House from hell: I lived with fleas, mice, and other questionable critters

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Bianca Guzzo outside her former home (Mallory Chate / Ryersonian Staff)

Two years ago I was living in a student house that was a five-minute walk from campus. It was the top half of a duplex that had five bedrooms, a rooftop deck and hardwood floors.

Everything looked perfect on paper, but it wasn’t until I moved in that the problems started to pile up. I realized my student living experience wasn’t what I signed up for.

Here is a selection of experiences that happened when I moved into my little house of horrors.

I moved into my new digs at the end of August 2013. I couldn’t sleep the first night because raccoons had decided to have a West Side Story-style rumble on the roof. Or at least that’s what I assumed, judging solely off the hissing, screeching and the sound of raccoon bodies falling from the roof onto the deck beside my bedroom.

After the warmer weather faded into a cool fall, the raccoons eventually stopped visiting our roof.

With the summer finally over and no need for air conditioning, I thought I could finally start enjoying all the perks of living downtown.
About four weeks into the school year, one of my roommates mentioned that she was itchy.

We all joked that she had fleas and dismissed her comment. It wasn’t until a few days later we all started noticing small red bites all over our feet and ankles.

After a doctor at a walk-in clinic confirmed that I didn’t just have a small allergic reaction to a new soap I had been using, I instantly started feeling different; dirty, like my body was a breeding ground for unwanted pests that I could pass on to my innocent classmates at any moment in time.

My landlord was less than helpful when it came to extermination.

He blamed my roommates and me for allowing the fleas into the house, even though the majority of us didn’t have pets at home, and those of us who did hadn’t had contact with them in weeks.

It took days to convince the landlord to get an exterminator. When the exterminator couldn’t get rid of the fleas, we took matters into our own hands.

Vigilant vacuuming and a flea powder from Canadian Tire worked wonders, and I moved back into my bedroom shortly after Thanksgiving.
The bites stayed on my body for six months, and served as a constant reminder of something that I was so ashamed of. To this day the thought of fleas is enough to send me into a small itching frenzy. One of my old roommates and I joke about phantom fleas that we still feel every so often.
After my roommates and I had conquered the raccoons and the fleas, I thought this house had challenged us enough.

Wrong.

We started to spot the occasional mouse, but I accepted it as a price people pay for living downtown.

It wasn’t until the squirrels (or what we believed were squirrels, but it easily could have been any small rodent) started living in our walls and under our floorboards that we knew we had yet another problem on our hands.

The squirrels I was sharing a room with were way worse than any bad roommate story you can imagine. They set up camp in the floors and walls of my room, and their favourite activity was some sort of strange fight club that would often wake me up in the middle of the night.

With yet another call to my landlord, I was feeling totally helpless. He told me that not much could be done to get rid of the critters, and I would just have to tough it out.

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Bianca Guzzo and her roommates, before the problems started. (Courtesy Bobby Langridge)

I started feeling very trapped, and regretful that I had willingly signed my name on the dotted line to be in a situation like this.

Some of my roommates didn’t seem to be bothered as much as I was that we were spending so much money on less-than-satisfactory living conditions.

Our landlord did install squirrel traps at the entrance points that they had been accessing, but the squirrels never fully went away.

Whenever they would wake me up with the sounds of their claws scratching under the floorboards, the only way I could fall back asleep was to remind myself that my days at the house were numbered.

I was jealous of my friends who lived in nice condos at College Park that had 24-hour security and the best views of the city. I was mad that I couldn’t feel comfortable when I got home from school like my friends did.

Then, over the Christmas break, the house got broken into and my roommate’s laptop was stolen. Luckily, nothing from my room was missing but I decided I had reached my limit and needed to move out.

After many tear-filled phone calls with my mother, I decided it was best for me to just tough it out for the rest of my lease, rather than try to break a contract to move out early. After countless nights of being woken up by animals, I had finally reached my last night at the house.
I was excited to be packing up, but also sad to be leaving really good friends behind. I had a load of laundry in, and was checking on the status of the dryer. Just as I turned the corner in the bathroom to see the washer and dryer, there was a loud bang and smoke started seeping out from behind the machine.

With the smell of burning plastic hanging in the air, I laughed to myself and realized that was the house’s way of saying goodbye to me, in the best way it knew how. I packed up my room and hastily moved back in with my parents.

I still live with my parents in Oakville and take a 45-minute train to get to school every day. It’s not as convenient as living close to campus, but it’s where I’m most comfortable. A few of my old roommates still live in the house, and I strongly admire their courage for staying. As much of a nightmare as the house was, I felt like I had won the roommate jackpot. When I look back at my experience living there, I realize that I learned a lot of valuable lessons. A friend once told me that everyone has to have at least one questionable living situation in his or her young adult life. In some ways, I feel like I’ve been initiated into adulthood.

Even if I’ve been scared into never moving out of my parents’ house again.

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