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Council candidate loses court fight with city

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Tarrick Pittman

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Thursday, July 25, 2019

A downtown Rocky Mount businessman has been ordered by the judicial system to be evicted from his location in city-owned space and to pay the municipal government more than $15,300 in past-due rent.

Tarrick Pittman, owner of Cool Geeks computer repair in the Douglas Block, was issued the ruling from the Edgecombe County Superior Court. Judge Marvin Blount of Pitt County signed the order in the city’s favor on July 16.

The order shows the judge told Pittman to pay $15,320, plus all costs of the legal action. Pittman can appeal to the state Court of Appeals.

Blount’s order was not yet in the case file at the Edgecombe County Courthouse when a reporter went there earlier this week, but the reporter obtained a copy of the document from the city’s attorney, Jep Rose, of Poyner Spruill.

Rocky Mount’s municipal government since last autumn had been arguing in court papers that Pittman breached a sublease agreement by failing to pay past-due rent at the location. The location is in the Manhattan Building in the 100 block of East Thomas Street.

After the city received a favorable ruling in Small Claims Court, Pittman appealed to District Court.

There Pittman filed a counterclaim arguing the Manhattan Building is the scene of environmental issues.

The case ended up being transferred to Superior Court.

Pittman in 2016 had relocated from the nearby Douglas Building to the Manhattan Building.

In court papers, Pittman said the city had approached him about him moving to larger commercial space in the Douglas Block with promises of increased square footage to expand his operations.

In court papers, Pittman said he soon found out when it rained, there was a proliferation of mold on the Manhattan Building premises, making much of the additional square footage of his new location unusable.

Pittman said the situation drove away customers and caused two of his employees to leave Cool Geeks because of health concerns.

He said that in early 2017, he alerted the city of the untenable conditions and said that a roofer found a leak and a significant intrusion of water on the left front side.

He also said after back-and-forth communication, both sides agreed he would pay a reduced amount in rent while the city remediated the mold issues and repaired the Manhattan Building.

Pittman argued the city failed to make good faith efforts to remediate the mold issues.

Pittman claimed his information was that the city had earmarked about $90,000 for repairs to its Douglas Block properties, including the Manhattan Building.

Pittman claimed his information was that as long as he was the tenant in the building, funds would not be spent there.

He called for a trial before a jury.

The city, represented by attorney Nick Ellis, of Poyner Spruill, in court papers said Pittman’s claims are blocked by a section of the sublease agreement.

Specifically, Ellis said that Pittman, in signing documents, agreed to free the city of and from any and all claims, demands, obligations, liabilities or other causes of action on the sublease.

“This language is clear and unambiguous and there is no dispute that the sublease agreement is valid,” Ellis said.

Ellis also argued a commercial tenant is not allowed to abate — that is, reduce — rent payments upon a landlord’s alleged failure to make necessary repairs to the property.

“A commercial tenant is obligated to pay rent regardless of whether the landlord breached the lease agreement by failing to make necessary repairs to the property,” Ellis said.

The court file included a supporting affidavit from City Finance Director Amy Staton. The affidavit includes a chart from January 2017 to May showing Pittman only twice paid rent — once in April 2017 and once in July 2017, for $477 each.

Pittman, when reached on Wednesday, said his response to the court’s decision is “no comment.”

“I just think the Telegram is being really, really unfair. And that’s my feeling on it,” he said.

Pittman said he probably will not grant further interviews to or answer further questions from representatives of the newspaper.

The Telegram on July 18 published a story about Pittman facing an order for arrest in Edgecombe County for traffic offenses, including for driving while his license was revoked. Pittman told the newspaper he is dealing with the issue.

The story also included details showing a past pattern of traffic violations Pittman faced through the years. Pittman acknowledged to the newspaper his driving record is problematic but said he is a responsible person.

Pittman is challenging Ward 1 Councilman Andre Knight in the Oct. 8 municipal election.