By Kati Weis

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Imagine renting the perfect house — good location, spacious room — but on your first night sleeping there, you’re bitten by bedbugs. Three Aurora roommates said that’s what happened to them during what they said was a traumatic rental experience, and they’re sharing their story to warn others to do their homework before signing on the dotted line.

(credit: Sean Middleton)

“I got bit the first night, as soon as I got in the bed, within a couple of hours, I got bit, and I woke up with a huge bite on my shoulder,” recalled Sean Middleton. “I woke up and I was like, ‘did I just get bit by something?’ So I looked around, and I saw one crawling off my bed and onto the floor.”

Middleton, 36, had just moved to Colorado from California in September 2019, when he and his two friends moved into an Aurora rental home, owned by the publicly-traded company Invitation Homes.

But after discovering on the first night in the home that it was infested with bedbugs, they went to a hotel for several days – abandoning their furniture – until they say the company told them the problem was fixed. However, when they moved back in, it didn’t take long before the roommates said they noticed the bugs were still there.

“I looked down and lo and behold, there was another bedbug,” said Josh Brown, 28, one of Middleton’s roommates. “The next thing you know, I see one on the wall… I see one crawling out of my clothes, then I go into my closet, there was a few on the floor.”

Josh Brown and Sean Middleton speak via video chat to CBS4. (credit: CBS)

Even though they were faced with sleeping in their cars, and bouncing from one friend’s couch to another, the men decided to move out permanently.

“All of us were forced into either state of homelessness or home instability after all of this, and how much money we had put forth, and how much of a percentage of our income we had put forth, followed by having to pay for all of this out of pocket hotel expenses, ran us all broke,” said Caiton Stratton Woodward, 26, one of the roommates.

Later, the men filed suit to try to get their deposit back. Their attorney, Jordan Thomas, said Invitation Homes then countersued the men for four months rent. Through litigation, Thomas obtained documents he said showed the company knew the bedbugs were in the house before renting it out to his clients.

“For five months prior to them moving in, they knew that there were bedbugs there, and they had treated unsuccessfully three separate times,” Thomas said.

Invitation Homes would not speak to CBS4, saying it does not comment on open litigation.

A tenant currently living at the property confirmed Invitation Homes still runs the property, and said she has not seen any bedbugs since she moved to the home in March.

The home in Aurora the three roommates rented. (credit: CBS)

Invitation Homes has dozens of negative reviews on the Better Business Bureau website, and Thomas, a housing attorney, says his office gets several calls about the company.

“It’s important that we identify the practices that gave rise to this problem in the first place, and encourage Invitation Homes to stop those practices all together,” Thomas said.

Meanwhile, the roommates are fighting to get their money back in court, and they hope others will do more research before jumping into a new lease.

“I don’t think that you should have to sit here and research does this company have issues with tenants and bedbugs,” Stratton Woodward said. “I think the biggest take away from all of this is actually the socioeconomic discrimination that occurs in the housing market.”

Kati Weis