A housing association allowed a terrified disabled woman to live with a rat infestation which has seen rodents gnaw their way through her kitchen floor.
For months Stella Weston who has a spinal cord injury, has endured a living hell fearing that she would wake up with a rat on her head.
Pleas for help to her Housing Association Wandle went unanswered and she has been left without the use of her washing machine and dishwasher since July at her home of 22 years in Reservoir Close, Thornton Heath.
The destructive rodents chewed their way through the cavity walls of her house, eating pipes and electrical wires making her kitchen a no go zone. They have even burrowed their way in to her oven and she has to have the window open all day because her kitchen smells like a sewer and stinks of rat urine.
Instead of tackling the source of the problem, which was identified as being caused by the drains, pest control repeatedly set traps returning only to remove the dead rodents and to poorly patch up holes caused by the vermin who had eaten their way up through the kitchen floor.
To add to Stella’s nightmare the decomposing rats also caused a blue bottle infestation.
Stella’s son Marcus 26, who is autistic with a severe learning disability and is in supported living also stays for weekends at the house.
It was only when The Chronicle intervened that Wandle took action apologising and ordering a review with a plan to tackle the long standing issues.
Stella said: “At night I’m so scared. My nightmare is that I’m going to wake up with a rat on my head. I lock the door of the kitchen but every morning I come downstairs I have to psych myself up to open the door – not knowing what I am going to find.
“On the last visit by pest control I started to cry because I sit here and I can hear them in the walls and the smell is horrendous.”
However, in the meantime Wandle hasn’t offered Stella alternative temporary accommodation or recompense for the costs she has incurred and mental anguish she has suffered during her five-month ordeal.
Stella’s nightmare began on a Sunday July 11 when she woke to find a leak coming from her dishwasher and an emergency plumber sent by Wandle fixed the leak but told Stella it had been caused by vermin. She then found what looked like large pieces of popcorn on the floor which were in fact insulation chewed by the rats.
Stella said: “It took weeks and numerous telephone calls for pest control to attend my house. Since that time pest control have attended many times and have advised the rats are gaining access via the drains and have recommended Wandle carry out a drain survey. “
Wandle did not act on this recommendation or contact Stella to discuss how this issue could be resolved until we contacted Wandle’s press office. They took two months to reply to Stella’s occupational therapist who had also written her concerns about the ‘dangerous’ state of the kitchen.
Stella who is paralysed from the waist down caused by a tumour in her spinal cord in 2014 gets around with the aid of a wheelchair, added: “I am disabled and have very limited mobility and therefore I am a vulnerable tenant and my kitchen is dangerous.
“I live on my own and sit here night after night hearing rats in the walls. On two occasions I have had to live with the smell of a dead rat under my fridge for a number of days until pest control could come and remove it. I have also experienced an infestation of bluebottles. All in an area where I prepare meals.”
Stella has now made a formal complaint to Wandle about the way she has been treated and says the housing association is in contravention of its own tenants charter.
She added: “In addition, I am having to use the laundrette to do my washing, not only is this very difficult physically, but I am now on the 15th week of doing this at a cost of £12 per week. I am on limited income. I am on Universal Credit, so I am getting £80 less a month and this unexpected cost has had a serious effect on my finances, which in turn has impacted on my mental health.”
On the last visit by pest control Stella was told they would not be coming anymore because they had advised Wandle that the problem ‘lies within the drains.’
Stella was told that for them to continue to block holes just for rats to make new ones was not addressing the issue and would result in the whole of the wall being damaged.
Stella has also learned that tenants at a neighbour house were also reporting rats and she believes the whole street could be ‘infested’.
A spokeswoman for Wandle said: “We apologise that our response to the problems at Ms Weston’s home have fallen below our expectations. We are in touch with Ms Weston, and are visiting her at home today to review the problems and agree an action plan to put things right with her. We will be reviewing the case in full to learn from our mistakes, and make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”