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Monday, 14 February 2022

We bought a rat infested house

There. I've said it. Our new house had a serious rat infestation and we didn't have a clue until after we moved in. In this blog post I'll explain how we came to discover the rat issue, the damage that has become apparent since and why we didn't know about the rats before we bought the house. I'll also explain how we have rectified the rat problem and the measures and repairs we have had to put in place to get rid of the rats since moving in. 
 
we bought a rat infested house


There were lots of things I wanted from this house move - an extra bedroom for our future arrival (I was 6 weeks pregnant when we moved), a bigger garden, more storage space, a utility area. I had accepted that we would have to modernise the house and redecorate and I'd made peace with the fact that we could only make this move if we were mortgaged up to our eyeballs and made a few sacrifices along the way....but i didn't expect THIS...

Buying a house is risky business, especially these days. Our previous house was a gorgeous new build and had a decent amount of space in the master bedroom, we'd fully boarded the loft and the ceilings were really high! Not things you often find with new build anymore but it was the perfect first house.  We really made it our own by adding on a playroom extension for the children which ended up being our favourite room in the house. I was really sad to leave our old home behind but with both of us now working from home, the children sharing a tiny box room and a new baby on the way we really needed somewhere bigger to  better suit our needs. If you're interested in seeing some images of our old house you can see our finished open ended  playroom here,  our kitchen along with some tips for selling your home here, and our pink and grey lounge here

Living in Ilkley, one of the most expensive places to live outside of London, we knew that we wouldn't be able to afford a 'finished' house and so we set about looking for somewhere habitable with the space we needed which we could slowly improve over the next few years. We were putting most of our money into the mortgage so definitely couldn't afford a big renovation project straight away and we made this clear to the vendors when putting in our offer. 


Did the house survey show any signs of rats?


As the house we were buying was built at the end of the 1960's and had not been very well maintained, being sold as a deceased estate by the offspring of the previous owners, we decided to have a full and extensive survey carried out. The son of the previous owners was actually still living in the house so it was occupied and we were told by the estate agents that  new electrics had been carried out in 2005 and that the water tank etc was in full working order. Our offer went to sealed bids at £25k over the asking price (not unusual for this area) and our bid was accepted. 

Unfortunately, after paying for a full survey a number of issues came to light - the biggest of which were that the house hadn't actually had new electrics and needed a FULL rewire. The original 1968 boiler has been sealed together with builders sealant which meant we couldn't have any gas safety checks carried out, but by the sounds of the old creaky pipes and the look of the system a full replumb of the whole house was also required - including all new pipes, water tank and boiler as well as radiators. There were other issues which also needed attending to which I will tell you about in another blog post, but the one thing that struck us was the mention of some old droppings in the loft...The surveyor was not able to access the full loft at the time of the survey and there was a sign up there saying access was not safe (unless we had the loft reinforced) but from looking fro the hatch he could see what he thought were some old rodent droppings and so advised us to query this.

Querying the rodent droppings:


Straight away we went back to the vendors with our findings and asked if there was or ever had been any issue with rats in the property. The vendors assured us there was no current issue, but that in the past a squirrel had entered the loft through the eaves via a hole which had now been sealed up and that the droppings were likely due to this. The problem had been solved. We took this information as honest and true - bearing in mind one of the vendors was currently residing in the property we felt sure he would have noticed any ongoing issues!

Late disclosure of a rat problem:


Months went on as we progressed with the sale, getting quotes for electric and gas works and packing up our old house and trying to secure a completion date. For a deceased estate with no chain we were unsure of why there was any hold up - we had hoped to complete before the stamp duty holiday ended which would have saved us thousands in stamp duty. Unfortunately this didn't happen and we passed this date before tying the vendors into an agreed completion date. 

The week before we were due to complete, we received communication from the vendors via their solicitor letting us know that  they had decided to get a pest control company out a few weeks before to check the property who had found a dead rat, and an entry hole, which was sealed up and the issue was solved. We were surprised, but relieved that the property had been given the all clear and on the back of this decided not to worry - especially as we were so close to moving in!

