Thursday, July 21, 2016

As Robert Bentley becomes the focus of an Alabama grand jury, the management of our fleabag motel in Missouri tries to blame us for their bed-bug problem

Bed bugs
Whenever something bad happens to Gov. Robert Bentley in Alabama, it seems someone tries to make something bad happen to my wife, Carol, and me in Missouri. Is that a coincidence? Maybe, but we doubt it, given multiple reports that Bentley has unlawfully used state and federal databases in an effort to trump up criminal charges against attorney Donald Watkins and me -- the two citizen journalists who broke the story of Bentley's affair with former senior advisor Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

Does it sound loony to think "Luv Guv" Bentley might be at the heart of our struggles in the Midwest ? I'm sure to some folks, it does. But we learned one week ago that Bentley has appeared before a special grand jury convened by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. Now, get a load of what Carol and I have been dealing with in that time frame. Here's a hint: It involves bed bugs.

First, we need to point out that I broke the Bentley-Mason story in a post dated August 31, 2015. Nine days later, on September 9, we were unlawfully evicted from our apartment in Springfield, Missouri, even though we had filed a notice of appeal that put an automatic stay on an eviction procedure. Despite the stay, of which all lawyers involved were notified in advance, Greene County deputies burst through our door, pointed multiple assault rifles and handguns at us, and wound up shattering Carol's left arm so severely that it required trauma surgery, and she is likely to regain only 80-percent use of it. Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott was present at the eviction, and immediately after three deputies had roughed up Carol, he pointed at her on the ground and claimed she had "assaulted a police officer." Carol even was taken to jail, only to be released when someone noticed her purple arms and ordered X-rays that showed the left one had been snapped like a twig, just above the elbow.

So, what's going on now? This one is almost funny, even to me. But the humor tends to dissipate when you and your spouse play the role of victims.

Since last September's unlawful eviction, we've been living at a pay-by-the-week, fleabag motel that we have come to call the "Shiftless Drifters Motel." It's real name is the Cloud Drift Motel. Photos on the Web suggest the Cloud Drift once was the kind of inexpensive, down-to-earth place that was popular in the '50s and '60s. You might say it possessed a touch of Americana.

But that's not the case anymore. The Cloud Drift Motel has fallen on hard times, and it apparently has been on hard times for quite some time. The clientele now appears to be down-on-their-luckers, including alcoholics, drug dealers, meth manufacturers, and folks who appear to have serious health problems and no family to help them. We've seen a number of oxygen tanks on the premises.

About two months ago, when the weather turned fairly warm here, we started noticing an occasional bug in our bed. Neither of us recognized what they were, and since they were few in number and didn't appear every night, we figured it must be some sort of seasonal creature that soon would disappear.(That's called, in the medical literature, "wishful thinking.")

Carol first raised the issue, "Could they be bed bugs?" I, not being an expert in entomology, said, "Oh, I'm pretty sure bed bugs are microscopic; you can't see them. We can definitely see these things, so I don't think they could be bed bugs."

Well, was I wrong about that. I might know a thing or two about the law, but it seems I'm pretty clueless about bugs, especially ones I've never seen before.

After researching the matter online, we became convinced they were, in fact, bed bugs. The question then became: What on earth do we do? Do we try to come up with a solution on our own? Do we contact management and let them give it a go? Our research indicated that eradicating a bed-bug problem can be a tricky and expensive exercise -- and we had neither the knowledge nor the finances to handle it.

That's when Carol notified the manager -- a woman named Allison; we don't know her last name -- only to be informed that we had caused the bed-bug problem, and we likely were going to be kicked out because of it.

I went with Carol the next day to see if I could figure out what was going on with the management's strange reaction to notice of a bed-bug problem. Among the first words out of Allison's mouth were: "You brought the bed bugs in, and you didn't notify us when you should have."

A postcard of the Cloud Drift Motel, in its better days
My response was something like this: "We have never seen a bed bug in our lives, so I don't think we brought them in. Either way, you can't know for sure that we did. In fact, neither of us has any way of knowing how they got there. And we notified you as soon as we realized what we were dealing with, and it was something we couldn't handle on our own."

