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CA SPCB Complaints

From my own experiences with the California Structural Pest Control Board (SPCB) and the experiences others have related to me, which are posted below, I’d say the California Structural Pest Control Board and its licensees have a pretty good racket going -- with no accountability for either one. It appears the only purpose to have consumers file a complaint with the California Structural Pest Control Board is to generate more money for the California Structural Pest Control Board and obviously not to uphold the California Structural Pest Control Act or to protect California’s consumers.

Lawsuits

The following statements by a former employee of Terminix and Orkin support what was already painfully clear to me and so many others:

SPCB/PCO-1:  First you must understand how the SPCB works under California State law.  The SPCB, which falls under the California Department of Consumer Affairs, must justify its existence and financing from the state through its performance on the benefits it gives to the state. I cannot remember how often without looking it up; but every two to three years (it may be annually), the SPCB, under what is known as a sunset law, must make its case on why the Legislature and Governor should re-fund and extend the SPCB's time to operate. A sunset law means that the laws putting the SPCB in place must be renewed every so often, or the SPCB will cease to exist.

The federal government, under the rules of FIFRA (The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, Rodenticide Act) and the EPA, mandate that each state have a regulating body to oversee the application and chemical applicators through regulation and licensing.

California accomplishes this through the SPCB, but has a fail-safe mechanism to disband the SPCB through sunset laws.  In essence, if the sun goes down and a law isn't reinstituted, then the SPCB is no longer.

The SPCB is a very inefficient entity in many aspects. To justify its existence, the SPCB has become a revenue-generating tool for the State of California. Every slip of paper filed with the SPCB by companies must have a tax stamp or money sent in with it.  There are company registration renewals, licensing fees and renewals, and imposed fines and probation.

This is where most of the problem, in my opinion, lies. In what I have seen, the SPCB will follow up on a complaint and resolve that complaint by imposing fines on a company for its misdeeds and will put that company on probation for years, with additional fines imposed while on probation. The SPCB has more interest in imposing and collecting fines than closing a company down where that revenue will be lost.

I cannot tell you how many times Terminix has been on probation or fined, but never had its license revoked.

As a small company, I fear the SPCB because they will pull my license to operate in a New York second.  I am small potatoes to them.  Not too much revenue potential  for the SPCB, only a few hundred dollars a year.  But you look at Orkin, Terminix, Clark, Western, Dewey, and other large pest and termite companies, the licensing and fees revenue potential is great. So, you rarely see a license revoked. It would be financial suicide for the SPCB.

The way the SPCB is financed and justifies its existence is in direct conflict to who they are supposed to serve, the public.

Want to fix the problem? Make the SPCB permanent. Put in place limited tenure appointed directors of the SPCB. Have a fair hearing process for both the consumer and operators. Finance the SPCB through the general state tax fund, not imposed fines. Limit the number of new pest and termite company startups in order to limit the severe competition and cost cutting between the companies. Mandate only companies with their home offices and directing officers being located inside the state to be allowed to work in the state. In essence, throw the big cookie cutter companies out of the state and send them packing back to their own states.

If you understand how the SPCB operates, you will understand the SPCB. The only interests they protect are their own, not those of the general public. Of course, this is how many bureaucracies work, isn't that right?

Okay, so we know it’s broken.  Now, who is going to fix it?  The problems seem to be a direct result of a federal mandate, and the problems are not only confined to California’s regulating agency.  Can the State of California clean up its own act, or will it take an act of the United States Congress to do it?

