A Couple Bugged By Termites Turn To Court Seeking Money For Damages

Posted: December 02, 1993

John and Cheryl Sentell's war against termites began on March 27, 1989, in their dream home on Crescent Street in Penndel Borough.

More than 4 1/2 years later, the Sentells are separated, but are still jointly battling the wood-devouring insects - and seeking financial relief in Bucks County Court.

Shortly after discovering termites in a first-floor family room wall, the couple filed lawsuits against Hale Smith Real Estate of Fallsington and Nation-Wide Exterminating Service, Inc. of Levittown.

In those pending suits, the Sentells are seeking combined damages in excess of $60,000, claiming that they bought their $120,000 split-level home with a guarantee that it was termite-free.

Last week, the Sentells filed a breach of contract/negligence lawsuit against the company they hired in May 1989 to fix the termite problem - Terminix International Co. The suit contends that the home "continues to be infested" with termites despite four years of treatments by Terminix.

"So many times they've said, 'This oughta do it now,' " Cheryl Sentell said in an interview Tuesday. "We hold our breath until next year, and they come back again. It's a mess."

Terminix, based in Memphis, Tenn., denies any wrongdoing.

Sentell said that two years ago the termites spread upstairs to the bedrooms of their children, Chad, now 6, and Alex, now 3.

"We found them in the baby's crib one morning, and that meant that they were swarming again," said Sentell, 27. "We've had them infested all over. Some of the swarms were thousands. It was disgusting."

In the Terminix suit, the Sentells are seeking damages in excess of $180,000. It cites a $40,000 loss in property value, $20,000 in property repairs and other expenses.

Under the state's consumer protection law, plaintiffs are entitled to an award of up to three times the actual amount of the damages.

The Sentells are also losing money because they cannot refinance the 10.5 percent interest rate on their mortgage or sell the property until it has been free of termites for five years, said Mindy M. Brook, the couple's attorney.

Cheryl Sentell, who moved to a Levittown apartment in September 1992, said she and her husband would have been legally divorced by now had it not been for the lawsuits.

Their assets are trapped in the 36-year-old house. John Sentell still resides there and the children stay with him during the week.

"They've been unable to move along with their lives," Brook said.

At the home, the damaged areas are now being renovated by contractors working for Terminix.

"We think their lawsuit is faulty and we think we've performed fully under the terms of our agreement," said Charlie Hromada, Terminix's senior vice president, in Memphis. "We have treated the property, but treating the house does not mean the home will never see termites again."

Because termite control is "a very imprecise science," the insects can still swarm in a house "despite the best efforts" to stop them, said Hromada.

A Termite Protection Plan signed by the Sentells guaranteed only that Terminix would provide continuing termite control services, he said, noting that the Sentells won't be billed for the property repairs.

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