How we came to realise there were rats in our house:


Moving into the house was quite a stressful experience. We were not able to immediately unpack anyway as we had an electrician booked in a week later to do a full rewire of the whole house (we had to move out for 3 weeks for this) but there were certain things we could do such as put kitchenware in the cupboards etc.  We knew the house was 'old' but we weren't prepared for how filthy it had been left in certain areas. The kitchen cupboards, walls and ceilings were covered in grime and oil. One of the kick boards under the sink had been taped together with sellotape (I checked my old photos of when we looked around the property and this wasn't there then so had happened since the viewing). Certain cupboards, including the corner cupboard to the old boiler, had a strong musky smell when opened which made me feel unwell. Initially I assumed this was pregnancy hormones but I later found out that this was indeed the smell of rats!  Toilets had a build up of crystallized urine on the metal fixings at the back of the bowl  from not being cleaned and the bedroom where the vendor was staying had a strange brown liquid which was splattered all over the corner of one of the walls. That evening we noticed a strange burning smell coming from the pendant light in the dining room...thank goodness we had a rewire booked in!!
 
dirt splattered up a wall


After a couple of days I started to smell a bad smell coming from under the floor of an alcove in the dining room  near the entrance to the kitchen. It smelled like rotten cabbage. No one else seemed to be able to smell these smells I was experiencing and assumed it was just the curse of early pregnancy, but as the smells got stronger and in other places of the house we decided to call out a local pest control company to check it out!



What did pest control discover?


We used a local company called Landguard pest control and within moments of entering the kitchen, he confirmed that the smells I could smell were definitely rats - not just live rats, but also decaying rats and their dropping and urine. He removed the broken kick board to discover loads of rat droppings as well as recent empty rat poison trays (the cause of the now decaying rat smells)....this was clearly a known issue! He went to have a look further into the loft and discovered mountains of poo as well as chewed wires, track marks and completely contaminated loft insulation throughout - approx 750 square foot. He checked the perimeter of the house for entry holes and came to the conclusion that these rats were getting in via a drain rather than a hole above ground and advised us to get a full drain survey done to locate the entry points. He laid down some more rat poison but made it clear that unless we found the entry points this would be an ongoing issue. He also advised us to try and get hold of the reports from the previous pest control company which the vendors used to find out exactly what had been done and where the hole was that was sealed up. He made an appointment to come back in a few days and lay a different type of liquid poison in the loft once the entry points had been sealed up.
That night we could hear rats in our bedroom wall scratching furiously as if they were trying to break out!

Approx Cost of this pest control appointment and rat poison trays: £100
Approx Cost of additional visit with new poison: £100


Having a drainage survey to locate drain rats:


We used a company called DSI Drainage who came out straight away and used a special camera to explore the drainage system around and into the house. Straight away they located a recent 'drain trap' which will have been installed by the previous owners to stop rats entering (but had failed as this was not the entry point) before happening upon a rat on its way into our house! Their camera followed the rat who entered our house via the downstairs toilet where they had completely chewed away the waste pipe...meaning that waste would also have been flowing under the house aswell as giving them direct access into the cavity walls of the house. We also discovered another, very large hole in a drainpipe under our patio giving the rats access to the kitchen. Armed with this info we called on our plumber to do an emergency removal of the downstairs bathroom and we booked DSI Drainage in to come back and do a drain repair on the hole.

Cost of drainage survey: £200
Cost of new toilet and sink units: £600
Cost of bathroom removal: TBC (will also need to have a new bathroom/toilet put in)
Cost of Drain fix: £300


 
we bought a rat infested house - images of damage


Contacting the previous pest control company used by the vendors:


We contacted Terminix who are the company the vendors used to check the property before we moved in. They informed us that they had been to the property 6 times previously (!) and had advised a drainage report. The last visit date was 2 days before we moved in!!! When we asked for information on where the hole was sealed up they told us that due to data protection they could not disclose any more information but that 'all reports' had been sent to the vendors solicitor and should have been disclosed to us. They also told us that their visits had been claimed on the vendor's house insurance which meant that we would be unable to use our own house insurance to claim for any damage or repairs. Great. Our house insurance company confirmed that we could not make any claims as this was a prior issue known to the previous owners. 

After contacting the vendors solicitors, who advised us that the vendors state 'no misrepresentation occurred' we eventually gained access to the reports which show the vendors were made aware of a severe rat infestation which would not be solved unless they obtained a drainage report and access was sealed up. There was also no hole sealed up, but the hole was shown on the report and we were able to locate this ourselves. The vendors did not obtain a drainage report as advised and vacated the property passing it on to us with the knowledge that the issue was ongoing. 

They did not accept any wrongdoing as they could prove that the final written reports were not sent to them or their solicitor until after we had moved in, (even though they had signed it off verbally)  but offered us a small amount as a settlement rather than go to court. 

