Monday, October 18, 2010

Roanoke Landlord Robert Akerson Gets Sued By Legal Aid Attorney For $4,767 / Tenant Had Bedbugs / Quite Possibly Brought Them To The House Herself


Bedbugs creep into area homes, businesses

The tiny, bloodsucking bugs have started infesting the Roanoke area, and property owners are paying a hefty price for their removal.

By Amanda Codispoti

Move over, stinkbugs. There's a new bug in town, and this one bites.

Blood-thirsty bedbugs have arrived in the Roanoke Valley, embarrassing panicked home and business owners who are spending thousands of dollars to eradicate the critters.

"It's happening more and more," said Jerry McLawhorn, president of Superior Exterminating in Roanoke.

At least three hotels in the Roanoke Valley have harbored bedbugs this year, according to the Virginia Department of Health. One Roanoke tenant sued her landlord because of an infestation.
Bedbugs have been in the news for months as they've covered the East Coast, moving into federal buildings in Washington, department stores in New York, even the Lincoln Center performance hall. Paranoia has spread to the Internet, where travelers report infested hotels on bedbug registries.

Now they're spreading en masse in Roanoke, after apparently hiding in small numbers for the past few years, according to the state health department and local exterminators. They most likely arrived in travelers' luggage.

"The way these things are spread, it's not like a spider coming out of the woods and into the house," McLawhorn said. "These are blood-eaters. They live with people."

Bedbugs first showed up in Roanoke apartment buildings and hotels, McLawhorn said. Now, they're in homes, in the city and in the suburbs. Superior Exterminating sprayed at least 150 homes in the past year, McLawhorn said.

The bugs hide behind bed headboards, in carpeting, and in the seams of bedding, mattresses and upholstered furniture. They can travel quickly from room to room, nimbly hop rides on people's clothing and shoes, and can cruise beneath baseboards or through electrical outlets like motorists on Interstate 81.

Many bugged homeowners make their first move to hardware stores.

The Northwest True Value Hardware store on Brambleton Avenue on Friday was sold out of bedbug-killing aerosol spray, which costs $8.29 for a 16-ounce can, a manager said.

The Home Depot on Hershberger Road in Roanoke has been selling bedbug pesticides so briskly that workers have been restocking weekly, manager Susan King said.

"People are just buying it left and right," King said.

Tim Nininger, vice president of Bug Man Exterminating in Roanoke, said his company has been getting several calls a week for bedbugs, mostly from homeowners so ashamed that they put off calling a professional until the infestation is out of control.

"They tell us they were hoping it wasn't bedbugs because it's embarrassing," Nininger said. "It's nothing to be embarrassed about."

Once Bug Man gets involved, the price of bedbug riddance climbs to $1,500, which includes three treatments. Exterminators must repeat the treatments to wipe out new generations.
Bug Man exterminator Chip Nininger, Tim Nininger's brother, attacked bedbugs at an infested Roanoke County house last week with fellow exterminator Curtis Morgan.

Morgan unscrewed electrical outlet plates and sprayed pesticide inside. Nininger, wielding aerosol cans of a pesticide called Bedlam, coated pillows, cushions and every inch of upholstery in the house.

The homeowner, who didn't want to be named, said he found bedbugs crawling behind a headboard. He said he spent $1,000 on dry cleaning, pesticides, new carpet and new bedding, trying to get rid of the bugs himself.

After five weeks of skin-crawling, sleepless nights, he called Bug Man.

"We've given up," the man said.

The Virginia Department of Health said investigators confirmed at least three Roanoke Valley hotels have had the bugs this year.

Health officials found bedbugs at the Days Inn in the 500 block of Orange Avenue Northeast in May. A month later, they found them at the Embassy Inn in the 4500 block of Melrose Avenue Northwest. Last month, the Comfort Suites Inn at Ridgewood Farm in the 2800 block of Keagy Road in Salem was found to have an infested room.

The health department ordered the infested rooms, and rooms adjacent to them, closed until they were treated. The rooms were allowed to reopen once a health inspector pronounced them bug-free.

Managers at the Days Inn and Embassy Inn said a pest control company has been checking rooms monthly since the problems. The Comfort Suites Inn manager did not return a message.
Bedbugs were also the focus of a July lawsuit in Roanoke General District Court that Monica Ransome filed against her landlord for $4,767, saying her Northwest Roanoke home was infested.

The landlord "declined to pay for or deal with the infestation," the suit says. Ransome said she paid more than $1,000 for an exterminator to spray the Lafayette Boulevard house. The extermination was unsuccessful, and a city inspector condemned the house in April.

Ransome sought two months rent, the security deposit, the exterminator's bill and the value of her furniture, which she threw out.

Neither property owner Robert Akerson Jr. nor his attorney returned phone messages.

Ransome's attorney, Henry Woodward, said Ransome didn't want to be interviewed until a judgment is filed.


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