Dirty Tricks: The FTC’s Investigation of the Termite Control Industry
If have you ever felt confused or concerned about promises by your termite control, you’re not alone. The Federal Trade Commission is concerned too. The termite control industry deceives customers through the use of unfamiliar terms and contractual provisions. The deceptive practices prompted the FTC to launch an investigation.
The FTC regulates American business and protects American consumers by eliminating unfair or deceptive business practices. Since its creation in 1914, the commission has been involved in the investigation of many U.S. industries. For example, the FTC recently charged Jenny Craig Inc., a company that offers weight loss programs, with misleading customers regarding the effectiveness of its programs and hidden fees charged to customers. The commission ended up ordering Jenny Craig Inc. to cease these deceptive practices.
Although termite control and weight loss are non-similar industries, the FTC’s charge to both companies is alike, “the company misled consumers regarding the effectiveness of its programs”.
The FTC is concerned homeowners may be confused when dealing with termite companies. Much of this confusion stems from homeowners’ not understanding warranties or service agreements. Some termite contracts do not guarantee repair of damage from a termite infestation. The contracts will only offer retreatment if termites infest the customer’s home. If you have the misfortune of having this kind of contract and your providers inept practices cause a termite infestation, then they are only obligated to retreat your home. The FTC is skeptical about whether homeowners understand the distinction.
Termite control companies also muddy the waters by not clearly defining their liability for damages. Contracts are often loaded with qualifiers that state what conditions must occur before the company will make, or pay for, repairs to the customer’s home. Most all state that pre-existing damage is not covered. This could all be resolved through clear communication. Currently, the responsibility to buy the correct contract is shouldered solely by the homeowner. Termite companies are aware of this. Instead, they use clever and ambiguous language with the homeowner so they can drum up sales and stave off liability.
Another critical area of concern for the FTC is the effectiveness of the treatment. Prior to 1998, manufacturers of soil-based termiticides were not required to prohibit pest control operators from applying less termiticide than the label called for. So companies took advantage and were able to apply any amount of termiticide they desired, saving them time and money while making homeowners vulnerable.
Termite control companies will also sell a “permanent termite barrier” around your home. Experts in termite control will tell you that providing such a barrier is very difficult if not impossible, yet companies still claim to do just that. Bringing that claim also under FTC investigation.
The “permanent barrier” fallacy was brought under fire when changes in building practices and new environmentally friendly chemicals were not complied with. One change was the prohibition of chlordane for termite treatments. Chlordane is an extremely effective and enduring termiticide. Unfortunately, it had to be phased out by the EPA because it poses serious health risks to humans and other life forms. The substitutes were less effective and wear off quickly, so booster treatments had to become part of termite control. Unfortunately, many companies choose not use booster treatments. In addition, they decided to deceive homeowners into believing their homes had been treated with a non-expirable permanent barrier. Even with chlordane this was impossible but still an effective barrier. With less effective substitutes and an absence of booster treatments, this was neither possible nor an effective barrier.
The FTC investigation is a step in the right direction. Consumers need to be made aware of the tools some termite control companies use to deceive their clients. Through greater understanding of these issues, homeowners can make informed decisions on who to use and have the ability to hold their providers feet to the fire regarding type treatments and contractual promises.
Campbell Law PC is based in Birmingham, Alabama – the heart of the termite belt in the Deep South. The firm handles serious cases nationwide. We will be happy to evaluate your claim at no cost to you.
Campbell Law PC
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