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Residents at Spencer Court fed up after being charged for ongoing bedbug fight
Spencer Court resident Carol Sanders, 60, gathered 20 residents together this week in the social room of the assisted living facility to take action against her landlord.
Sanders says the Senior Housing Assistance Group (SHAG) in control of the property is neglectful of the premises and disrespectful to their residents.
A bed bug infestation affecting the property since late July is the biggest concern to the residents. They were told to put their belongings in garbage bags and their beds were taken out of the room while treatment was administered.
Months later, bed bugs are still swarming their rooms and many are sleeping on air mattresses or sleeping bags on the floor. They reported having to get rid of mattresses, bed frames, plants, clothes, food and other household items.
"I am sleeping on a couch that is too short for me, so my legs and neck stick out," said Larry Ellingson, 71. "I've been living uncomfortably for far too long."
The residents were each given a bill of $400 from Spencer Court management to help pay for pest control treatments and were told they would be sent to collections if they didn't pay a minimum fee by the end of October. Residents of the low income facility say this is extra money they simply can't pay.
"We feel like they are taking advantage of the helpless and bullying us," Sanders said. "Many of us are already having to choose between paying for our meds or buying food. Not only can we not make this payment, it is illegal for them to charge us for something they should be taking care of for us."
State law states landlords must, "provide a reasonable program for the control of infestation by insects, rodents, and other pests at the initiation of the tenancy and, except in the case of a single-family residence, control infestation during tenancy except where such infestation is caused by the tenant."
The tenants stated they were never blamed for causing the infestation. They were told it was occurring and to take appropriate steps or they would be charged.
"I think I'm on SHAG's craplist," Sanders said, laughing. "They are getting really irritated with me, but I am fighting not only for me and my husband, but all the residents I have come to care for in this facility."
Many residents stated they are too ill to delve too far into the issue and have relied on Carol to rally for them.
"I don't mind stepping up because I am tired of bad treatment and want our voices to be heard," Carol said.
Not being able to afford an attorney, Carol has gone to a few local legal aid centers to get advice. She has several documents printed out to support her claim that Spencer Court residents are not liable for pest control services.
"I want to leave, but I'm stuck because I can't afford to go," said Peggy Moore, resident. "I've got bites all over my body and have been to the doctor several times to get treatment for them."
Residents say this is one of many examples of neglect happening within their facility. Many reported having broken freezers, cracks in their ceilings bringing in water, lights around the facility burning out and flooded hallways.
"We report our problems to the office but they never respond," said Butch Sanders, 61. "Or if they say they'll fix it, they don't get to it for weeks or even months."
The Spencer Court building has been up for sale for a few months.
"We think maybe that's why (SHAG) is neglecting this location," said Don Edmund, resident."They don't care because they are going to sell it, so they are not wanting to spend the money on us. And we haven't even been told what will happen to us if the building sells."
Carol says the infestation was not properly handled by the facility since the start.
"There were delays in treatments and inspections that I believe caused the bugs to spread," she said. "Also they rarely ever vacuum the hallways."
The lease document Carol and her husband signed states, "the landlord agrees to regularly clean and keep in safe condition all common areas….provide extermination service when necessary and maintain the grounds."
Executive Director of SHAG Jay Woolford says the managers at Spencer Court are addressing the issue the best way they can.
"Like many folks that operate family communities we have had issues with bed bugs in our facilities before and as long as we are notified by our residents that the problem exists, we are quick about getting our people out there," he said. "Typically if the resident cooperates and works with team they are not billed for charges, but in other situations residents are charged if they are the root cause or are not doing what they need to do in preparing the unit or getting rid of things that could harbor the pests. I wish I could say it was an easy solution, but it can be an issue."
Woolford stated SHAG does its best to meet the residents' needs quickly.
"Our property teams are pretty responsive and like any organization, sometimes it doesn't happen as swiftly as residents would like," Woolford said. "We don't just arbitrarily charge residents for these kind of situations; we are mindful of the economic duress this can cause. We try and treat every situation in an equitable way."
Many Spencer Court residents say they are not going to pay the invoice sent to them by management.
"I refuse to pay for something that isn't my responsibility," Carol said. "If they send me to collections, I'll take them to court."