I should note that we've never seen a lease or any other piece of paper that provides details on a tenant's obligations should they see bugs. We never were given any guidelines about how to respond to a bug problem.

Allison admitted that bed bugs can move from one unit to another in any multi-family facility -- and we have other units on three sides of us, plus one above us. She also admitted that the motel's pest-control guy had not checked our unit for bed bugs, as he is supposed to. This is what Allison actually said, "You guys make your bed real nice, and he said he didn't want to bother it to check for bed bugs." In other words, it was our fault because we make our bed and try to keep our apartment clean.

According to Allison, and a guy who works for the company that owns the place, we would have to leave the premises for 12-14 days while they conduct a heat treatment to kill the bed bugs and then check to make sure they are gone. We understand that we would need to get out for a few days while the treatment is done -- and they claimed they had no other unit to put us -- but two weeks or so? Our research indicates a bed-bug treatment normally doesn't take that long.

I asked Allison, "Are you saying you want us to leave and not come back?"

"Yes," she said.

"Why is that? We've been model tenants, always paid on time, etc."

"You're not welcome. You brought the bed bugs."

"You have no way of knowing how the bed bugs got there."

"Well, I'm an expert, and I know you brought the bed bugs. Plus, you're not welcome because you're arguing with me."

"I'm arguing with you because you are trying to kick US out because of YOUR bed-bug problem. You can't begin to know how they got there. But it's your property, so the bugs are your responsibility."

Being a legally minded guy, I noted that Missouri law holds that landlords and hotel-motel managers operate under a "warranty of habitability." meaning they have a duty to make sure premises are relatively clean, operable, and habitable. Allison must have taken this as a threat of a lawsuit because she said, "Well, you would lose that like you lose everything else."

That certainly was an interesting comment. Where did she get that information? Does she make it a habit to check Alabama legal records? Or is it possible that someone with knowledge of the repeated cheat jobs we've experienced in court has communicated with her? If so, who was it? Does this establish an Alabama-Missouri pipeline that explains the abuse we've experienced in the Midwest?

We're not sure about the answers to those questions, but we intend to find out. We're also not sure how the bed-bug issue will play out, although I'm quite sure we have grounds for a lawsuit if they kick us out permanently and continue with their efforts to blame us for their problem. Would we pursue such a claim? We're giving that some thought.

Bed bugs aren't the only concern at the Cloud Drift Motel. The place might be charitably called a fire trap. In July 2011, a fire at the Cloud Drift apparently was caused by individuals using a meth lab. One person was treated for smoke inhalation, but there were no other injuries. In October 2012, a man died in a fire at the Cloud Drift when he apparently was smoking in bed near oxygen tanks.

Despite its rather seedy and dangerous environment, we've enjoyed our stay at the Cloud Drift Motel for the most part -- at least until the bed bugs arrived. It's sort of a rotating cast of characters in most units, so it's hard to get to know neighbors. And I'm not sure we want to know some of them. But one neighbor and his wife have been particularly nice and helpful. You really appreciate little kindnesses when you've been dumped on for 16 years the way we have been.

A feral cat at the Cloud Drift Motel
Across the board, our neighbors at the Cloud Drift have been far nicer and less of a headache than the criminally inclined Mike McGarity and his enablers on Logan Drive in the Broken Bow South neighborhood of Birmingham. They've also been more pleasant than most of my immediate family members and a so-called "friend" or two. Lesson learned: You can meet nice people in the crappiest conditions; you can meet gigantic assholes in nice conditions.

Perhaps the nicest feature of the Cloud Drift is that it's long been a dumping ground for feral cats. Normally, that's not a good thing -- and it pains us to be surrounded by cats who have no homes. We so wish we could do something about the problem, especially since many of these cats have been around people at the Cloud Drift enough that they are almost tame. Five or six of them have gotten to where they let us pet them, or they rub up against our legs.

We sometimes hear cat fights outside our door in the middle of the night. But for the most part, these "fur babies" are pretty well behaved. And I think most of them, with a little vet care and training, could be suitable pets.

