Thomas Real Estate house

Pictured is the house on 12th Avenue North that was alleged to have been home to bats. Photo by Christian Boschult 

A real estate company owned by a North Myrtle Beach city councilman is facing a lawsuit over bats found in a rental home.

Thomas Real Estate, owned by North Myrtle Beach City Councilman Hank Thomas, was sued on Oct. 25 over bats found in a property the company rents. But some of the allegations in the suit, already widely reported, contain several statements that are inconsistent with records from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The complaint was filed on behalf of North Carolina resident Kennedy Neiderer, who was part of a group renting the property for a week-long stay starting June 7, the complaint says. It says the plaintiffs who were staying there found “numerous dead and dying bats” near the living room and that Neiderer was exposed to “possibly rabies-infected bats” while she slept in the living room. 

The suit accuses Thomas Real Estate and the house’s owner of negligence, in part for failing to maintain the property where the bats were found and failing to inform the renters of the bats. As a result, the filing says that Neiderer had to undergo painful rabies treatment as a precaution, which caused her to spend “large amounts of money” on medical treatment and resulted in lost wages. 

If untreated, rabies is deadly and treatments generally involve multiple vaccinations.

The complaint says that prior renters had found a colony of 200 live bats and reported it to DHEC and that “at least one of the bats was found to have rabies.”

But a DHEC investigation found that although there were bats in house, neither of the two bats that were tested for rabies had the virus. 

A letter from DHEC stated that “the 2 bats that possibly exposed the occupants of 205 12th Ave N in NMB on June 12, 2017 were submitted to the DHEC Bureau of Laboratories for rabies examination.” The results? “Negative Results: there is no presence of rabies in the submitted specimens.” 

DHEC records show that from 2013 through 2017, no rabid bats had been reported in the county. Agency records show the last bat that tested positive for the virus in Horry County prior to the renters’ visit was 2012, and no bats found at the house in question have ever tested positive for rabies. 

Charles Leonard, the attorney representing Neiderer, said the information on colony size and the rabid bats came from Neiderer’s discussion with her counsel in North Carolina. Her attorneys in that state were unable to file a suit because her North Carolina counsel wasn’t licensed to practice law in South Carolina, Leonard said.

“I have not seen any indication that the bats have tested positive yet,” Leonard added. “I have requested, based on FOIA, the information from DHEC, but I have not received a response on the FOIA.”

Thomas, the city councilman, disputed the notion that prior renters had reported the bat colony to DHEC. 

“The only thing I can say about it is they’re saying the people the week before reported the bats, but nobody reported the bats,” Thomas said. “They (the complainant) reported the bats. I can tell you more about it maybe in a week or two once we file our answer to their complaint.”

DHEC documents did show that Snake Chaser Russell Cavender – who was brought in to resolve the bat issue – told DHEC during its investigation that the home’s owner had told him prior renters reported bats in the house. But that communication was between the renters and the building’s owner, not DHEC.

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