What can my friend do about an unknown animal in his ceiling?
February 14, 2011 11:43 AM   Subscribe

What can my friend do about an unknown animal in his ceiling? His apartment maintenance people said they'll look into it in "a few days"... [somewhat time-sensitive]

So my friend rents an apartment in a complex in Chapel Hill, NC. He can distinctly hear an animal scratching and clawing inside his ceiling (from the video he sent me of it, it sounds like scratching in his air ducts/vents going across whole rooms of his place). He wants animal control to look into it and take care of it. His apartment complex is saying animal control doesn't want to come out, and they'll have maintenance look into it soon.

I kinda think that's crap - isn't it really dangerous for them to expect him to stay there with a wild animal attempting to get inside his apartment? If it bit him while he was sleeping, I'd be concerned he could get God knows what. As he sees it, he has three options:

1. Try to find and kill it himself. I've told him to not do this under any circumstances
2. Call animal control directly and get them to look into it and send the bill to his apartment complex (if animal control even bills)
3. Call his building maintenance again and say he'll be withholding rent for the time he has to stay elsewhere

Can you actually do this? Any other ideas? He's in a top/second floor apartment, not on the end.
posted by katybird to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
While he's at it, he should ask around to see if any neighbors are missing a cat.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:48 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Call them back and tell them that he'll just take care of it today and send them a bill "...and what's the best address to use, should I just send it to the same one I send my rent?"
posted by rhizome at 11:48 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

How large an animal does it sound like? Around here, the top two candidates for animals that you can hear scratching inside walls (or a ceiling) are rats and squirrels, and I doubt animal control will come out for either. Where I live they won't even come out for a raccoon.

It seems unlikely the animal would actually want to get into the apartment- it's probably just taking up residence in the attic space above him.

I don't know North Carolina rules at all, but I'd be very careful about withholding rent - in some jurisdictions in can put a tenant in the express lane for eviction. I'd suggest he find a local tenant's rights organization and ask what his rights are with regards to rodents or other animals.
posted by ambrosia at 11:52 AM on February 14, 2011

He should definitely call animal control directly himself. Or, threaten to call unless someone comes out immediately. It sounds to me like the property owners don't want a government service coming out and discovering rats in their property.

I'm not saying he has rats. I'm just saying the property owner wants this handled quietly and non-publicly. Still, the property owner should be handling this quickly, and not drag their feet.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:52 AM on February 14, 2011

Whatever he does, he should *not* try to interact directly with the animal himself. Given previous experience with this sort of thing, it is likely a very small animal (squirrels seem to find crawlspaces a popular spot) but ever small wild animals can and will bite when confronted and may carry rabies. No fun.

He should also not try to poison it. I mention this because a housemate tried this with a bomb-type poison, didn't tell anyone, and not only did several people get sick from the residual gases, but a cat nearly died. Even if he does not have a pet, he may share the crawlspace with several other apartments on the same floor, so before he does a bug bomb (or even puts rat poison in the crawlspace), make sure that other apartments' animals/residents/children are not put at risk.

Basically what needs to happen is 1) animal(s) escorted out and 2) their entry point blocked So what should he do? I think he should continue calling building management, politely, persistently, at least once a day and possibly twice a day. I don't have any advice on withholding rent, etc, but maybe suggest that you get an exterminator in there, and then just have them send the management company the bell? Suggest this to them, rather than presenting it fait accompli.
posted by arnicae at 11:52 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I had a similar animal, it was squirrels that was running along in the space next to the ducts. There was no way it could get into my apartment. I freaked my cats out.

My landlord was more responsive, though. The animal wasn't there when they came by but put a screen over the area in the roof the animal was sneaking through. But the enterprising animal figured out another way. So I learned to live with it. The cats didn't ever get used to it.

Calling animal control wouldn't hurt. At the worse, they'd say it is not their problem and to have the landlord's problem. Your friend could call back citing any state or local public health/safety regulations. When I call my landlord and mention something is a safety issue, they fix it right away. When I say there's critters in the ceiling as an annoyance alone they'd tend not to care.

