Tenant - Landlord dispute over bed bugs

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Life was good until the tenant says she stood up and challenged the landlord about a bedbug problem. The woman believes what the landlord did after that is unfair. But, is it illegal?

The uncanny timing of a letter refusing to renew the tenant's lease is the controversy. As the paperwork shows, Charlene Schneider says she went from being a great tenant -- to being told to get out. This happened after she complained and questioned the landlord.

Several occurrences fell on July 13th. Daegan Schneider, Charlene's teenage son renewed his complaint about bedbugs in his room.

"I've taped up my electrical socket, earlier this week I saw a few crawl out of there. Up in the corner... just from where I've been killing them for the past week or so," he said.

That same day the tenant received a 'Happy Anniversary' notice encouraging her to renew her lease.  The property manager's letter also arrived, July 13th, confirming a bedbug invasion and charging Charlene $525 to exterminate. That fee was the trigger to read her lease and call her landlord.

"It says the owner, they take full responsibility. I'm responsible for moving the furniture. I said show me if I have signed something that I am not aware of," said Charlene.

Two days after Charlene challenged her landlord, another letter from Courthouse Green West Apartments -- it took back the lease renewal offer and gave Charlene a move out order.

"I'm blind-sided by this. I don't understand. Please give me a reason. And all she would do is shake her head and say, 'I don't have to give you a reason,'" Charlene said.

Property owners are not required to say why they won't rent or renew, and Courthouse Green West clearly states it in a follow up letter.

"Without an explanation it smells fishy," said legal expert Martin Webreight. "That sounds like, on its face, a case of retaliatory action by the landlord."

I got Webreight to look over Charlene's lease.

"I don't see why the landlords don't get it. All they have to do is ask the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development," Webreight said. "It's the landlord's responsibility to do the extermination. It's not the tenant's responsibility to pay for it."

He also says tenants exercising a legal right are protected under Virginia's Anti-retaliation Law.

"It's a very reasonable argument to go to a judge and say, they made an offer to renew the lease, and then I exercised my rights under the law, they can't then take back the offer," he said.

"If I would have said ok, I'll pay you your money, it would have been fine. Uh, I believe that," Charlene added.

I spoke with property owner, Mike Havens. He denies retaliation and says, the lease was not renewed because the tenant was behind on rent and the water bill. Charlene says she will fight for reimbursement in court.

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