The Man Who Cried Rats Can 50 rodents find their
way to a seventh-floor apartment?

Couch Turf: Tenant at 14th and Rhode Island documents a home invasion.
Darrow Montgomery

On the evening of Feb. 15, William Selepack got his 50th kill. As he describes it, the rodent scampered out from under the heating vents and ran into a glue trap.

Selepack’s miniature pinscher, Max, found the mouse first.

“He’s a rat dog,” Selepack says. “He was bred to go after rats and vermin. And he found it, and he started playing with it. It’s squeaking. My dog is barking. The humane thing to do is whack it.”

Selepack took out a hammer. “I just smashed it a couple of times....I wrapped newspaper around it to shield the splatter.”

Selepack, 45, moved into his one-bedroom apartment on the seventh floor of 1415 Rhode Island Ave. NW in 2001. With 950 square feet, it was spacious enough to include a comfortable living room, a small-but-workable kitchen, and decent sleeping quarters. At $950 a month, it was also cheap.

He thought it was a great place to live until the summer of 2006, when the air conditioner broke down.

That summer, his apartment turned into a sweatbox. And the hits kept coming: After receiving treatment for an aggressive form of prostate cancer, a bacterial infection spread from his groin up to his guts, and he had to undergo three surgeries. Most days, he was stuck giving himself IV drips in a living room that sometimes climbed past 90 degrees. Selepack posted angry fliers about his building’s condition on lampposts, bus shelters, and street signs. Gelman Management, which oversees the building, wasn’t happy, but his air conditioning got fixed within 24 hours of his protest.

By then, diplomacy had already died between Selepack and the management company. A year earlier, he and a property manager got into a fight in the hallway outside his door.

Selepack got some of it on tape. It went like this:

The property manager: “Fuck you, Bill. I said, ‘asshole.’ I didn’t say, ‘stupid.’” Selepack tells the property manager that he is recording the conversation to which the manager replies: “Good!”

Typical complaints followed, including ones about loose tiles, faulty locks, tricky elevators, and unannounced visits from building repairmen. In one April 2006 memo, he vented to a Gelman Management worker:

“I believe you entered my apartment this morning without my consent…I believe that you have to give me 24 hours notice to enter my residence, and secondly when you opened the door, did you realized that I was naked on my bed asleep, or is that how you get your kicks?”

The problem with the rats and mice began in August 2006, when Selepack says they gnawed through the heating vent and scratched free from under the stove. “The rats I couldn’t take,” Selepack says. He claims he found them in his bed and crapping in his closet, taking over his kitchen, and camping out in his living room at night.

His remedy to keep them out consisted mainly of cardboard. Selepack erected cardboard borders around his heating vent and cardboard walls closing off his kitchen and a closet. The walls, more than a foot high, were fastened to the floors with duct tape.

He also laid a carpet of duct tape in the kitchen, sticky side up, dropped glue traps, and baited them with peanut butter. He anticipated playing some serious Whack-A-Mole in the kitchen and picked out a red plastic bat as his mallet of choice.

Selepack created a half-moon cardboard cage between the heating vents and his TV. He laid a screen over the pen. If he heard some suspicious scratching sounds, he would simply get up from his couch and slap the screen, scaring the rodents back into hiding. He recalls thinking, bat in hand: Oh yeah, let’s kill them fucking rats!

Max got number 47 or 48. He bloodied the vermin’s head. Selepack has a picture. “The live ones, Max always wants to play with,” he says.

Selepack kept a kill journal on a scrap of paper. From late August to December 2006, he recorded 22 kills. From January to December of last year, he recorded nearly 25. He also put up signs in his living room window documenting his kills and took pictures of the fuzzy things stuck in glue traps, bloodied, or peeping out of his shoe stand.

Selepack says this was his 50th kill.
(Photograph courtesy of William Selepack)

He also recorded just about every activity concerning his apartment, becoming that guy: a tenant with a lot of anger and time on his hands—a tenant who writes things like this entry about the maintenance crew’s work on Jan. 17: “cock and seal some holes, however it was done very child like.” He added that the clogged drain in his bathtub was not fixed.

