A Bustleton home so infested with vermin that it was declared unfit for human habitation likely won’t be demolished by the city even though the Department of Licenses and Inspections also posted it as structurally unsafe.
However, if by July 21, owner Richard G. Garofalo does not clear the place of rats, mice, fleas and animal feces, the city will do it and bill him for the work, said L&I spokeswoman Rebecca Swanson.
“And it’s expensive,” she said.
A 74-year-old man was found inside the house on the 9100 block of Bickley St. on July 7 and taken to Nazareth Hospital, according to the Fire Department. Property records identify Garofalo as the owner and, a neighbor said it was Garofalo who was rescued.
PSPCA spokeswoman Wendy Marano last week said four dead cats and three live ones were taken from the house on July 7. She said PSPCA workers saw rats, mice, spiders, bats and fleas in a structure that had a falling-in roof as well as collapsing ceiling and walls. She said the owner had fallen and called relatives for help. When they couldn’t get in the house on July 7, they called authorities, and firefighters and rescue workers got in and found the man.
They also found the cats and a house filled with trash and vermin. The PSPCA’s workers removed four dead cats and three live ones, but believed others were hiding in the walls.
Two bright orange L&I notices last week were put on the one-story home’s front door, but can scarcely be seen through the overgrown grass and weeds and untrimmed trees. One notice states the building is unsafe because of structural problems; the other states it is unfit for habitation because of vermin infestation.
The building is unsafe, said Swanson, but it is not “imminently dangerous,” and isn’t going to be demolished by the city unless it becomes so.
Swanson said an L&I inspector will return to the property in early August to see if repairs have been made or if the building had been demolished. Since permits would be required, L&I would know if any work is done or scheduled.
“We always have to give the owner a chance to fix it himself,” she said.
But, if that doesn’t happen, the case will be sent to court with the hope the court will compel the owner to improve the property, Swanson said.
Although the owner has 30 days to repair or demolish the property, he was given just 10 days — from July 11 — to clean the vermin and filth.
The city has a contractor who will do the work if it isn’t done by the owner.
“It’s pretty routine,” Swanson said.
City workers have been to the property at least four times since 2005 to clean up trash and whack down weeds and grass, Swanson said. The city has about $2,000 in liens on the property for this work, she said, although a $618.48 bill for work done in December had been paid.
The cleanups were all on the outside of the property. The inside of the house was nightmarish.
Photos taken by PSPCA workers who entered the house on July 7 show trash, huge spider webs and stacks of plastic trays filled with animal waste.
“There was not one place that wasn’t covered with cat feces,” Marano said. “And he was living there!”
Listerine was sprayed inside the house to keep bats away.
Marano said the PSPCA’s workers continued to return to the home last week. On July 8, they got another cat out of the house.
Neighbor Emma Schmidt, who has lived across the street for 25 years, said she had no idea so many cats were in the house. She also said the property had been well-kept except for the past several years.
Neighbors never called the city’s 311 system to report any problems, Swanson said. It was the Community Life Improvement Program that had mowed and removed trash.
An attempt to reach Garofalo was unsuccessful. On July 11, Nazareth Hospital’s operator said she had no listing for Garofalo. A hospital spokeswoman said federal regulations bar her from even confirming a person is a patient.
IT HAPPENS ALL OVER
“Animal hoarding cases,” are not rare in Philadelphia, Marano said. The PSPCA sees one a month on average, she said, but added that the agency had seen six in the month before its workers were on Bickley Street.
“In the summer, we see more,” she said. “It’s the smell. The insects, the vermin are more affected by the heat, and people notice — especially in row houses or semi-attached houses.”
This happens all over the city, she said, and on every social and economic level.
However, the cases tend to have some similarities, she said.
Most often the people involved are elderly and usually women. The animals most frequently are cats, although not exclusively. There was a case in South Philly a few years ago in which a woman had 103 chihuahuas in her home, Marano said.
But all of that is on the inside. The clue to neighbors is if the property is going to seed or deteriorating.
“People don’t tend to be immaculate on the outside and messy inside,” she said.
Even if neighbors become concerned, “They don’t know who to call,” Marano said.
Neighbors should call 311 when they see a property in such a deteriorating condition, Swanson said.
“Please call 311. We can’t be everywhere,” she said.
In cases of occupied homes, Swanson said, L&I refers them to social service agencies. Marano said animal hoarding cases often involve people who don’t keep in contact with family or friends or don’t have many.
“It gets to the whole safety net issue,” she said. “It’s a universal problem that no one has really solved yet.” ••