Monroe family in limbo: Residents charged for bed bugs

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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - Murray Plaza Apartments in Monroe is a place of rest for Mary Sanders.

(SOURCE: David Hunt) Mary Sanders' apartment following an exterminator's visit to treat bed bugs in her apartment.

She’s filled her one-bedroom apartment over the past 15 years with pictures of her five children, antiques passed down from her grandparents, and flowers to brighten the room.

Nowadays, her belongings are home to countless bed bugs and she’s displaced in Alabama.

David Hunt is scrambling to get the apartment cleaned up for his 75-year-old mother.

“Her whole life is in this apartment. All of her memories, all of her photos. Her life is here,” said Hunt. “Now it's infested with bedbugs. And she doesn't know whether she's gonna have anything or not.”

He called the front office for help the minute he found out about the problem. They told him to complete a checklist to get the apartment ready for the exterminator.

The problem is a stroke left Sanders in a wheelchair years ago, making it hard for her to put everything into plastic bags. On top of that, none of her kids live in town to help her get the apartment ready.

“It's hard to know that there was nothing I could do to help my mother. Because it scared me to death,” said Hunt.

It’s a week before the exterminator can come into her apartment. When Sanders is allowed back inside, she finds her home turned upside down.

There are bags filled with her clothes and trinkets thrown everywhere, barely leaving space for her to get through to the bathroom in her wheelchair.

Everywhere she goes in the apartment, she finds dozens of brown dots on the floor. Those are the dead bed bugs.

Sanders’ children drive her to Alabama to stay with family while they figure things out for her.

“She's safe and that's the main thing, but I'm worried about the other tenants that are living here now, what they're going through,” said Hunt.

Hunt goes to pay rent for his mother while he’s in town from Baton Rouge.

Murray Plaza refuses to accept the rent check, according to Hunt. He said they gave him a letter for Sanders to sign. It reads, “...the resident understands that rent will not be accepted...until the $500 is paid in full.”

This means if Sanders isn’t allowed to pay her rent because she’s refusing to pay for the exterminator, she’ll be evicted for failing to pay rent.

"They want an elderly woman that's on a disability check to pay for something they should have already taken care of," Hunt said.

8 Investigates reached out to Sunquest Properties, who owns Murray Plaza.

In a statement, Sunquest admits to having dealt with bed bug problems in 2019. They said “any bed bugs that were noted were properly treated by the exterminator...” during a full-building inspection in April.

The email included the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Notice H 2012-5 and Family Model Lease. Both include guidelines for dealing with damages and bed bugs.

The Family Model Lease explains a property owner can make tenants pay for damages if the damages are caused by a tenant’s “...carelessness, misuse or neglect.” This is what Sunquest is using to justify charging Sanders for the bed bug extermination.

Sunquest is missing a document, though.

On April 18, 2019, HUD sent a memorandum to clarify its guidelines for dealing with bed bugs.

The document specifies “unless the owner can demonstrate that the infestation was caused by carelessness or neglect on the part of a resident…”, charging the resident “ not acceptable.”

Sunquest emailed an updated statement after 8 Investigates handed them the April document.

In it, Sunquest puts a halt on charging any of its residents for bed bug problems until they can get clarification from HUD on what to do next.

Hunt said he and his family stepped in to tidy his mother’s apartment so she has a clean place to come home to if she decides to return.

They found at least one live bed bug during their sweep of the apartment.

“We can't do this a family as again, go through this. We just can't,” said Hunt.

As of the publication of this article, it’s not certain whether Mary Sanders will be returning to live at Murray Plaza.

A narrow path on the right allows Mary Sanders' wheelchair through to the bedroom. (Source: David Hunt)