Bedbugs bite back in Chattanooga area

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.

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."


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 or 423-757-6467.