SPCB/PCO-2 (12/99).  I worked for [Terminix] administratively for six years. I can wholeheartedly believe that you got the run-around not only from the SPCB and Charlie Peterson, but the Terminix entourage of attorneys as well. Terminix would never admit it, but they are sort of like a “good ole boys” network--and Lonnie Anderson is just one of many of their answer men.  He is a very intelligent individual but has to work within the guidelines that the State of California gives him and cover the big “T’s” butt as well.  Terminix, in my estimate, counts on the fact that the average consumer doesn’t have the funds to keep up long and costly litigation, and more times than not, that’s how they are able to keep on going.  In reference to Lee Zusman, he holds the Operators license for the entire state of California for Terminix, so you can well imagine that it’s in his best interest to be on any panel that makes the company appear more professional.  Are you aware that the minimum profit percentage for any branch in California is 25% -- more than most companies (this is a monthly profit margin I’m referring to).  So the branch I worked in had an annual budget projection of 5 million dollars -- in one branch!!!  Big money for a minimal amount of time spent doing either pest control work or termite inspections.  Terminix’s unspoken law is five to six inspections per day, and their training is about three to four months and then they are thrust out into the field to sell.  If something is wrong with an inspection, it is normal procedure to have the branch manager go out and inspect for himself, the theory being that they’ve been in the business long enough to know what is correct and what is not. Then it is discussed with the regional manager and sent to corporate in Memphis.  If it is found that Terminix is at fault, MOST branches will submit a claim to RISC management. Lonnie Anderson also will inspect and report his findings to Memphis as well.  Terminix has been shut down four or five days once before in the early 90’s for many different infractions; but most of the time if the State of California gets involved, they just slap the hell out of Terminix with a fine, and the branch manager just disappears either by being demoted or transferred, supporting your theory.  By the way, unless the laws of California have changed since the summer of this year, the SPCB holds all termite reports filed from every pest control company in the state for three years, not two. Until recently, you could walk to the board and see stacks of reports everywhere ceiling high!!  They have started using a high-speed scanner instead of microfiche to copy the reports. I’m sure this doesn’t help you much; but as a consumer, you have the right to request restitution. Hopefully at some point, the government will be able to stop Terminix’s attorneys from playing the paper game.

SPCB/PCO-3 (10/00).  My husband has been with Terminix for several years now; and up until recently, we have had little complaints. Recently, however, my husband witnessed a heartbreaking scene and was then told to keep his mouth shut when he tried to tell someone.  They were doing a fumigation on a house and didn’t properly clear the house before they turned on the gas.  Unfortunately, the owner’s cat was still in the house.  The cat was suffocated. This is unfortunate and is very sad, but the actions taken by the managers was awful.  They were told to put the cat in a bucket and throw it in the dumpster.  When the owner asked about the cat, he was told they hadn’t seen it.  I tried to file a complaint with the State Pest Control Board here in California but was told it is not a crime to be negligent and kill an animal.  The owner is probably still wondering where his poor beloved pet is.

NOT negligent??? Since when are only “crimes” reportable to the California Structural Pest Control Board? Wouldn’t crimes be reported to a law enforcement agency???

Lawsuits

SPCB/CC-1 (1/99).  Charlie Peterson is [also] the inspector who screwed up our case. Our loss wasn’t as great as yours, but I assure it was and is as frustrating as what you are dealing with.  We won our case. The “contractor” was put on probation. The State recovered $3,500 in expenses for the State.  We lost five years of our lives fighting our problem and didn’t recover any money. The “contractor” wasn’t required to perform or reimburse us, and we finally made the repairs ourselves at our expense.  We were never notified that we had won our case by the State. We were told that it would take many months to resolve.  Only after many months had elapsed and I contacted the Structural Pest Control Board that I found out that we had won.  My inquiries as to why all of this had transpired have not been responded to. It is bad enough getting ripped off by a contractor (three in our case), when the State supports the licensees that are stealing from the public and ignores the problems they create for consumers, what are you going to do? I watched a program on 60 Minutes titled, “The Bad Samaritan.” It was shocking. It had to do with a person witnessing, from an adjoining bathroom stall, his friend doing terrible things to a person and then killing her. The person walked away and chose to do nothing about what his friend was doing.  Consumer Affairs isn’t any different other than they apparently can’t tell which stall they are in.

The only avenue explored by us was Consumer Affairs. We gave up.  The cost to litigate was more than the cost of the repairs, so we haven’t done anything else. I filed a complaint with the Structural Pest Control Board against Mr. Peterson, but it was swept under the rug.  We recently sold the house.  We, of course, had to have a pest clearance for the new sale. Would you believe that the same items that we were complaining about as not being repaired from the initial inspection in 1993 which were certified by Mr. Peterson as being corrected during our complaint process and as part of the complaint process showed up on the new pest report as items that needed to be repaired. What a racket. Do you know that Mr. Peterson worked as an inspector for many years, I believe for Terminex.  I will give you all of the details concerning our case. Phone logs if you want them. I even have the envelopes the State’s responses came in. I have something in common now with someone else, Mr. Peterson. Single complaints are ignored by the State even though it would seem very unlikely that the State isn’t aware of his performance. The person I dealt with at SPCB was Delores Coleman, initially.  She was discharged in June or July of 1995.  Donna Kingwell was her replacement. I had to refile my complaint in August of 1995 because information as to the nature of the damages in my complaint had disappeared.  Donna Kingwell, despite her claim to me that she would look into my complaint about Mr. Peterson has never responded to me.  I believe she is sweeping it under the rug as fast as she can, hiding SPCB wrongdoing in at least my case. We are not able to look at other cases, conveniently for the State.

