Cockeysville complex sued over bedbug infestation

Former tenant demands $100,000 for scars, distress

September 13, 2010|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

A former tenant is suing a Cockeysville apartment complex for $100,000 over a bedbug infestation, claiming that the property owners did not properly warn her about and exterminate the blood-sucking insects and that she suffered "scarring and disfigurement" from the bites.

The tenant, Amber Croshaw, contends that she suffered "embarrassment, mental and emotional distress, and fear about the presence of bedbugs that affects [her] to this day" as a result of the infestation in the apartment in the Briarcliff Apartments East complex in Cockeysville, according to the lawsuit filed this month in Baltimore County Circuit Court.

Dan Smith, chief financial officer for Gebhardt Management Inc., which manages the complex, dismissed the claims as "baseless" and said that workers eradicated the infestation promptly.

"We've been in this business for 40-some years. We take care of our problems," he said.

Reports of bedbug infestations have increased exponentially across the country in the past five years. Once nearly eradicated through the use of dangerous chemicals such as DDT, the insects are largely immune to most commonly used pesticides. Removing the bugs, which cause itchy bites but are not known to cause disease, is costly and time-consuming.

Daniel W. Whitney, an attorney for Croshaw, said the case was the first he was aware of in which a Maryland tenant sued a landlord over an infestation. Such cases are common in New York, which has a more deeply entrenched bedbug problem.

Croshaw declined to be interviewed through her attorney, who works for the Towson-based firm of Whitney & Bogris LLP.

According to the lawsuit, Croshaw had lived in the apartment for about a year in late May 2009 when she noticed "itchy lesions" that caused her to "constantly scratch herself." A high school teacher, Croshaw received "teasing and ridicule" from her students because of the bites.

About a month later, Croshaw spotted blood spatters on her mattress cover and, when she removed it, an insect determined to be a bedbug lurking underneath.

Exterminators hired by the complex treated the apartment three times that summer. After the first treatment, Croshaw discovered "a large pile of dead bugs" on her bedroom floor, "indicative of a prolonged period of breeding and infestation," according to the suit.

In November, Croshaw discovered another bug and became "disgusted, tearful and distressed." After spotting more insects, she moved out later that month and threw out two sofas, a bed, other pieces of furniture, linens and "items of significant sentimental value."

The suit alleges that a complex employee told Croshaw that another apartment was also infested, but Jeri Vigneri, the residential manager for Briarcliff Apartments, denied another infestation had occurred.

"Her unit was the only unit in that building that had bedbugs," she said. Vigneri also noted that Croshaw had lived in the apartment for nearly a year before first noticing the insects.

The lawsuit contends that the landlords were negligent in failing to warn Croshaw about the infestation and failing stop the spread of the bugs once they were discovered.

According to the suit, Croshaw, who now lives in Nottingham, continues to suffer the effects of the infestation. She wears long sleeves nearly every day, even in hot weather, to cover scars from the bites and "feels the incessant urge to perform nightly 'bed checks' to assure herself that bedbugs are absent."

Avoiding bedbugs

•Inspect hotel mattresses for bugs and blood spatters

•Wash clothes and check luggage after returning home from trips

•Don't take furniture or appliances from street corners or alleys

• Use caution when buying used furniture

If bedbugs are in your home

• Vacuum mattresses, carpets, floors and small crevices; encase vacuum bag in plastic and quickly dispose of it in an outside garbage can

• Seal mattresses and box springs in impermeable plastic or vinyl cases

• Wash and dry all clothing and linens in high heat, or have it dry cleaned

• Eliminate clutter and dispose of items that cannot be cleaned

• Seal cracks and remove loose wallpaper

• Choose pest removal companies that have extensive experience with bedbugs

• Avoid using pesticide foggers or bombs

•* Destroy or post warnings on discarded furniture or other items

Source: Baltimore City Health Department, New York City Health Department

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