Whether we leave because of bed bugs or we decide to leave on our own, we certainly will miss the feline friends we've made at the Cloud Drift. The motel, it turns out, is like a lot of places -- the animals (except for the bugs) are great, but some of the people suck.

Here is a story and video from a Springfield TV station about the feral cats at Cloud Drift Motel:


Anonymous said...

Oh, God, bed bugs are the worst. You have my condolences.

Anonymous said...

Ok. Serious question here that you don't have to answer...but, have you thought about moving to another state far far far away from this part of the country? Say Colorado? Nevada? Oregon? Surely there are states that have little, if any, ties with Alabama and your past. Maybe that's a bad question...but I, for one, would be getting the heck away. I know that might look like "they won", but peace in your life sometimes involves significant change.

And, let me add, I'm sorry you're going through all of this. So, don't think of this as me arguing. Bless you both!

legalschnauzer said...

I understand your point, @11:23, and we've thought of such things. But it's easier said than done when almost everything you owned has been stolen from you, when you've got bogus employment terminations on your record, a bogus criminal record, and your credit rating is ruined. In our broken justice system, this can be done to you; it has been done to me. They steal your life and your ability to support yourself. It's incapacitating. My view is this: We've been wounded, and we have to heal those wounds and hold people accountable. That's what we intend to do. I see no other way forward, although I appreciate your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight . . . the hotel has a problem with bed bugs, and they are blaming you for it, and they want to kick you out for it?

That blows my mind. These people are really that stupid?

legalschnauzer said...

Yes, @11:58, that is exactly the case. And yes, I guess they really are that stupid.

Get this: The manager told us they have their own heat-treatment machine for bed bugs, and yet they also claim to do inspections that prove their rooms are bed-bug free. Now, why would they have their own machine if they haven't had bed-bug problems in the past?

Anonymous said...

What is a warrant of habitability? Never heard that term.

legalschnauzer said...

Good question, @1:12. Here is what one Missouri lawyer said about the concept in this state:

Warranty of Habitability: While there still is no implied warranty of habitability, suitability or fitness in connection with commercial leases, Missouri courts began holding in 1973 that there is an implied warranty of habitability in residential leases. As defined in the first case so holding, " every residential lease there [is] an implied warranty by the landlord that the dwelling is habitable and fit for living at the inception of the term and that it will remain so during the entire term. The warranty of the landlord is that he will provide facilities and services vital to the life, health and safety of the tenant and to the use of the premises for residential purposes." Under this theory, a tenant's obligation to pay rent is dependent on the landlord's performance of his obligation to provide a habitable dwelling during the tenancy. However, before withholding rent, the tenant is under an obligation to give the landlord notice of the deficiency or defect not already known to the landlord and to allow a reasonable time for its correction, but the tenant cannot withhold rent if the defect or deficiency was caused by the tenant's wrongful conduct. In theory, tenants who withhold rent from the landlord under the habitability theory are required to deposit the rent with the local circuit court as it becomes due, but the Missouri appellate courts have never clarified how this is to be done.

Anonymous said...

" Bed Bugs
The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) has long been a pest – feeding on blood, causing itchy bites and generally irritating their human hosts. Bed bugs are not known to transmit or spread disease. However, they can cause a number of problems, including emotional and economic distress from lack of sleep.

There are no state or local laws regarding the presence of bed bugs in rental property. There is no Springfield or Greene County law that forces property owners or landlords to take steps to remove bed bugs. Disputes about payments and responsibilities between renters and landlords are civil matters, not something the city or county has jurisdiction over.

If you are a renter with bed bugs, you have the following options:"

Steve said...

You may already realise this Roger. But bed bugs are most visible after they have fed! You must find a better place if you possibly can.