1. is really not worth your friend's time because whatever it is in there won't come out when someone is standing there.
2. wouldn't hurt
3. again, bringing up the issue with a public safety sense of urgency might help. threatening to withhold rent could be a material breach of the lease (and a really great way to move to the "problem tenant" category) so your friend, and not the squirrel, would have to move.
posted by birdherder at 11:54 AM on February 14, 2011

It's pretty common to have squirrels/mice/rats/birds in one's attic, especially in the winter when they are seeking shelter. It may sound terrifying but it is unlikely to be anything beyond those species.

That said, it's not fun and probably makes it hard to sleep at night. If I were your friend, I would check to ensure the integrity of all the vents/openings/etc and fill any holes with steel wool. I would also stay on the landlord to make sure maintenance really does come out to secure the roof.
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:54 AM on February 14, 2011

I guess another real question would be: should he stay there in the meantime or should I offer him my couch until it's resolved?
posted by katybird at 11:56 AM on February 14, 2011

If he has any access to the ceiling he could try putting mothballs up there while he stays at your place for a night.

He should put them in a mesh bag or something, though, or he'll never find all of them later.

If they're taking up residence, he might have to find and plug their access point. There have been other askmetafilter posts about the best way to do that.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:59 AM on February 14, 2011

I have spent countless nights sleeping in the woods mere yards from squirrels and birds and bats and raccoons and mice and feral cats and deer and even a bear or two. I've never once woken up to find myself bitten.

Whatever the beastie is, probably does not really want to get in the apartment (it just wants a warm, safe, unoccupied place to nest, for which the attic is actually far more suitable than an inhabited space). Unless its a rat, in which case it would just want to get into the kitchen, not your friend's bedroom, and eat your friend's Cheerios, not his face.

In other words, tell your friend to relax--he's making a rabid-molemonster-infested mountain out of a harmless molehill.
posted by drlith at 12:11 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

isn't it really dangerous for them to expect him to stay there with a wild animal attempting to get inside his apartment?

For the most part, this animal doesn't want to get into your friend's apartment unless there is tasty food readily available. I live in New England where animals in the walls are sort of a part of life and we live in detente where we own the inside of the house and the animals own from the back sides of the walls outward. That said, animals can get inside insulation, chew wires, die in the walls and do other annoying things, so it's worth trying to get rid of them but I would not panic about them biting your friend.

So, first off you should check your friend's tenants rights. In many places keeping places free of "vermin" is the job of the landlord and there may be various remedies offered. Do NOT withhold rent for something like this unless you have some sort of legal opinion that this is okay to do. Rent withholding is usually something you can only do in specific cases. You want to stay totally legit to have the best outcome in this situation.

Second your friend should secure their food to make sure the animal doesn't have some good motivation for getting into the kitchen. The same goes for tasty soaps in the bathroom or other stuff that might look like food to a wild animal.

Third your friend needs to call the landlord, say that the animal noises are keeping him awake and that they need to handle this problem or he will call animal control himself. Insist on a timeline. Do not take no for an answer. Contact the local tenant's union to get advice on how to proceed next.

In short: I do not think your friend is in danger, but this is still something annoying the apartment managers need to handle and take seriously.
posted by jessamyn at 12:20 PM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

I had a mouse stuck in the air ducts in my apartment. I found it because it was gnawing on the metal grating to try to get out, and it was making a huge racket.

I took a video, posted it to YouTube (without naming the apartment complex), and the next morning I sent the link to the management office. When I went to see them later in the morning, they had already called animal control. I figure the implicit threat of going public (even though it wasn't something I had really considered, I just posted it for the lulz) made them act. Might be worth a shot, anyway.
posted by gemmy at 12:28 PM on February 14, 2011

You and your friend need to chill out or no one is going to take you seriously. You sound hysterical and clearly have no idea what you're talking about. Seriously. Calm the fuck down. No one is going to die.

