Montreal

Single mother of five struggles with squirrel infestation in Pierrefonds apartment

Ihssan Seif knew something had to be done - fast - after a squirrel climbed into her baby's crib in the middle of night and scratched her.

But manager of Cloverdale Village housing co-op says tenant owes rent, squirrel problem is a lie

Ihssan Seif says life is already hard because she does not work and has five kids under seven, but squirrels in her apartment are forcing her to move in temporarily with a neighbour. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Ihssan Seif woke up in the middle of the night in early November to the screams of her 18-month old daughter.

After rushing into her room, she saw a squirrel inside the crib, and bloody scratch marks all over her daughter's leg.

Seif says her Pierrefonds apartment has been a nightmare since the beginning of the month.

"I brought my kids to daycare and when I came home with the baby, there were about 20, definitely more than 10 squirrels, in the living room," she said.

"I was shocked."

Seif lives at the Cloverdale Village co-operative, near the eastern end of Pierrefonds. The co-op has more than 50 buildings. Many of its residents rely on provincial housing subsidies to pay rent.

She is a recent immigrant from Djibouti. With no job and as a single mother of five kids under seven, she struggles to make ends meet.

Seif says she immediately alerted the co-op's manager after finding the squirrel in the crib. But now, she's taken to sleeping with all of her kids in one room.

"I don't sleep at night. I'm watching the kids because the squirrels have already scratched my baby," she said.

The rodents also chewed through the power cords of her refrigerator and stove, forcing Seif to store some of her food on her balcony.

Ihssan Seif shows the scratches on her daughter's leg after she says a squirrel jumped into the crib in the middle of the night. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)
 

When she pulled the fridge away from the wall, she discovered two dead squirrels.

On top of that, cockroaches are also a problem.

Seif, who cannot read or write, turned to her social worker from the Pierrefonds CLSC for help and is moving in temporarily with a neighbour.

Co-op director says tenant is lying, due to rent dispute

Cloverdale director Hélène Ciabu Kalonga says the office received a call from Seif's social worker on Nov. 7 highlighting the squirrel problem.

She says she immediately called an exterminator to deal with the issue. Cages were then installed inside the apartment to catch the rodents.

"Since that time, absolutely zero squirrels have been caught," Ciabu Kalonga said.

A concierge was also sent to the apartment to inspect where the squirrels could be entering and no obvious place was uncovered, Ciabu Kalonga said.

Seif says she got her neighbour to get rid of the squirrels caught in the cages, not knowing the co-op wanted her to tell them.

Ciabu Kalonga says she believes Seif is either lying about the squirrel situation or letting them inside the apartment herself. 

"I've been living in Cloverdale since 2001 and it's the first time I've ever heard there were three or four squirrels," the co-op director said.

Due to a mix-up concerning her housing subsidy, Seif owes the co-op more than $3,000. In a judgment, Quebec's rental board acknowledged the confusion but ordered Seif to pay back the amount in monthly payments of $200, recognizing her limited financial means.

"She started to have 20,000 bugs inside her apartment as a pretext to have us cancel the [rental board's] agreement," Ciabu Kalonga.

Seif denies that claim, and accused Ciabu Kalonga of failing to do her job. 

"I'm very very disappointed," Seif said.

Cloverdale director Hélène Ciabu Kalonga says she believes Seif is lying about the squirrel situation. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

Borough says follow up done with co-op

According to Pierrefonds' director of communications, Johanne Palladini, the borough told the co-op to hire exterminators.

"No squirrels or cockroaches were found. The exterminator will make an inspection every two weeks and report any changes to the city," she said.

Palladini says the responsibility of the borough is to ensure the co-op follows up on Seif's complaint, which was done.

"Otherwise, this is a private matter between a landlord and a tenant in which we can not interfere," she said.

"We are told that they went to the Régie [du logement​], which sided with the co-op in this case."

However, the squirrels were not raised during the hearing over rental payments. Seif says she's preparing to file a separate rental board complaint about the squirrels.

A neighbour holds up a cage containing a squirrel caught in Seif's apartment. (Photo Courtesy Ihssan Seif)

About the Author

Sarah Leavitt

Journalist

Sarah Leavitt is a journalist with CBC Montreal.