published Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

Bedbugs bite back in Chattanooga area


by Emily Bregel
  • photo
    Landlord Bryan Kurtz works to get a fifth apartment ready for occupancy at his rental property in Red Bank. Earlier this year, bedbugs infested mattresses at the five-unit building he owns.
    Staff Photo by Tim Barber

A local landlord is seeking compensation from the former owners of his Red Bank rental property after discovering it came with some creepy, bloodsucking tenants: bedbugs.

Bryan Kurtz of Chattanooga said he wants to be reimbursed for the $2,400 he paid Terminix to rid the apartment building of a bedbug infestation in November, one month after he acquired the property.

Kurtz said that when his tenants -- who had been in the same property under the previous landlord -- complained about bedbugs, he discovered they all were aware of a bedbug problem in June.

The previous owner didn't mention the problem during the sale or help tenants get rid of the bedbugs when they were discovered, Kurtz said.

One tenant, a 34-year-old woman who did not want to be named, said her neighbors helped her throw away her couch after she found a "ton" of bedbugs in it.

"Bedbugs? I've heard that in little children's prayers all my life but I didn't know it was a real thing," she said. "It was a major nightmare."

Kurtz said he sent former owner Fidel Fonseca notarized statements from four tenants attesting that they knew about the infestation, along with a request for reimbursement.

Fonseca declined to comment but said his lawyer will contact Kurtz. Following the extermination and other precautions such as mattress and box-spring covers, the property seems to be bedbug-free, Kurtz said.

"Luckily we caught it quick," he said. "We need bedbug laws to start coming into play down here in the South like some of the northern states have already put together."

LEGISLATION

Bedbugs can lie dormant for months and survive for more than a year without blood, so proving the source of an infestation is all but impossible, exterminators say.

But some states and cities are beginning to craft laws to stop battles among property owners, landlords or tenants over who should pay the exterminator.

New York Gov. David Patterson in August signed the "Bedbug Disclosure Act" requiring that landlords inform potential tenants of any bedbug infestations within the past year before preparing a lease.

It's unclear under Tennessee law whether a previous owner legally would have to disclose such a problem, said Randy Durham, local Realtor and president of the Chattanooga Association of Realtors.

Any "adverse conditions to the property," including mold or termites, must be disclosed, but bedbugs could be up to interpretation, he said.

BEDBUG TIPS

• Before bringing your suitcase into a hotel room, inspect the mattress, sheets and headboard for signs of bedbugs, including reddish blood stains or ink-colored fecal matter.

• Store luggage on a rack or in the bathroom instead of putting clothes in drawers or on the bed.

• Examine luggage upon returning home to check for hitchhiking bedbugs.

• At home, vacuum carpets and wash sheets regularly and keep clutter to a minimum.

Source: Orkin, local exterminators

"Maybe it's something that in the future buyers may want to start looking at adding to their inspection list," he said. "We had a period of time when mold was new and now it's become part of the inspection process."

The Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs has not received any complaints of landlord-tenant disputes over bedbugs. But spokesman Christopher Garrett said the Tennessee Landlord and Tenant Act, passed in 1975, appears to require landlords handle bedbug infestations.

The state attorney general's office has not issued an opinion on whether the Tennessee Landlord and Tenant Act covers bedbugs, said spokeswoman Sharon Curtis-Flair.

Though bedbugs do not transmit disease, their bites can itch and an infestation can cause insomnia and panic for those being bitten.

In Chattanooga, local exterminators say they've seen a surge in bedbug-related complaints in the past year.

Contact staff writer Emily Bregel at ebregel@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6467.

Poll
Have you experienced a problem with bedbugs?
  • yes 5%
  • no 95%

385 total votes.

about Emily Bregel...

Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...

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Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
RichardPollack said...

It is a shame that the prior owner neither abated nor disclosed the existing infestation. It adds insult to injury for the tenants, however, when they dispose of furniture and other items with the intent of eliminating bed bugs. Such actions are unnecessary, wasteful and counterproductive. Virtually all items can be treated in some manner, and this should ideally be done by a licensed professional. For educational information on the biology and management of bed bugs, visit identify.us.com. The information is provided at no cost and without commercial agenda.

January 4, 2011 at 7:09 a.m.

Since when is it legal for the news to be "made up"? This story is inaccurate and wildly exaggerated. First of all, not every apartment was infested with bedbugs. Second, not one news reporter interviewed a single occupant. So, where did these "clever" quotes come from? -"Bedbugs? I've heard that in little children's prayers all my life but I didn't know it was a real thing," she said. There is no 34 year old woman residing in the apartment complex. Apparently the Chattanooga Times Free Press does not interview, investigate, or verify their sources. What does this tell us about the accuracy of our "trusted" news source? Retraction please.

January 4, 2011 at 1:20 p.m.
princehal said...

Who's your source, citizen? Just curious.

January 4, 2011 at 2:43 p.m.
dave said...

Your Tax dollars at work! Since the banning of DDT all sorts of nasty vermin have been reappearing on the American landscape. As the EPA further limits the sale of effective methods of controlling vermin they are spreading like wildfire. Is this worth it? I wonder.

January 4, 2011 at 6:49 p.m.
itstrue said...

Citizensfortruth needs to make sure they have their facts straight. It sounds like they must be directly related to the incident when dishing out such harsh language against the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

January 4, 2011 at 9:58 p.m.
itstrue said...

Was there a realtor? Apparently not, because if there was a realtor involved, then they could be held responsible if there was proof they knew about the bugs and did not disclose it to the buyer.

January 4, 2011 at 10:12 p.m.
bedbugchaser said...

I'm the "BedBug Chaser" www.BedBugChaser.com and I get rid of bedbugs, spiders & stink bugs with 100% Chemical FREE safe GREEN electric heat. The US is slowly becoming infested with bedbugs from Maine to California and everywhere in between. As quickly as there is a sighting, there is another company claiming that they have the best solution to eradicate these pests. You have seen the numerous TV and radio ads promoting such things as chemical treatments, freezing solutions, magic heat wands and the list goes on. Chemicals even when applied properly may not eliminate today's super bedbugs 100%. If you're interested in ridding the world of bedbugs and making some money here's your chance, BedBug Chasers' is going nationwide. Call me personally at 908-510-8110 let's see if you have what it takes to be a "BedBug Chaser

January 5, 2011 at 8:41 a.m.

Itstrue, I have my facts straight. I don't think my language was too harsh when a "trusted" news source is making up their news. This might be a "small town", insignificant news story, but if we can't trust the news on the small things, how can we trust them on the more important stories? Think about it. I have friends who work for the Times Free Press and I also worked for them years ago. I am completely shocked and disappointed that they would publish outright fallacies. Last time I checked it was illegal to do this. Illegal!Is anybody listening?

January 9, 2011 at 5:31 p.m.
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