By Ellie Bowen
After multiple visits from pest control, Irán Román, a fifth-year Ph.D student in Music and Neuroscience, thought he had seen the end of the rat and rat mite infestation that had affected all six apartments in Escondido Village Building 70 since late September. He returned home in October after what was meant to be the last pest control contractor visit and opened up his cabinet to get a drink of water. However, instead of finding an empty cup, Román found himself face to face with a glass that contained a rat nestled inside.
Five graduate student residents of Building 70 and their families, as well as a graduate student representative of the Stanford Solidarity Network, met with Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) representatives on Monday evening to discuss the lack of communication from the University surrounding the ongoing infestation and steps to improve cleanliness in the 60-year-old building.
“We regret the stress and inconvenience this issue has caused our residents in six apartments,” R&DE spokesperson Jocelyn Breeland wrote in an email to The Daily. “Student Housing is committed to quickly resolving this problem and to mitigating, as much as possible, the inconvenience to residents.”
In mid-October, about a week before Román found the rat in his cabinet, his neighbors were moved from their apartment to temporary housing so that their apartment could be deep cleaned after they had noticed the presence of rats in their home.
“Maybe for months, on top of the mite bites, we were drinking from or using cooking utensils where rats came to hang out,” Román said. “[When our] neighbors were sleeping, rats [would be] running around and waking their kids up.”
According to both Carrillo and Román, one resident’s child was experiencing an allergic reaction to the rat mite bites and was taken to both the emergency room as well as the pediatric dermatologist because their mother could not figure out the origin of the child’s rash. Carrillo and Román went on to claim that the child’s mother was not informed that her neighbors had rat mite infestations and as such thought that her child had bed bug bites or a rash from daycare.
The issue for Román and his family began on Sept. 20, when they first called R&DE after discovering rat mites — tiny parasites which feed off of rat blood — in their kitchen. R&DE’s independent pest control contractor, Crane Pest Management, came and sprayed the apartment, but never explicitly warned Román that rat mites might be linked to rat presence, Román said.
Although it is not typical of R&DE to notify residents of maintenance issues in other apartments, “given the nature of this issue,” all of the neighboring residents were notified via email on Sept. 24 of the pest control inspection, Breeland wrote. R&DE also sent out email communication to residents on Oct. 25 and Nov. 1 about the placement of glue traps for mites and the need for a contractor to come and inspect their apartments.
However, both Román and his fellow resident Mateo Carrillo, sixth year Ph.D candidate in Latin American history, took issue with R&DE’s email communication in general, as it did not specify exactly what pest control was coming to handle or of what, specifically, residents may be at risk. At various points in an email sent to residents from R&DE on Oct. 25 and subsequently forwarded to The Daily, the rat mites were referred to as “insects” and the object of the glue traps — the rat mice — was left unspecified; Carrillo argued that this vagueness in R&DE’s communication with residents evidenced a lack of transparency.
The inspections showed no sign of a pest infestation, Breeland wrote in an email to The Daily.
However, despite the spraying and the results of the inspection, Román and his family continued to be bitten by the rat mites at a rate of “about two new bites a day,” and Román also began to witness rats in and around the apartment. Immediately, he reported the rat sightings and mite bites to R&DE, as did at least one other neighbor. Pest control returned and began to put up rat traps in the apartments’ shared large attic, which was a magnet for rat nests due to the its combined dirtiness and warm climate, Román asserted.
Román told The Daily that pest control was shocked when they discovered several holes in his wall that allowed for rats to move from apartment to apartment, telling him that “‘[w]e cannot believe this; this is so bad.’”
“As soon as pest control leaves, it doesn’t take 20 minutes for the traps to start catching rats,” Román said.
“Why were those holes there and why weren’t they covered before?” Román added.
According to Román, Crane Pest Management continued to come and set traps that would catch rats at a rate of “one rat per week” up until early February. However, these visits were not communicated to R&DE because residents were told by the contractors to individually call Crane, rather than fill out “Fix-It” requests, according to Carrillo. Because of the lack of reports, R&DE thought that their mitigation efforts — spraying for rat mites, setting traps and removing rat access points through trimming overhanging tree branches and sealing holes in apartments — were successful, Breeland told The Daily.
However, despite the pest control visits, multiple residents continued to hear the sounds of rats scratching and running above their ceiling and to be bitten by the mites up until about a week ago.
“It was a shame that Stanford let it advance so much,” Román said.
Román further stated he hesitated to complain “too much” to the University because of his status as an international student, adding that he and his family have “been looking at the upside any time something happens.”
“I am an international student,” Román said. “So when I first came to the U.S, I was brainwashed by where I went to undergrad … ‘You’re an international, be nice, don’t create any trouble.’”
Finally, after returning from a visit back home to Mexico in December, Román reached his breaking point when he encountered a dead rat right outside their apartment front door.
“[It was] kinda like telling us ‘this is not over, my friend,’” Román said. “At this point, I’m hitting the limit. I want this to be over; I want to address the root cause.”
Román proceeded to email R&DE demanding the attic that he shares with all of his neighbors be cleaned and that this issue be resolved. In response, Román and his family, along with one other family, have been temporarily moved out of their residence to off-campus housing on Sandhill Drive. However, he thinks this move was only to appease the “squeaky wheel.”
“Now that they have moved me off campus, that’s just another little fix,” Román said. “R&DE has done a terrible job communicating about the shared attic or about the health hazards of these rats that carry terrible diseases.”
Residents of Building 70 proceeded to send an email to R&DE demanding that action be taken to clean the attics and stop the infestation, as well as to reform the communication standards between residents and R&DE in regard to pest control issues.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we have temporarily relocated two families and have been working to address individual needs of the other families, including offering more temporary relocations if needed,” Breeland wrote in her email to The Daily.
However, Román questioned whether or not the other residents should move as well, since it was unsanitary for his own family to stay in their housing. Carrillo echoed Román’s concerns, adding that the unsanitary nature of the attics, which allegedly contain fiberglass, rat nests and mice droppings, made the building unhealthy.
“I couldn’t tell you if the attics have ever been cleaned,” Carrillo added.
Residents brought up these concerns to R&DE in their Monday evening meeting. According to Carrillo, during the meeting R&DE agreed to reform communications procedures and commit to cleaning the attic.
“Do they want kids to be rushed to the E.R. because of some weird virus or because they get bit?” Román asked. “What has to happen for R&DE to do the right thing?”
Contact Ellie Bowen at ebowen ‘at’ stanford.edu.
This article has been updated to reflect that the object of the original glue traps was rat mites, not rats.