Taking a few days to have an exterminator come out is normal and acceptable. They ate busy this time if year. Animal Control doesn't deal with penny ante stuff like squirrels or cats in ducts.

Btw your friend sould make sure he hasn't left food out if done anything that could be construed as attracting vermin or he could be charged for the exterminator. Including bird feeders.
posted by fshgrl at 12:50 PM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

It's probably rats or mice and that's a job for the exterminator, not animal control. If you really can't wait a few days to get it dealt with, call around yourself, find an exterminator that will come out ASAP, get a quote, and then tell your landlord that you've done the legwork and that you'll be deducting the bill from the rent.

fshgrl is right that your friend needs to make sure he hasn't done anything to attract them. Last place, I lived, our duplex neighbor had stored commemorative Wheaties boxes (full, sealed) in the garage as collectors items. Those rats got fat and sassy before the cause was identified and the infestation solved.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:59 PM on February 14, 2011

The Orange County, NC area tends to have a fair number of reported rabies cases every year and raccoons are a "reservoir species" for the disease. Your friend should make sure that any household pets are up to date on their shots.

I agree with others upthread that the landlord should remove the animal, and your friend should call Animal Control if the landlord is not responsive.
posted by bbq_ribs at 1:08 PM on February 14, 2011

I'm fairly sanguine about animals in the attic - having lived in Tanzania and had army ants invade our house, everything else seems anti-climactic! In my mom's old house in the country we've had mice, rats and squirrels in the attic and walls and skunks under the floor, an apartment I used to live in had rats (they did call the exterminators, but it took a while to get rid of them all), and my current house had a squirrel get into the attic recently, and none of them came into the house itself. The worst that happened was them dying, and stinking up an area for a while.

At any rate, the only reason to offer him couch space would be if the noise is keeping him awake at night or if he's allergic to whatever it is. Keep the kitchen cleaned up in case it's mice or rats looking for food, and keep complaining to management until they do something.
posted by telophase at 1:16 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

A half pound of squirrel sounds like at least one large elephant when it's in an attic.

You can move any foods which have been opened (open bag of bread, box of cereal, that kind of thing) into the refrigerator to make the lower floors less attractive. I don't think it's necessary, but maybe you'll feel better if you're Doing Something.
posted by anaelith at 2:16 PM on February 14, 2011

Make sure there's nothing else that squirrels find attractive, such as boxes of papers (they chew them up to make nests) or beanbags. We had squirrels in our attic and they chewed up boxes of documents and disemboweled a stuffed animal that was stuffed with birdseed; they stashed birdseed in crannies all over the attic.
posted by bad grammar at 4:29 PM on February 14, 2011

Yes, relax muchly. Unless there is a known opening from the crawlspace into the living space (rare but possible), I wouldn't worry at all about the animals getting through. They don't want to get through. The human living space would be a confusing and likely unhospitable (in terms of food and access to the outdoors) place for them.

I am sitting in a 19th century building with lath-plaster walls and there are squirrels over my head (well, a few feet back the other way, actually) that get in all the way from the attic above the second floor. They used to get in through the porch roof, but that got closed off and they found another way. It's been too cold, snowy, and wet for me to work on the fascia where I assume they're getting in (until this week) and ... well, I guess I lived with them pretty much all winter.

Now, I do want to exclude them going forward, because they gnaw and create air and insulation gaps and so forth, but it's not an emergency situation by any means.

Your friend should make sure that any household pets are up to date on their shots.

This. The vaccination of domestic animals is the reason that there's only a few cases of rabies a year, if that. Bats and raccoons are "reservoir" species, but even then only rarely (e.g. nationally under something like 3% of tested animals; animals are pretty much tested only when they bite someone or are trapped in a human living space). You don't want to get bitten, but you needn't worry unless you're in a situation where you're likely to get bitten, like standing in the only exit to the kitchen looking at a raccoon tearing up your staples.
posted by dhartung at 4:38 PM on February 14, 2011

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