Winnipeg mouse infestation doesn't surprise biologist

A severe mouse infestation of a million-dollar Winnipeg home has shocked people across the country, but a local biologist says he's not surprised.
People are weighing in on a CBC News story about a Winnipeg woman who found her million-dollar house has a massive mouse infestation. 1:32

A severe mouse infestation of a million-dollar Winnipeg home has shocked people across the country, but a local biologist says he's not surprised.

The CBC News story from Monday has been viewed more than 100,000 times and commented on by more than 300 people as of Tuesday.

Many who saw the story expressed disbelief that a problem could be so widespread without anyone knowing sooner.

But James Hare, a biological sciences professor at the University of Manitoba, says once mice get into a nesting place, they start breeding fast — having up to five litters of six mice in a year — and can stay quite well hidden.

And the mice can always find enough food, he said.

"They could forage for anything, you know plant material, they'll eat insects as well, whatever they can get. So there'd be lots for them to eat," Hare said.

It doesn't take much for them to find a way into the house and they don't care if it's a mansion or a shed.

"They're really good at climbing, so they can climb right up the stucco [and] any sort of vent in the soffit or into the attic, provides them with access," Hare said.

Carrie Forsythe took possession of the south Winnipeg home in September and started opening up the walls to renovate it when she discovered her 5,000-square-foot house was a massive mouse nest.

Every centimetre of drywall has been torn out so that exterminators can remove all the soiled material, and disinfect the building studs and other areas where there was mouse activity.

Abell Pest Control's Shaun Jeffrey said the infestation is the worst he has ever seen.

The insulation on every level of the house contains mouse feces and urine, and all of it must be removed, he said, estimating it would have taken about five years for the infestation to reach this state.

Home inspection

A lot of commenters on the original story argued that Forsythe should have got a home inspection done before buying the house.

But some experts say that would not guarantee the problem would have been discovered, as the industry is not regulated and anyone can call themselves a home inspector.

Rob Giesbrecht, a real estate lawyer and partner in the Winnipeg firm Pitblado, said potential buyers should be careful when choosing a home inspector.

"There isn't any regulation on home inspectors, so it's really up to the prospective buyer to do some research and investigate... the qualifications..." he said.

Giesbrecht said Alberta and British Columbia have made home inspection a licensed profession, adding that similar regulation in Manitoba would better protect home buyers.

"Having recognized standards and recognized qualifications and education raises the bar, and just makes the public a little safer in terms of knowing what they're dealing with," he said.

The Manitoba Securities Commission is exploring the possibility of regulating home inspections, according to the provincial government.

If an offer to buy a home is properly worded and conditional on a home inspection, it does give a purchaser the chance to get out of the deal, Giesbrecht said.

But no home inspection report can be perfect, he warned.