At Ansonborough House, low-income seniors grapple with absorbing costs for furniture lost to bedbug infestations

In the past year, there have been at least five reports of bedbug infestations at Ansonborough House, an independent low-income senior living center downtown, forcing affected residents to dispose of major furniture items and pay out of pocket to replace them.

Ansonborough is run by Charleston Area Senior Citizens, a nonprofit, while the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidizes rent costs.

Linda Hines, 69, a resident who has lived there for about two years, said she is in the midst of battling her fourth round of bedbugs in her one-bedroom apartment.

With the recurrence of these blood-sucking pests, tenants like Hines say their livelihood is at stake. They can’t afford to replace furniture and clothing nor can they afford to live anywhere else.

“On the standpoint of being an elderly lady living in a 62 (and older) … community, I am low-income,” Hines said. “My main concern is replacing my furniture that gets thrown out when bedbug infestation occurs.”

Last year, Peter Wilson, 87, who has lived at Ansonborough for 13 years, said he ran into the same dilemma. After a bedbug infestation, Wilson and his wife Annie, 91, were forced to get rid of a mattress, box springs, sofa and a even a dining room chair — all of which had to be paid for out of pocket.

Wilson is on the same floor as Hines. So what did he believe was the source of the bedbugs?

“I have no idea, man,” he said.

At the beginning of May, Ansonborough management required all tenants to sign a so-called “bedbug addendum.”

The addendum, which was reviewed by The Post and Courier, states that if an apartment is treated three times, the resident would be responsible for the cost of the treatment and clears Ansonborough from liability.

Ultimately, the addendum states, this many bedbug infestations could be grounds for eviction.

‘We don’t have means to replace anything’

Hines’ couch became a casualty during one of her more recent infestations three weeks ago. The couch, management told her, would have to go.

Soon after, Ansonborough management provided Hines with a mattress cover as a preventative measure, although no bugs were found on the mattress, management staff confirmed.

Hines stood in her bedroom recently and pointed to the tiny dark spots and stains that dotted the white cover — bedbugs, she said. The bugs, she added, came with the cover, although Property Manager Karen Westmoreland said the cover was brand new.

“If I lose this mattress and box springs I have no funds to replace them,” she said. “This is the fourth time.”

When an infestation is confirmed, Westmoreland said, management enlists the services of a pest control specialist to perform a chemical treatment. After the first treatment, the specialist returns two more times and applies the treatment as needed.

To combat the spread of the bedbugs, the center recently had the entire facility evaluated, she added.

Westmoreland said Ansonborough also pays for the chemical treatments when an infestation is confirmed but that the center cannot afford to offer resources to residents who need to replace furniture.

“We have different resources we can get them in touch with,” Westmoreland said. “We don’t have means to replace anything that has to be gotten rid of.”

‘It’s difficult for everyone involved’

Nate Hughey is a Mount Pleasant-based attorney who represents individuals in senior living facilities. He is particularly critical of independent senior living centers, citing the lack of regulatory oversight. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control oversees assisted senior living centers, but not independent living centers, such as Ansonborough.

“It all boils down to accountability,” Hughey said. “And you can’t rely on these places to hold themselves accountable.”

Independent living centers sometimes resort to “one-sided,” non-negotiable residency agreements, such as the bedbug addendum, Hughey said.

Meanwhile, Westmoreland is advising residents at the center to be mindful of what they may be tracking into their apartments.

“Unfortunately, (bedbugs are) very hard to get rid of,” Westmoreland said. “We try to resolve the problem without it spreading to other apartments. … It’s difficult for everyone involved.”

Reach Michael Majchrowicz at 843-937-5591. Follow him on Twitter @mjmajchrowicz.

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