Kevin Schembri Orland A Birkirkara resident, who lives close to a property which neighbours claim is the cause of a rat infestation in the area, said that while trying to sleep at night they can hear rodents gnawing through the mortar in the wall.
“You can’t imagine what it’s like unless you were in our position”.
This particular property, on Triq Has-Sajjied Birkirkara, is known to this newsroom. Back in 2014, animal welfare officials who had gone on site told The Malta Independent on Sunday that some 50 pigeons, three horses and some rabbits and chickens were found in the property. In 2015, a letter was sent to the Police Department complaining about a rat infestation.
Now, it seems legal proceedings have been initiated against those using this property to house the animals. The property is a house of character situated in an urban area, which also contains a courtyard.
A number of residents contacted The Malta Independent on Sunday with their concerns, and the shocking situation they face on a daily basis. The complaints are mainly about the rat infestation on the property in question, and videos clips and images received highlight this particular problem. Complaints also mention the noise made by the horse kicking its hooves against the wall and the filth left by a number of pigeons kept on the property.
The video clips show rats skittering across the courtyard in broad daylight and climbing on walls, as well as chickens, roosters and a horse walking around.
One resident who spoke to this newsroom described the concerns he he has, and said that problems have been going on for a number of years, “but the rodent situation has never been as bad as it is now. Whenever I met the people utilising the property in question, I would tell them to clean up. They would do so and it would be better for a while. But with the infestation there is now, I felt the need to speak out. I have given up trying to reach some form of agreement with them as they seem to lack the will to solve the problem.” The courtyard in question, he said, is invaded.
The courtyard and building are quite old he said, explaining that there are gaps between the large stone blocks filled with mortar, and the rats dig through. “At night, we hear the rats digging through the mortar. Imagine, trying to sleep and hearing that at night. It’s not a nice thing to hear. I also have a courtyard, and I don’t even open the door to it anymore, as so many rodents come over from their property. In the evening, as soon as I switch on the lights in my courtyard, you can see the rats scurrying.”
He said that high-up health department officials (tas-sanita) had gone on site, went on the roofs of neighbours and saw the situation. “They were surprised by the number of rats.”
Turning to noise, he said that one week they would have roosters and someone would tell the people in question not to keep them there. They would remove them for a week and bring even more the following week.
A couple of residents mentioned that the pigeons were a real cause for concern, as they cannot even open their balcony doors for fear the pigeons would fly in. Faeces also litter their roofs.
Another resident explained that seeing rats in the street was becoming quite common.
Questions were sent to both Animal Welfare and the Health Ministry.
The Health Ministry said: “Following reports by neighbours who alleged that animals were being kept in unhygienic conditions in a built up area, inspections were carried out on site by various authorities including animal welfare, environmental health and PA. This led to legal action being initiated against the owners of the property on 29 September 2016.”
The Parliamentary Secretariat for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights, responding on behalf of Animal Welfare said: “The case was investigated by the Animal Welfare Directorate, and as a result a formal complaint was sent to the Birkirkara Police Inspector.”
Documents regarding the sale of the property back in 1988 show that it was sold to a person called Derrick James Chick, who eventually moved to the UK. Dr Kenneth Grima, representing one of the residents, told this newsroom that the people who currently use the property are squatters. However, neither the residents, nor the police can initiate legal proceedings, as only the owner can do that. He said that several attempts have been made to contact the descendants of the owner who live abroad to no avail.
The people who use the property in question have now even filed an application before the Planning Authority, which was granted. The application was for internal alterations, with the addition of a washroom.
Residents speaking to this newsroom claim that the notice regarding the application was not visible on the property. “How is it possible that 12 residents never saw this,” one said.
In the planning application, the applicant ticked the box stating that he is the sole owner of the site, but as previously mentioned, their neighbours are claiming otherwise – that they are squatting.
One resident filed a complaint with the Planning Authority last June. “Squatters are using property as a farm mainly for raising horses and pigeons. Lately they have erected two ‘rooms’ for the pigeons which are visible from my roof, one from mixed material and then another wooden one. I have no idea if they have erected other rooms in these premises since the squatting has been going on for years”.
“This is a sensitive area as it is part of the old core of Birkirkara. My worry is that the premises will continue to deteriorate as the squatters have no respect for the building’s historic value and neither for the surrounding neighbours’ houses”.
In response, the Authority said: “These premises were built prior to 1967 and the Planning Authority has no records or permits relating to the site. Therefore, enforcement action cannot be initiated as regards the use. Moreover, application for ‘Internal alterations and proposed addition of washroom to an existing building’ has been granted Full Development Permission on 06/04/16 and a valid commencement notice has been submitted.”