The settlement amount was not enough to cover the costs of even just removing all of the decontaminated insulation in the loft but by this point we were a large amount of money down and didn't want the extra time, stress  and expense of court   when we had so much to pay for NOW. 

 
we bought a rat infested house - pest control report

Finding the dead rats in the house:


By this point, we had vacated the property as electrical works were due to start. We had informed the electricians of the issue and let them know that we had stopped all access but that they may come across some dead rats whilst chasing out the walls and pulling up the floors. During their works my husband was called to come and remove the decaying rats - there were a total of 6 dead rats found under the kitchen and dining room floor all in various states of decay. One was so big, it was initially mistaken for a cat! The stench was unreal, and the next day the electrician called to say that the rats had made him sick and he would not be returning to complete the electrical works until the smell had subsided. The house was left empty  with no water or electric for the rest of the week. 

Eventually the electricians did return, the smell had calmed a little but by no means had it gone and we eventually had to move back in with the smell still lingering. I was suffering from really bad morning sickness and couldn't go anywhere near the kitchen without being sick due to the smell. It was truly awful. It usually takes around 6 weeks for the smell to subside. The electricians confirmed that all of the electrical wires had been chewed by the rats making them unsafe so it was a good job we had the rewire booked in!

Decontaminating the loft from the historic rat infestation:


As I write this, we have a company in our loft bagging up all of the contaminated insulation ready for new insulation to be laid. The smell is unreal - they believe that the amount of droppings up there shows a historic issue going back years of at least 50 odd rats. Want to know how much this loft clearance work is costing us? ....

Cost of removing decontaminated material from the loft: approx £2500

Let me tell you though, these guys worked really hard in horrible conditions and did a great job. We've been unlucky with some contractors (plasterer who didn't turn up you're one of them!) but the good ones have been great. If you're local to West Yorkshire and need similar works email me for their contact details.  
we bought a rat infested house - contaminated loft


So this means that so far, were coming in at around £3800 and this doesn't yet include:

  • Plumbers emergency call out to remove the bathroom and chewed up waste pipe
  • Cost of a new downstairs toilet/bathroom installation
  • Numerous rat deodorizer sachets and neutradols
  • Wire wool and cement to seal up the holes which weren't dealt with
  • Chewed up electrical wires and pipes
  • Fumigation of the loft
  • New flooring and floorboards to replace where access holes were made to retrieve dead rats
  • Cost of skips and waste disposal  
  • Eleventy billion tubes of expanding foam to seal holes and gaps where the old skirting boards were, which allows old 'smells' under the floor to rise up. 

Wow these rats are expensive aren't they?!

Should you buy a house with a rat infestation?


The jury is out on this one. It's not just the cost of repairs and remedies that is the issue, its also the enjoyment of your home AND your safety. Rats and their droppings carry so many diseases and the stench can mean the difference between a welcoming home and one you want to leave. The biggest issue for us aswell is that not only were we so unprepared, we were also unable to afford to move out for longer than the 3 weeks we did. As we didn't get a discount on the house due to the rat damage before the sale, we also ended up paying stamp duty on that amount too. 

If you do go ahead you will need to have a substantial fund in place to rectify the problem and accept that this will be ongoing. You'll also need to carefully select contractors who wont shy away from their job either. We've been made aware by numerous contractors and other electricians who have been in the house that the work carried out by the electricians we used for the house rewire, although 'safe', was  pretty lazy and rushed work - not of the standard you'd expect for a new rewire and we've already had to have a few things changed. I believe this was probably because they just didn't want to be here and so did the job as quickly as possible and moved on. Always be honest with your contractors about infestations (we were) but if they seem hesitant perhaps give them the option to bow out, or make it clear that you still expect the work to be completed to the standard you are paying for. Its all been a learning curve for us. 

I'm not sure if we'd have known about the extent of the rat  problem before the sale whether we would have gone ahead to be honest. Being pregnant and having 2 young children and a limited budget, we were probably in the least ideal situation. We also chose the house because of the the downstairs toilet which we need for disabled family to be able to visit, and so that I am not constantly up and down the stairs when pregnant just to use the toilet. Losing that after a few days was pretty awful. I suspect the vendors knew there was a risk we would pull out which is why they chose to hide the rat problem from us. Had they been honest though, they could have continued to use their own house insurance to remedy the issues without us having to shell out so much money ourselves. 

If you fancy following our renovation you can pop over to instagram where I regularly share update  stories  as well as some grid posts and reels. Here is a quick reel of our first 5 weeks in the house: