MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – Trevor Eddy was the eighth lawyer a family turned to after being bitten by bed bugs while on vacation.
Like the others, he first copied them. Then he quickly realized that hotels have no oversight or laws over bed bugs – or what companies must do in response.
Two years later, he’s handled 40 cases of customers saying they were bitten by bed bugs.
“I wish this wasn’t an area of law that I had to practice,” Eddy said.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control does not respond to complaints about bed bugs in hotels, motels, homes, apartments, shelters, thrift stores, or amusement parks. This is based on information the agency sent in response to a Freedom of Information request from News13 about bed bug complaints in the Myrtle Beach area. When people file a complaint, they are referred to the Better Business Bureau, which Eddy says does not produce any results.
“This is not a dispute settlement mechanism,” said Eddy.
While travel report sites are littered with visitors who claim to have experienced bed bugs during their stay, there is no official agency tracking complaints about bed bugs in the vacation rental industry, and it is unknown how often they occur at South Carolina hotels be encountered.
According to the National Pest Management Association, bed bugs have seen a resurgence in the United States since the 1990s.
The beetles that feed on blood when humans and animals sleep are about the size of Abraham Lincoln’s head on a penny and can be resistant to pesticides.
The insects are not known to spread disease, but scratching itchy bites can increase the likelihood of developing a secondary skin infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The bugs can be dormant and tend to hide in places like mattress seams, headboards, and behind wallpaper during the day.
Eddy, whose Columbia law firm has held cases against hotels in the Myrtle Beach area, said litigation is the only real avenue that bitten visitors can track.
After being bitten, he said that some customers can no longer stay in another hotel.
“The mental effects that my clients can experience are very real, ranging from relatively mild to the physical sensations of insects crawling across your skin,” said Eddy.
He said the bugs can also target genitals, causing scars from bites.
He said that most of the cases have been reported to management and that nothing has been done. The errors, Eddy said, could easily be spotted with properly trained staff inspecting the rooms.
“If my customers can find them, the trained staff at the hotels should find them,” he said.
Almost all of his cases were settled through mediation.
He doesn’t hope any of them will have any influence on politics.
“My complaints are not enough to really change them,” he said.
Hotels, he said, have to do better.
“Tourism is a big part of the South Carolina economy, and South Carolina hotels allow uncontrolled bed bugs and flea attacks on our paying tourists harm an economy,” Eddy said. “It’s an embarrassment.”
South Carolina representative, Wendell Gilliard, believed his bill, which requires hotels to inform visitors about bed bug infestation, would sail through law with no problems.
Seven years later, it’s still hibernating on a subcommittee. But, said Gilliard, it might be time to revive it.
“That’s what I call one of those bills that you can’t forget,” he said.
H.3143 was first submitted in 2012 and will remain on the Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs Committee after moving in early 2013.
The bill would require hotels and similar businesses, along with charity or emergency shelters, “to have a prominent note of bug in any guest room that has been exposed to a bedbug infestation that is known to the owner, manager or other responsible party to publish . ”
Violators would be guilty of a misdemeanor and could face a fine of up to $ 300 and / or imprisonment for up to 60 days.
Gilliard said he submitted the bill after hearing on a case-by-case basis from voters telling stories of hotel bed bugs.
“So I said to myself,” There is something that the state government has to control, “he said.” We cannot let that happen. “
Gilliard envisioned that the legislation should eventually be expanded to give the state the right to conduct inspections to enforce the law, revoke a company’s license for violations, and require companies to hire an exterminator to eradicate the pests.
At the time, Gilliard said lawmakers were unwilling to speak on the issue. He said that’s changing.
South Carolina does not currently have bed bug laws about the pests in hotels. Other states have different types of legislation. In Alabama, if an infestation is detected, guest rooms must be closed immediately until the problem is resolved. Kansas has classified the bugs as an “imminent health hazard”.
According to Gilliard, the creation of a bed bug regulation will do no harm to the state hospitality industry.
“I think it would actually help because people are more health conscious than before,” he said.
He’s been waiting for the right time to revive the bill.
“Incidents are increasing. Why shouldn’t we want to go on again?” Said Gilliard.
A nuisance for companies
Bed bug infestations aren’t unique to hotels, said Stephen Greene, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Hospitality Association.
“Sometimes people attribute it to the lodging industry,” Greene said. “They’re in hospitals, they’re in nursing homes, they’re in cinemas, they’re on cruise ships.”
Bed bugs have nothing to do with cleanliness, can remain inactive and hitchhike into rooms on suitcases.
“The next person to check in is your next bed bug opportunity,” Greene said.
Most hotels, he said, have contracts with pest control companies, spray against bed bugs, and may have policies that include moving guests to a new room and treating the infested room properly.
However, these properties may have different reactions and plans depending on whether it’s a traditional hotel, whether it’s rented by a third party, privately owned, or not operated by a local management company.
Greene said it is important that companies have a plan for bed bugs.
The Hospitality Association has heard complaints about bed bugs, but Greene said they have also received calls about all sorts of issues that visitors may experience. He said there is also a “significant amount” of people who purposely bring dead bed bugs to hotels in an attempt to get a free trip.
He doesn’t think Myrtle Beach has a higher rate of bed bugs than anywhere else.
According to Greene, bed bugs can be tricky because they can hide, be inactive for long periods of time, and be chemical resistant to green cleaning products. He attributes the increase in bed bugs across the country to efforts to be more environmentally conscious.
“That’s because the industry is trying to reduce its environmental footprint,” he said. “And like everything else, what kind of got those bed bugs out was a very powerful pesticide that wasn’t exactly healthy.”
Although Greene said he couldn’t comment on the association’s stance on a bed bug ordinance due to the breadth of options, he said he would have questions about Gilliard’s Notification Act if the law were to be proposed again. Greene asked how the bill would be enforced – and who would be responsible for placing a notice in a building where privately owned units are rented.