Family may be forced into shelter over rat infestation

An Ottawa woman says she may have to move her family out of her rental apartment and into a shelter after living with rats for almost a year.

'I can't do it anymore. I don't want to do it anymore' mother says of living with vermin

After months dealing with a rat infestation in her basement apartment, Crystal Tully has had enough after waking up to a rat running across her face. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

An Ottawa woman says she may have to move her family out of her rental apartment and into a shelter after living with rats for almost a year.

When a rat ran across Crystal Tully's face while she lay in bed one morning recently, it was the final straw.

"Across my face!" Tully said. She said she jumped up with a shriek after feeling something on her face. Then she said she saw a rat on the bed beside her, its droppings on her pillow.

"I have a seven and a nine-year-old," Tully said. The rats are "coming through the wall of the kids' bedrooms too."

Pleas to the landlord, a city inspector, and homemade remedies were not working, she said. With limited income on Ontario Disability Support Program, she says she has few alternatives.

Crystal Tully says she's been dealing with rats in her apartment for almost a year. 0:30

"I'm feeling like the only option I have is taking the kids to a shelter," Tully said. "And I don't want to put my kids through that. They don't deserve it."

Frustration with inaction

Shortly after Tully moved into the basement apartment on Bank Street near Mitch Owens last November, she said told the landlord about the scratching and pitter-patter of animals in the walls.

Crystal Tully took matters into her own hands to prove her apartment was infested with rats. (Crystal Tully)

By spring, Tully suspected rats had burrowed through the walls. They left pellet-sized droppings throughout the apartment, chewing everything from chair stuffing to the kids clothes, she said. They have since chewed an entire corner of her box spring and mattress.

She also caught two rats in her closet Thursday after hearing their shrieks.

"No one should have to deal with this," she said.

She decided to put out a trap herself. It wasn't long before she had proof of the infestation.

Rats have been eating their way through all kinds of material in Crystal Tully's home, from the kids clothes to blankets like this one. (CBC)

The landlord put store-bought poison in the walls and steel wool in the fist-sized holes in each room of the two-bedroom basement apartment.

But every morning, the same steel wool would be popped out, and the trail of dropping suggested the poison wasn't working.  

CBC reached out to the landlord for an interview, but has not heard back.

Earlier this month, she came home to a bag of hot dog buns jammed into a hole in the kitchen through which the rats had tried to unsuccessfully haul away their loot.

Crystal Tully came home one afternoon to find the rats had tried to pull a bag of hot dog buns through a fist-size hole in her kitchen. (Crystal Tully)

On Sept. 12, a city inspector visited the apartment.

Tully said the inspector took photos of everything from the rat holes to mould in the bedrooms and under the sink, which smelled like sewage.   

It was after that inspection, she said, that the landlord — who balked at the cost of hiring a professional pest control company — promised to lay traps for the rats himself.

But she said he has yet to lay a single trap. 

"[I feel] hugely let down and as a landlord, he's supposed to maintain certain standards in the units and nothing seems to get rectified. There's a lot of empty promises."

Despite attempts to fill the rat holes with steel wool every day they are open again, with rat droppings and rat poison tracked through the apartment, Tully said. (Amanda Pfeffer/CBC)

The city could not answer questions about the Sept. 12 inspection of Tully's home, writing that "property owners are required to maintain their property free of vermin, including rats, at all times," according to an email attributed to Roger Chapman, director of bylaw services for the City of Ottawa.

"Until such investigations are complete, including any required notification to the property owner, By-law & Regulatory Services is not at liberty to share information about any potential enforcement action," according to the email.

Tully took her complaint to the The Landlord and Tenant Board on Thursday but said she was given 40 pages of documents to fill out and no help to do it.

"I don't know if I'm coming or going with all these forms. The conversations with these people are all over the map," she said through tears.

She's also registered for the Ottawa Community Housing wait list but is not sure when she might be accepted, nor how long she will have to live in the apartment.

"I can't do it anymore. I don't want to do it anymore."