SPCB/CC-2 (4/99).  I hardly know where to begin with my frustration with the State Structural Pest Control Board allowing consumers to be harassed and ripped off. We signed a contract in 1996 for microwave termite treatments with a company in California named California West Exterminators. We had these ineffective treatments and paid a large amount of money.  They went out of business and were supposedly purchased by Cal-Western Termite and Pest Control, Inc. We were informed by Cal-Western via letter, and in short, were offered a chance to “choose us to provide your invaluable Control Service protection.” They called several times, and I finally agreed to have them come out for what they offered by phone as a free inspection.  When the inspector arrived and started his inspection, we then found out the service would not be the same as what was with the previous company, and it would be a new contract, not a renewal or continuance as stated in their letter, and now the inspection was not “free.” We were told we now had to sign a form after he found termites in the attic. We decided not to sign the form and asked him to leave since we were misled. We were sent a bill for $190.  I called and spoke to Mr. John Lemm, the company’s president.  He was rude and belligerent and accused us of stealing the signed “contract” from his inspector. After he was supposedly placing a lien on our home, I wrote to the company and called and wrote several letters to the infamous State Structural Pest Control Board. Ms. Gayle Yamada was most rude and evasive.

To make a long story much too short, Mr. John Lemm, the president of Cal-Western Termite, whom I was complaining about as to his unethical business practice, was at the time the president of the Structural Pest Control Board!  I had also learned that California West, who originally did these so-called microwave treatments and went out of business, was also linked to Cal-Western. Whoever ran California West used to work with or for Mr. John Lemm of Cal-Western who now wanted to “continue” our contract. Now guess who supposedly bought Cal-Western Termite. TERMINIX!  We are getting statements from Terminix to pay on our “contract.” We have talked to Terminix several times, sent statements back to them, asked to see this supposed contract we are to have. We get the same response that they will take care of this; yet, we continually are getting harassed by calls and statements.

The problem is that the State Structural Pest Control Board, which is promoted to be a service to the public, provides a major disservice. There needs to be a complete investigation into the pest control industry to rid the many fraudulent practices within the pest control business.

When I was in the midst of my heaviest correspondence, I suggested to the State Structural Pest Control Board that a consumer web site needed to be started that would allow people to post their complaints of various pest companies and complaints of the State Structural Pest Control Board. I quickly got a letter from Donna Kingwell, executive officer of the State Structural Pest Control Board stating that the Board is funded by stamp, license, and examination fees paid by those licensed by the Board to practice pest control.  The Board is not taxpayer funded. So, as I view this information, there is no incentive for the Board to respond to consumers fairly, as they are bent in masking the issues of the hand that feeds them.  I don’t know if any letters I have from the State Structural Pest Control Board would be of any interest to you, but if you would like to have copies, I am sure you would see the way in which the Board merely slides off any of my specific requests for a response to specific infractions by avoiding response to issues which clearly violate their written policies as per the Structural Pest Control Act.

SPCB/CC-3 (12/99). My complaint is about termite inspectors in general in California. The problem here is the built-in conflict of interest. The company that makes the inspections should not also be in the business of making the repairs. The inspector is motivated to exaggerate the damages so they can make money on the repairs. Most people that are selling their homes are in a hurry to close the deal and don’t have time to get bids on the repairs, so they just go along with whatever the inspector offered.  I also had an experience where I bought a house and the seller got charged to remove construction debris from the crawl space.  When I sold the house, the debris “reappeared.” On another occasion, the inspector said I had underground seepage and need the “whole house tent treatment” and the ground in the crawl space covered with plastic sheeting.  It turned out to be a water pipe leak.  I wrote to the California State agency that had responsibility are received a “thanks for writing” letter.

Colorado