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Bedbugs Charged in Aaron's Rental

By Frank Parlato

The tiny creatures can sometimes

escape detection.
But when they bite, you will know

Bedbugs can come into your life

quickly and make it a living hell.

Last week, Doug McDaniel, owner of Cates BBQ, a seasonal outdoor restaurant in Niagara Falls, contacted the Niagara Falls Reporter.

His problem, he said, was that furniture he rented, including a bedroom suite that included a "luxury queen mattress" from Aaron's, Inc., on Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls, was infested with bedbugs.

He found out, he said, because, sometime after renting the furniture, his wife, Michelle, became ill.

"At first she thought she had been exposed to poison ivy," he said.

But a report by pest inspector Patricia Nelson indicated that her problem was likely due to bedbugs since there was evidence of bedbugs found in their home.

McDaniel and his wife live in Ohio most of the year but came to Niagara Falls the last two summers to operate an outdoor restaurant located just outside the Niagara Falls State Park.

The rented furniture from Aaron's was for their seasonal apartment they took this year in Niagara Falls.

After he learned the cause of his wife's illness, McDaniel, who said he never had an experience with bedbugs before he rented the furniture from Aaron's, asked the company to reimburse him for the costs of extermination, his wife's medical bills due to her reaction to the bites and other related expenses.

This got him, "flat out nowhere," he said.

The Reporter contacted Aaron's and spoke with the individual who rented McDaniel the furniture. He declined to comment and referred the call to his manager, who also declined to speak with a reporter.

A simple check on the internet shows Aaron's has been literally infested with complaints of bedbugs nationwide, but, to date, if any originated in Niagara Falls, they were not readily found on the internet or in published reports.

In a letter from Aaron's, dated June 25, 2012, written to a reporter at WSMV-TV in Nashville in response to complaints of bedbugs from rental customers of Aaron’s, the company wrote, "Aaron’s takes each customer report of bedbugs seriously and handles each issue on a case-by-case basis. In cases where a customer has a claim, we work hard to reach mutually agreeable resolutions with our customers."

Although Aaron’s company policy is to clean and inspect all returned merchandise before being re-leased, according to several internet forums, former employees allege that corporate emphasis on "lease, lease, lease," results in merchandise that often leaves the store with no cleaning of any kind.

Thousands of customers around the U. S. have complained to Aaron's of bedbugs and Aaron's has been the target of bedbug related lawsuits in Atlanta, Nashville and Philadelphia, to name a few.

According to McDaniel, Aaron's have offered to do nothing and demanded that he prove that the bedbugs came from their furniture.

McDaniel said he plans on providing that proof through the discovery process if he fails to resolve the matter and is forced to file a lawsuit against Aaron’s.

Founded in 1955, Aaron’s Inc., a publicly traded furniture, electronics, appliances and computer rent-to own company, with more than 11,000 employees, has over 2,000 stores in 28 states and has annual revenues of more than $2 billion.

Most of the stores are corporate-owned, but approximately a third of the stores are owned by franchisees.

The Niagara Falls, N. Y., Aaron's, located at 2525 Pine Ave., is owned by SEI/Aaron's, Inc., of Atlanta Ga., the largest franchisee in the Aaron’s system.

SEI has 104 stores, according to their website, and own stores in Lockport, Tonawanda, Buffalo and Ontario.

Aaron's leases their products on a rent to own basis and about half the time, the company reports, the customers end up completing the purchase. Aaron's leases to customers without credit checks, with low weekly payments and customers can possess the leased items on the same day they apply for the lease. Since about half the time customers do not end up purchasing the products, the company releases these, resulting in some customers getting used products, including used mattresses.

According to a 2011 Consumer Reports investigation, customers pay up to 311 percent interest on rent to own items like big-screen televisions and other home appliances.

The Consumer Reports investigation found deals where a $600 computer cost nearly $1,900 after less than year's worth of payments, and a washer-dryer combo with an original price tag of $1,000, cost $2,700 after two-and-a-half years with an interest rate of 100 percent.

The $7 billion-plus rent-to-own industry, which also includes industry giant Rent-A-Center, leases products to more than four million customers, primarily low-income families, in 2009, according to Association of Progressive Rental Organizations.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

SEP 24, 2013