SEMINOLE, Fla. -- Imagine living next to our house so infested with rats that they start to make their way into your home too.
It sounds like the plot for a horror movie, but for people living in one Seminole neighborhood, it's a rodent reality.
“Isn't that a nice thing to have in your house?” asked Elna Christensen, holding up a rat she trapped over the weekend.
Christensen, who lives across the street from the house on 115th Street North, says she can't take it anymore.
“I don't know how to describe it. If you've ever watched a horror movie, this is worse when you go inside,” said Christensen.
The house, say, neighbors, belongs to an elderly woman who was moved to a nursing home about a year ago. No family. No one, apparently taking responsibility for the place.
Inside, says Christensen, there are collapsed ceilings, gnawed furniture, feces, urine, live and dead animals.
“Oh yeah. You see skeletons in there. Little, you know, leftovers,” said Christensen.
A next-door neighbor says he recently caught a rat in his garage and can see them in the grass behind the house at night.
Another neighbor across the street says she can see the rodents running across the roofline.
“At night, I see their eyes,” said Christensen, “And I know they're coming over here.”
A week ago was the last straw for Christensen, who trapped a rat in her own house. The rodent had gnawed its way through the stuff on her counter tops, including food containers and several bottles of medication.
But when she called Pinellas County for help, Christensen was disappointed again.
“I called animal control. Can't do nothing,” she said. “I called code enforcement. Can't do anything. I give up.”
County officials say they had problems with the same house in 2014, but that case was eventually cleared.
This latest complaint, they say, came in on July 6.
“We did have an officer go out there earlier today,” said Blake Lyon with Pinellas County Code Enforcement.
Blake says his department can sympathize with Christensen’s frustrations, but they can't legally just march onto private property and take action.
First, he says, they have to find and notify the responsible party. If necessary, they would then issue warnings or citations. There’s a compliance period. The possibility of appeals.
The process that can take weeks, maybe months, “And if, in this instance, when there is nobody to directly respond, it can be frustrating,” said Lyon.
Christensen doesn’t want to wait that long, and doesn’t think she and her neighbors should have to.
“That's baloney,” she said. “I'm going to go see my lawyer. Because I don't want to put up with it. I really don't.”
It’s important to get the process started, say officials.
There’s a phone number that you can call to file a complaint: (727) 464-4761.
Also, several counties, including Pinellas, now have an app for smartphones that enable you to take a picture and send them an image of an alleged code violation to check out.
But again, between notification, compliance, fines and potential appeals, it can be a long drawn out process.
And when it comes to rats, time is important.
Female rats can reproduce every three to four weeks. A single pair of rats is capable of producing as many as 2,000 offspring in a year if left to breed unchecked. An average rat lives two to three years, can spread disease, and will eat almost anything.
The best advice for the neighbors in Seminole, said Blake, is to try to rat-proof their own houses, in case their efforts take a while.
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