Georgia is a termite hot zone -- Termites.com estimates Georgians spend $200-$300 million per year controlling the pests and repairing the damage they cause.
Protecting your home means the right treatment combined with proper inspections, and a solid contract if something goes wrong.
Consumer investigator Jim Strickland heard from two Georgia families who accuse their nationally known pest controllers of taking costly short cuts.
"What's it like living in the house now?" Strickland asked Mary Beth Meyers of Valdosta.
"It's hell, quite honestly."
Meyers and her husband, Dr. Neil Meyers, live in the home her dad built in 1966. Atlanta-based Orkin has been the termite contractor from day one, having pre-treated the ground before construction began.
The Meyers doubt their Orkin man spent enough time in their crawl space, where Strickland found old termite trails leading from the soil to the home's floor joists and support beams.
There are gaping holes where weight-bearing wood ought to be.
The guest bathroom and master bath floors are caving in. Toilets in both are suspended on their plumbing, having no actual flooring beneath them. The door trim is destroyed. The wall studs are eaten and moisture from the crawlspace has created a mold haven, as well.
"She's a grand house. She didn't deserve this," said Mary Beth Meyers, who has lived in the home since the age of 13.
There are also holes in the paperwork documenting the Meyers' termite coverage. On two inspection reports, the name Meyers is misspelled. Dr. Meyers is purported to have signed them, but his authentic signature in no way resembles what's on the reports.
From 2004 through 2008, the Meyers have no record the annual inspections they paid for were ever completed. Strickland asked Orkin if they had copies, but received no response.
"What kind of inspection was I getting?" wondered Meyers.
Alvin Jackson of Fort Valley ponders the same question about pest control giant Terminix.
"I keep (the crawlspace) locked at all times, and they're saying they came out and inspected. Ain't no way they could have come out and inspected," said Jackson.
Terminix treated his home when it was first built ten years ago. He obtained a renewed contract in 2007. A remodeler found significant damage under his brick porch in 2011.
Jackson said the remodeler told him the box that holds up the weight of his house was completely destroyed by termites.
Jackson's attorney, Tom Campbell, is a Birmingham, Ala. lawyer specializing in pest control claims. He said inadequate inspections and skimpy chemical treatments are rampant.
"It's almost universally true that termite companies do not reapply barrier after it's worn off," said Campbell.
He said homeowners must be at home when their inspections are done.
"One of your Georgia regulators published an article that said an adequate inspection of even the smallest house in Georgia should take 45 minutes to an hour. That's excluding talking about Georgia football, the weather, whatever."
The regulator who wrote the article to which Campbell refers is James Harron, who retired from state service to work for Orkin.
Both the Jackson and Meyers homes had repairs and re-treatments for small termite cases years ago.
National termite consultant Paul Bello has seen each dwelling, and claims adequate inspections should have caught termite activity in each early stages. Bello questions the effectiveness of the re-treatments.
"The termites are telling us that an inadequate treatment was done in the areas the termites are," Bello said.
Bello figures a termite colony had been feasting on the Meyers house for the more than 20 years that have passed since their re-treatment.
"The vice president of claims came and looked at our house," said Dr. Meyers.
"Who was that?" asked Strickland.
"That was Chris Gorecki."
Mary Beth Meyers added, "He was going to pack me, settle me, move me, fix my house, give me my home back."
"No, I feel betrayed. I feel he made promises he did not keep and I don't like being lied to."
Gorecki is also chairman of the Georgia Structural Pest Control Commission. Strickland attended its November meeting and asked Gorecki about Mary Beth Meyers.
"She mentioned you and that she feels betrayed by you. Comment?" Strickland asked.
"I'm sorry to hear that," said Gorecki. "I feel like I did everything I could to try to resolve the matter for them.
The Meyers sued. Orkin's court filing "denies it was negligent in any manner whatsoever," and blames "their own negligence" for the Meyers' issues.
As the case drags on, the Meyers fear a demolition crew will take what the termites did not.
"If that's what has to be done that's what has to be done. I will accept it. But I will never accept that it was from my neglect," said Mary Beth Meyers.
Terminix's public relations firm did not provide comment after promising to do so. Multiple calls and emails to the company's spokesperson were not answered.
The company did respond to Jackson’s lawsuit, however.
Orkin vice president Martha Craft told Strickland the company never denied the Meyers' claim, and only stopped trying to negotiate a settlement when the couple filed suit.
Orkin said since 2010, less than two customers per one thousand file a termite claim and most are resolved without litigation.
Orkin released the following statement:
We cannot comment on the Meyers’ case in particular, because it is in litigation; however we can put the facts of our termite claims into context. On average since 2010, only 0.18% of our approximately 380,000 termite customers file claims each year. We pay the vast majority of those claims quickly, fairly, and without attorneys or legal proceedings. In fact, only seven of our termite customers resorted to litigation in the past three years. It is critical that we are fair and honest with our customers, and we strive to do the right thing every day. That includes fighting unreasonable claims. As soon as the Meyers notified us, we immediately began to work through their damage claim, and we were prepared to initiate the repair work. We never denied their claim, and we endeavored to accommodate them at every turn as we worked together to define the scope of repairs. Only when the Meyers filed a lawsuit did progress stop, as we were forced to defend the lawsuit.