Rat infestation: ‘We’re at our wits’ end’ say residents

Residents of two blocks of flats in Whyteleafe say their lives are being made a misery by an infestation of rats – and that their housing association, London & Quadrant Group (L&Q), has ignored their requests for help.

The communal car park and bin storage area of Manorview Court and Blize Court, on Court Bushes Road, has become a rodent playground over the last few years. Sleeping and breeding in the vegetation around the building, they are attracted inside by the warm pipes and rubbish bins. Open windows and wooden doors to the bin storage area have given them easy access to food. 

A rat on a step
Many residents will no longer use the car park

Manorview Court resident Alex McCabe claims the issue started in the summer of 2021 when the bins were not collected. 

“Refuse lorries can’t get up the slope, so the bins were brought down by a pulley system. This was declared unsafe, so private contractors were brought in to remove the rubbish, but sometimes it was a month or more before it was collected. Last year they replaced the pulley system but then the rats ate the cables and regular collections stopped again.

I see rats every day. It’s a health hazard, and L&Q don’t reply to our complaints.”

A Blize Court resident said:

“The rats have caused repeated damage to my car by chewing through wiring and they chew through pipes as well, once causing a gas leak.They attempt to enter ground floor properties and consequently we are unable to open our windows, posing significant inconvenience and safety concerns.”

The Tandridge Independent has seen evidence of the rats’ damage to the car, detailed in RAC call-out forms. 

A young child experienced the trauma of a rat falling on her head, and a number of residents say they are too scared to use the car park lift to access their flat, preferring to use the concrete steps outside the building to get to their homes. These are an obstacle for those with mobility issues or young children and are also slippery in bad weather.

In July 2023, L&Q was accused by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove of failing its residents, after a Housing Ombudsman investigation discovered a ‘prolonged period of decline in the way L&Q manages its repairs and complaint handling’. A resident of the Whyteleafe blocks has written to the Ombudsman detailing their current situation. 

The Tandridge Independent visited on two separate occasions, witnessing a large number of rats in and around the buildings. The bin store smelt rancid, despite the bins being recently emptied and filthy rat poison boxes, which were put down in the bin store many months ago and never collected or replaced, were still evident. We contacted Claire Coutinho MP, who is now liaising with L&Q and the residents to ensure the infestation is dealt with appropriately. 

In January, dying and dead rats began appearing around the estate.

Dead rats being swept by a broom
Residents are having to clear away the dead rats

“I’d expect to be notified when poison is put down, as we’re worried about it being transferred into our homes via us or our pets, but we didn’t hear anything from L&Q,” said Manorcourt resident Emma Schönwälder. “We’ve had to dispose of the dead rats ourselves: we don’t want to walk past them every day until the pest controller can come to get rid of them. I’ve just had to pick up three warm rats that were bleeding from their mouths, which made me cry. We’re at our wits end.”

The Tandridge Independent put the residents’ concerns to L&Q. Laura Hallett, head of housing, responded: 

“We’re sorry residents are experiencing issues with rodents and we are doing everything we can to address this. The pest control contractor attended on 12 January and a follow-up visit is scheduled for 26 January. We will continue to monitor the situation, and are putting a pest control contract in place to further manage these issues.

In addition, to prevent rodents gaining access to the bin sheds we are replacing the wooden doors with metal doors. There is also a cleaning contractor that attends weekly to sweep and sanitise the bin store after the refuse collection.  

Our pest control contractors are members of the British Pest Control Association: the measures they use conform to British standards and are safe for residents and their pets.  Our pest control contractor is visiting on a regular basis to remove the dead rodents.

We have listened to residents about letting them know when pest control is taking place, and moving forward we will inform them of this via community notice boards and newsletters.

We hope residents will be reassured by the actions we are taking to address their concerns.”

The Tandridge Independent has seen an email sent to residents on 26 January from their L&Q neighbourhood housing lead, who has, they say, largely ignored their pleas for help. In the email, most of which appears to have been copied verbatim from a letter sent on 24 January from Laura Hallett to Claire Coutinho, he says L&Q is ‘actively working to put measures in place to address the problem’ and confirms a works order to add mesh wire to the car park windows, as recommended by the pest control contractors, has been raised, and the vegetation near the car park will be cut back.

His email also states that during estate inspections it had been observed that ‘some residents were placing rubbish bags on the floor and not in the bins’ which ‘is contributing to the vermin issues’. As seen by the Tandridge Independent, rubbish placed in the provided bins is not protected from rats as they have no lids. 

The Blize Court resident expressed ‘deep dissatisfaction’ with L&Q’s response.

“It is unacceptable that they are attempting to shift blame. The refusal to address the rat problem after the pulley system broke down is a clear violation of health and safety standards.”

The housing lead also says L&Q will not be ‘passing on the costs of the initial two pest control visits’, but that the ‘cost of the future pest control contract will be service chargeable’, which the residents responded furiously to. 

“We are outraged they want to charge us for the mess they have left us in,” says Alex. “We pay service charges: there was no refund for the months the bins weren’t taken, leading to the infestation. L&Q never responded to our complaints and are only doing so now because the MP and the paper are questioning their lack of action. They could have fitted metal doors and wire mesh on the windows two years ago, when the problem started.”

Emma says there is no evidence the housing lead has visited the blocks recently. 

“He has not reached out to us. He’s been ignoring our pleas for long enough and has now only emailed us as it seems he has been forced to to cover his back. The deflection from L&Q is beyond appalling and we will be taking action further in our responses to all parties that have let us down.”

The Tandridge Independent will continue to monitor the situation. 

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