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks, Steve. Yes, we've learned a lot about bed bugs. In my opinion, they might be the most disgusting critters on the planet. They emit a sweet smell -- kind of like foul strawberries -- and that is one sign of a problem. Another is to check mattress and see dark trails around the seems. They tend to travel along such surfaces. Another is the presence of dark or red spots on sheets, pillow cases, mattresses, etc. These are either from blood or bed bug excrement. Delightful! We had dark and red spots on the sheets when we moved into Cloud Drift, so signs of bed bugs were there from the outset. We just didn't know what they were. We moved in during Sept. 2015, and the weather was getting cool here, and we didn't notice bed bugs. I think that's because they tend to active mainly in warm weather.

It took us quite a while to learn about these things and realize what we actually were dealing with.

legalschnauzer said...

@1:29 -- Too bad your comment cut off at "options."

My research indicates there is no law in Missori, and probably not in most states, that is specifically about bed bugs. In Missouri, it seems to be covered under the "implied warranty of habitability" noted above.

Anonymous said...

There are lawyers who specialize in bed-bug cases. You need to contact these people:

Anonymous said...

Here is a bedbug report on hotels, motels, and apartments in Springfield, MO:

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for all the info, folks. Here is a lawyer, James Onder, who appears to do bed bug cases in Missouri.

Anonymous said...

Here's a case about a court case re: bed bugs in Missouri. Looks like the tenant prevailed:

legalschnauzer said...

Thanks for the heads up about the Missouri case, @3:32. Did a little research, and I think this was the final appellate ruling. The tenant did prevail:

Anonymous said...

There is a Lawyer here in Alabama who can get rid of them for you. He sets a Salty Dog on the bed. The bugs get drunk and stone each other to death,

Anonymous said...

I'm concerned about the feral-cat problem at that motel. It sounds like the problem should be solvable, without a lot of expense. The cats could be trapped, checked by a vet, spayed or neutered, and probably trained to be a wonderful pet for a good home.

Do people in Springfield, MO give a damn about anything? I guess they are too busy claiming to be "pro life."

Anonymous said...

1:29 pm again.

>>>@1:29 -- Too bad your comment cut off at "options."<<<

That's why the comment started out with one of those "https://www...." url thingies.

As a matter of fact, the https:// url thingie at the beginning of that comment takes a person directly to the source of the quote. Interested people can access the rest of the document quoted as well as additional documents and resources at that url thingie.

However, a quick perusal seemed to indicate the Show Me state of Misseruh strongly favors landlords rights rather than than tenant rights or possibly preventing possible public safety issues. Show Me Freedum!

legalschnauzer said...

Oh, there is not question, @6:53, that Missouri law and courts are incredibly one-sided in favor of landlords. I've witnessed that firsthand before this latest episode ever happened.

I suspect landlords are favored all over the country, but is especially glaring in MO.

Anonymous said...

Do people in Springfield, MO give a damn about anything?

Don't get in front of them if they are on the way to church.

Also don't get in front of them church goers if it's Sunday noon and they are on the way to Lambert's to get some throwed rolls after church!

legalschnauzer said...

Hah! You nailed it, @7:06. You left out only one thing -- it's church, throwed rolls, and postmodern GOP politics. This place is not one bit more enlightened than Alabama. If anything, the political commercials here are more sickening than the ones in AL -- and I didn't think that was possible.

Anonymous said...

For you and Mrs. Schnauzer, LS!

Robby Scott Hill said...

Landlords have always been favored. Hence the name landlord as opposed to landless peasant. Anyone who opposes the King or His Army is subject to losing his property, be that land or the shirt on your back. You've lost your land. Now King Bentley is after the shirt on your back & your underwear so he can have you arrested for exposing yourself to the good Christian People of the Confederate States of AmeriKKKa. The silver lining to that cloud is at least you can go to jail knowing you have the bigger penis.

Anonymous said...

Do you see a pattern here. Nobody wants anything to do with you. But of course, all your problems are caused by others. Oh the irony of you living with bugs. HaHa!

legalschnauzer said...

Don't get your point, @2:44. Give me a call at (205) 381-5673. Would be glad to discuss.

Anonymous said...

Apparently you want something to do with LS, @2:44. You are reading his blog and taking the time to post a snarky comment. What a mental giant you must be.