January 20, 2003

Ann S.
Property Manager
Rosslyn Heights
Arlington, Virginia

Dear Ann,

If we go back to the day my apartment  began filling with the pungent stench of a decomposing mouse, it’s been nearly a month since this ordeal began. On top of that, I’ve spent the equivalent of days e-mailing and speaking with you, communicating with insect experts, documenting my problem, and researching solutions. So I hope you will have the decency and respect to invest the time to read this letter and the enclosed documents carefully.

Having said that, I will begin by asking you to imagine some situations:

  • Imagine pouring yourself a bowl of cereal, turning away from the bowl to retrieve milk from the refrigerator, and feeling fear and anxiety that flies will land in your bowl while your back is turned.
  • Imagine having to look down every time you bring a glass up to your mouth to drink to make sure a fly hasn’t drowned.
  • Imagine the smell of hundreds of dead flies rotting in a jar and the effort required to scrape dead fly residue from the sides of one of your bowls.
  • Imagine going to bed at night and hiding all but your face under the covers. Imagine, in those minutes before you fall asleep, trying to figure out in the dark if the sensation on your face is an actual fly landing on you or just your paranoia getting the better of you.

I, of course, don’t have to imagine these situations but have had to confront them every day of this year.

Let me guess what you’re thinking: This stubborn resident over-watered his plant and has the nerve to complain to me about a problem of his own creation. If you’re the Property Manager of Rosslyn Heights, this is certainly a comforting thought, as it frees you of any responsibility for my predicament. Comforting, but wrong. You may have been eager to accept the exterminator’s diagnosis, but I never could. It seemed much too amazing a coincidence that these flies would appear days after a rotting mouse was removed. Also, you don’t know how I cared for that plant; far from over-watering it, I didn’t water it nearly enough.

I’m going to assume you are familiar with listserv. ENTOMO-L@listserv.uoguelph.ca is a mailing list for the general exchange of information, news, views, questions and answers in entomology and related disciplines. The first page of packet “A” (identified by a circled “A” in the top right corner) is an e-mail I sent to the mailing list. Please read it now and the three replies I included. As you can see, it is the opinion of these experts that the flies are Phorids that originated with the dead mouse. These are individuals with Ph.D.’s in entomology; I seriously doubt the exterminator has earned a doctorate degree.

I wrote back quite a number of individual entomologists, asking them all the same question: It’s been a week since I got rid of the plant, and yet the phorids are still alive and well. Do I just have to be patient, or is this incontrovertible proof that they are breeding somewhere else? Packet “B” includes one of my e-mails and three responses. I’ve underlined a particularly alarming sentence on the second page: If your population is persistent, there has to be something like dead mice, rotting vegetable matter, an active indoor composting bin, or anything else along those lines.

Packet “C” is a fact sheet on the Humpbacked (Phorid) Fly published by the Ohio State University. I encourage you to read the entire article. It is very informative. Please take special note of the sentence I underlined on page two: Since they originate in filthy conditions, there is a possibility of transmitting certain diseases.

Finally, Packet “D” is a document I’m sure you’re very familiar with—The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. I note here the following sections:

§ 55-248.13. Landlord to maintain fit premises.

A. The landlord shall:
1. Comply with the requirements of applicable building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety;
2. Make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition; …

§ 55-248.21. Noncompliance by landlord.

… [I]f there is a material noncompliance by the landlord with the rental agreement or a noncompliance with any provision of this chapter, materially affecting health and safety, the tenant may serve a written notice on the landlord specifying the acts and commissions constituting the breach …

… [T]he tenant may recover damages and obtain injunctive relief for noncompliance by the landlord with the provisions of the rental agreement or of this chapter. If the landlord’s noncompliance is willful the tenant may recover reasonable attorney’s fees. …

Ann, have you ever eaten at a restaurant and something went wrong with your order? Maybe you found a hair in your Caesar salad or your medium-well steak was served well-done. In these situations, didn’t you expect an apology from the management and a discount on your bill? I think the very same principle applies here. While I appreciate the many sincere apologies you’ve offered me, talk, as they say, is cheap. In various e-mails to you since January 2, I’ve requested some financial compensation for the “inconvenience” (your oft-used word) I’ve endured this past month. In every case you’ve completely ignored my request. A friend of mine rents an apartment at Pentagon Row. One day he got stuck in an elevator for two hours. He complained to the management, and they credited him $500. Either I’m not complaining loud enough, or I’m not living in the right place. Or both.

I’m giving you another chance. I would advise you to not ignore the following demands (no longer can they be called requests):

  • As my situation has persisted for a month and is a direct result of Rosslyn Height’s ineffective pest-control measures, I will be credited my rental payment for the entire month of January ($1,390).
  • You will contact Tom Tyler (ttyler@vt.edu, 703-228-6400), an Extension Agent with Arlington County and a Unit Coordinator, Agriculture and Natural Resources Environmental Horticulture. Working with him or a specialist he recommends, you will formulate a plan to rid my apartment of Phorids in the shortest time feasible.
  • If it is determined that it is necessary for me to move into another unit, Rosslyn Heights will pay all moving expenses, including the costs to switch cable, telephone, and DSL services. I will be reimbursed for all of my time spent on moving-related activities (e.g., packing and unpacking; informing my employer, all of my billers, the DMV, the postal service, etc. of my address change; taking apart and setting up my home computer network) at a rate of $40 an hour.
  • My lease will run to the end of August, and my monthly payment will continue to be $1,390 + $35 (parking) + $12 (water). Upon purchase of a home and with two-month notice, I can break my lease without penalty.

I have prepared documents to send to the Arlington County Office of Housing Information and Services, the Office of Public Health Services, the Better Business Bureau, and The Arlington Journal. However, I will not send out these documents if you respond in a prompt and favorable manner. I look forward to speaking with you.



Christopher D. Jewell

P.S. A note on the two photos I’ve included. Both were taken Monday evening, January 20. On January 16 I started over with a clean bowl under my light trap. As you can see, it hasn’t taken very long to fill back up. I found the mean-looking insect on the floor next to my bathtub. If you saved my e-mail from January 2, you will see that I reported a live mouse making noises underneath my bathtub. That mouse is still there. It stands to reason there could be dead ones under there as well.