

"When we went to confront him, it was like 'Live with them, they're not bothering you.' Who lives with bats? Caveman days been over," Anthony said.  "He expect for us to live like this and pay him rent."

"I just want my security deposit back," Crystal said. "Everything that I've invested in this, I want back. I just want to get out."

Townhouse owner Steve Lowe declined to talk with me on camera but he did by phone, and said "They can't get their $750 deposit back and live for free. They haven't paid and they haven't moved and said frankly, we don't like each other."

"I really don't think he cares as long as he gets his money. He doesn't have to live here. We do," Crystal said.

You must pay your rent. Give the landlord written notice, and reasonable time to fix the problem.  If he still doesn't, place your payments in an escrow account at general district court.

You cannot be behind in rent if you want to set up that special account. On Thursday on NBC12, we inspect the townhouse with a Chesterfield building inspector who talks about the violations.

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