A bat-infested ceiling might make a perfect turnkey haunted house for Halloween enthusiasts, but for a B.C. couple, it provoked a strong case of buyer’s remorse and a losing battle in the courtroom.
The pair recently had their civil claim against the previous owner dismissed in a provincial court.
Emmeline Van Geemen and Kevin Van Geemen bought their first home in the northern city of Prince George in 2019, not suspecting it would come with house guests in the form of a colony of bats making a seasonal home in the space between their master bedroom ceiling and the roof.
After discovering the bats, the couple brought a claim against the previous owner of the house, Eric Stevenson, for misrepresenting the condition of the property and failing to disclose a bat colony “had taken up roost in the cathedral ceilings,” according to the court documents.
During the proceeding, the Van Geemens alleged that Stevenson was negligent by not disclosing that bats had previously lived inside the home.
But Judge Judith Doulis didn’t agree.
“The [property disclosure statement] asks the vendor to disclose any infestations by pests or rodents. Bats are neither,” wrote Doulis in her decision.
“So even if Eric Stevenson was aware of a bat colony roosting in the ceiling, which I do not find, he did not answer untruthfully to that question on the PDS.”
Home sweet home
The Van Geemens moved into their new home on May 31, 2019. Immediately, they noticed small black droppings on the floor in the corner of their master bedroom, under the peaked roof.
The couple initially thought the droppings were from mice.
After a tradesperson found more feces behind a wall, the couple hired a pest control expert who informed them they had bats.
One night, at dusk, the couple observed “a swarm of bats spewing out from the gutters of the house in a wave from the peak of the sunroom roof,” the document says.
They said they counted 85 in total.
During the proceeding, the couple claimed it cost more than $33,000 to fix the bat problem, including lost wages.
Bat poop, but no bats
Stevenson bought the property in 2015 and over the next four years, completed a number of improvements and renovations, according to the documents
There were two bat houses installed on the exterior of the house, which the couple said they enjoyed because the bats would show up every May, once mosquitoes hatched, and eat the insects all summer.
Stevenson and his partner, Hannah Walter, claimed they had never seen a bat inside the house while living there.
During his renovations, Stevenson said he spotted signs of a bat infestation only twice in four and a half years. First, in 2016, he found dried guano — bat feces — when replacing siding in the sunroom. And in 2017, a handful of desiccated guano was found behind cedar planking in the master bedroom.
In both instances, Stevenson told the court that he inspected the issue, could not see any bats or openings where bats would enter, and was satisfied that the bat activity was not recent.
Prior to finalizing the deal, the court documents show that the Van Geemens had the home inspected by seven different tradespeople, none of whom noted the presence of bats inside of the home.
Civil claim dismissed
According to the court documents, the Van Geemens weren’t arguing that Stevenson was attempting to conceal the existence of the bats, but that he failed to exercise reasonable care to ensure the accuracy of his answers on the property disclosure statement.
“[Stevenson] testified that he believed his remediation efforts were effective and had no cause to believe that bats had established a roost in the ceiling of the residence,” wrote Doulis.
“I believe him.”