Two years after moving into their Inglewood, California apartment, the Martinez family awoke one morning to the horrific sight of their then three-year-old son covered from head to toe in red spots. After a trip to the hospital, the diagnosis was in: the spots were bug bites. The question was what kind of bugs.
After a thorough search of their home, the family isolated the issue. Like so many other homes across the country, the Martinez’s apartment was infested with bedbugs.
The family notified their apartment’s management company immediately after discovering the problem and was told that all of their furniture would need to be discarded. A pest control company was sent to fumigate the home and without anywhere else to turn, the family returned to the home that night, vacuumed the chemicals from a patch of flooring, and went to sleep. The bugs would continue feasting on them for the next four months as they endured continuing discomfort and hardship.
With the bedbug infestation finally under a marginal level of control after the removal of all of the apartment’s carpeting, the family would stay there for another two years before finally moving out in 2014. That was also the year they sued the apartment’s owners for breach of contract, breach of warranty of habitability, emotional distress, negligence, and other charges associated with their ordeal. The family maintains that the apartment equated to “slum-type living conditions” and was the cause of discomfort, sleeplessness, property damage, and emotional distress.
Unable to cope with the severe itching caused by his body’s reaction to the bedbugs’ bites, three-year-old Jorge would scratch himself to the point of causing permanent scarring to various parts of his body. Scars still present on his legs, arms, and chest are a reminder of the family’s bedbug encounter from five years ago and his parents hope that some of the $1.6 million they were awarded as a result can be used to repair the damage done to his skin.
Bedbugs are now largely immune to the chemicals we once used to eradicate them and, as a result, have staged a formidable comeback. Aided and amplified by a number of factors like the present-day ease of global travel, a bedbug infestation can strike anywhere from the highest-end five-star hotel to the poorest neighborhoods in the country and everywhere in between. No longer is the bedbug simply a symptom of unsanitary living conditions; although the continued perpetuation of that stereotype can lead to delays in treating an infestation when one has been discovered. It is up to everyone involved in the management of people’s homes – whether that means for a night or a few years – to start taking bedbugs seriously once again and respond in an aggressive and timely manner. The seriousness of such a response could now be a legal matter and have long-term ramifications that go far beyond getting a bad review online.