The kind of rat-holes students live in.
Before my second year at uni, I had only encountered one rat in my life. Its bug-eyes peered out behind a takeaway joint during my interrailing trip in Berlin, burrowing into a sea of soiled styrofoam cones and curried bratwurst, before scuttling down by the Alexanderplatz underpass. Momentary revulsion washed over me, replaced almost immediately by a swig of Berliner Pilsner as it faded into a dormant afterthought. A few months later a similar pair of bug eyes peered out behind a sea of Tennent’s cans in the living room of my student flat, its tail feathering the walls as it exited into the kitchen and I barricaded my room amidst shrieks of terror and confusion.
My ground floor flat was situated on Woodlands Drive in a crumbling tenement building, and I had only lived in the property for a month before my rodent problem started. Naively, the only qualms I had about my flat being ground floor was the fear of burglary or late-night break-ins, not the other unwelcome guests taking residence in my walls and kitchen floorboards. After calling up my letting agency for advice, they agreed to call a plumber round to check for holes around the property’s interior, but he took a few days to arrive and by that point, I was a hysterical mess.
My surfaces were littered with rat droppings and I could hear the rodents crashing around my kitchen all night, then waking up to pots and pans knocked onto the floor in the morning. When said plumber arrived he peeled the poorly installed panels on my kitchen cupboards back to reveal a tunnel the size of my head, which funnelled round to a hole in the back garden directly behind my flat. The tunnel was too large to fill with steel wool so he put down rat poison, then agreed to return with thicker panels to install in my cupboards. A few days passed and there were no rats in sight. But gradually I started to notice a strange stench, like a decrepit corpse mixed with a neglected laundry basket. No amount of cotton fresh Febreze could remove the putrid scent keeping me up at night. When my Mam came to stay, my mortification reached new heights when we were awoken by bluebottles flying around our heads. My letting agent said there was no need for them to intervene any further as the issue had been addressed, so I rang the environmental health sector of the Glasgow city council, where my caller recommended I leave the dead rodents to decompose and let the smell pass. After demanding that my letting agency send out help, the dead rodents were found in the floorboards directly underneath my sink. The smell never went away and I gave my 28 days notice to leave the property.
My personal experience is quite an extreme circumstance but rodent problems are commonplace for people living in Glasgow, especially in areas near the waterfront. In November last year, the Glasgow Times reported that the city has the fourth highest population of rats in the UK after “breeding like crazy” during lockdown. Overpopulation is also an issue due to the constant overdevelopment of the waterfront, driving rodents from derelict industrial buildings into more densely populated areas. The Partick branch of Scotland’s Tenants Union Living Rent who explained: “Demolition across Glasgow, but particularly in areas where this is concentrated such as Partick, has resulted in a displacement of local rat populations”, these health hazards being further exacerbated by “the suspension of food waste collection and other services as a result of the pandemic”. Students who experience these issues are inordinately affected due to their inexperience with renting and vulnerability to exploitation and negligence by opportunistic landlords. But how can students deal with these pests? And to what extent is it the landlord’s responsibility?
Before taking any precautionary measures, it’s important to know how to spot mouse droppings – the first indicator that you have rodents in your space. Mouse droppings resemble dark grains of rice, about a quarter-inch long. Rat droppings tend to be wider, longer and about half an inch in length. Contact your landlord or letting agent to report your problem and get an inspector to identify the cause and entering point of these rodents.
In the meantime, traps are the most effective way of ridding rodents; snap traps are the most commonly used and feature a quick trigger system, and live catch traps catch but don’t kill the animal, featuring a specific cage with trigger activated door that won’t reopen until you release the captured rodent (peanut butter acts as perfect bait). Using traps gives you the advantage of knowing where the rodent is located for swift removal. Avoid poison at all costs, as contrary to popular belief, rodents don’t ingest poison and then leave your property to look for water; they will probably die under your floorboards or walls. If your rodent problem is caused by disrepair, your landlord should arrange to have it fixed immediately. Steel wool, caulking and concrete should normally be used to plug up any holes and entrances. According to Shelter Scotland, if your landlord refuses to take action, you can contact the Glasgow city council’s environmental health department, who can carry out an inspection of your home and give your landlord an abatement notice, forcing them to deal with the problem. Living Rent shared that their most common complaint from tenants is “complacency from or outright refusal of landlords or housing associations to accept responsibility for controlling rodent populations and improving living conditions for their tenants”.
Third-year student, AJ Duncan, experienced a similar rodent infestation in her student flat, sharing with me that her landlord got in contact with an exterminator who they weren’t allowed to contact themselves. Since the landlord only replied every few days, there was a lag in communication. She said: “When dead mice eventually started showing up in traps, our landlord initially said they’d dispose of them for us, but they just never showed up to do so. We eventually moved out due to the mice issues, as it never got resolved. We had large holes all over our property which they eventually attempted to fix, but this was after months spent asking them to repair these. The attempt was poorly executed and didn’t solve anything”. This careless attitude is an all-too-frequent tenet adopted by landlords profiting off student renters.
For Glasgow University students, Living Rent recommends joining a tenants union, as use of direct action allows for collective mobilisation around issues such as these, whilst amplifying the voice of tenants being exploited by avoidant landlords. This type of support is crucial for students experiencing any sort of problem experienced throughout their tenancy, rodent problem or not. Additionally, although the Glasgow city council are currently unable to attend to any issues with mice due to the pandemic, if your landlord is refusing or taking a while to help if you have a rat problem, you can report the problem using the council’s online form. The council offer to “investigate and treat issues with rats at domestic property either indoors or outdoors” and “liaise with property managers to resolve issues that cause the rodent infestation”.
When first moving into a flat, it is also vital to conduct a thorough inventory so your landlord cannot hold you accountable for any already existing discrepancies. Second-year student Lloyd Russell found a dead mouse behind his flatmate’s bed, months after being told upon moving in that there were not any mice left in the property. There was no smell so they did not suspect anything and were uncertain about mentioning it to their landlord since they had not taken any pictures. Had he taken pictures of his flat upon moving in, there would have been closure as to whether the dead rodent had been there in the first place, allowing evidence to be used against his landlord for insufficient cleaning undertaken during the Covid pandemic. Inventory is also important to raise any issues with holes or disrepair immediately to be resolved when moving in.
If your rodent problems intensify to a point where you require emergency accommodation, contact the University’s accommodation team who will attempt to help you. If you are unable to cover further accommodation costs due to this issue, the University offer a hardship fund for students experiencing unforeseen short term financial difficulty. To join Living Rent, visit www.livingrent.org/join, where suggested membership donations start from five pounds a month. They hold regular Member Defense events across Scotland which you can find out about here.