It has been a while since Selepack held down a full-time job. He used to work in grassroots organizing for big entities like the National Rifle Association. The complications from his cancer, as well as a hip replacement, nerve damage in his shoulder, and back problems now keep him couchbound. He says he relies on savings, occasional work as a bar manager, and the generosity of friends.

Pen and paper, a tape recorder, and e-mails have been enough to keep him busy on multiple fronts. He filed grievances with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and dashed off complaints to various D.C. councilmembers. He fired a few off to the mayor, as well. He and Gelman Management are still in landlord-tenant court for a dispute dating back to 2006.

A lot of people—DCRA inspectors, the city’s tenant advocates, the Department of Health, pest control workers, and the buildings property manager—have become very familiar with Selepack and his apartment. But city inspectors and repairmen all say the tenant has proven to be an uncooperative and unreliable narrator.

“There isn’t a rat problem,” says Mike Loaiza, the building’s property manager.

What about the 50th kill and the other recent rat and mouse sightings? “That’s made up. At this point it is,” Loaiza says.

DCRA has inspected or attempted to inspect his unit 10 times since 2005, according to agency spokesperson Michael Rupert. Violations have been found, no fines were ever issued. The chief reason, he says: Selepack refuses to let repairmen inside his abode.

No other tenants in the building have filed formal complaints with DCRA, according to Rupert. In interviews, residents describe having issues in the past with a mouse or two, but nothing in the way of Selepack’s numbers.

“Somehow the rats are entering his apartment without traveling to any of the six floors up the building,” Rupert says. “Somehow they’re getting just to his apartment.…We do not have any theories on how that may be happening other than we do not feel there’s an infestation problem.”

Johanna Shreve, the acting Chief Tenant Advocate for the District, describes coalescing a veritable army to get at Selepack’s alleged rodent problem. The Department of Health, she says, found no exterior burrows. Her own recent tour of his apartment produced no evidence of a rodent problem. “I’m at a loss,” she says. “I don’t know what’s wrong with this man.”

Shreve describes Selepack on the medical pain scale as a “10 plus plus.”

Holes behind the heating vent and the kitchen stove were filled late last year, Loaiza says. During a recent visit to Selepack’s apartment, Loaiza says he and a DCRA inspector found no evidence of rodent infestation. “We found two mice droppings on his top shelf in a closet from a long time ago,” he reports. “There were two little droppings that were very hard and very old.”

Selepack says his own forensics came to a different finding. “There are no old mice droppings in here,” he says. Just the other day, he says he spotted rodents scampering in his kitchen and a corner of his living room.

On a recent weeknight, Selepack is on the couch, in the middle of another story, another tangent that will inevitably end with a shower of exclamation points and the revealing of a new enemy, a new moment of injustice. His voice is raspy from Marlboros as the words keep coming.

A few feet away, Max obsesses over his chicken-and-cheddar dinner piled on a plate. The apartment smells like cigarettes and trash. The coffee table is cluttered with pill bottles. The floor is relatively clean; Selepack says he vacuums twice a day.

Around the time of his 50th kill, Selepack fell on the icy back stairs of his apartment. It ripped open an incision in his abdomen. He documented that, too, showing off pictures of his exposed insides. He still sometimes bleeds through his shirt. He then produces a photo of No. 50. It is a small gray-brown thing. It looks asleep on the glue trap. It is not a very menacing mouse, certainly not his most impressive kill.

For what problems he has, Selepack’s landlord and pest-control contractor say he is at least partly to blame. He could clean the apartment. He could not feed his dog plates of chicken and cheese. He could stop calling the property manager a “fucking moron.” Two years ago and before all the reams of documents, he also could have clogged the holes and abated his apartment on his own. He would never have done that, he says: “I rent.”

VIDEO: The Man Who Cried Rats

Our Readers Say


Oh dear. So inhumane - why doesn't he just use snap traps?
I was in a situation where my apartment (in Silver Spring) had a mouse infestation, but not like how Mr. Selepack is describing in this article. In a span of 10 days, my partner and I caught/killed 8 mice, and the apartment's management company did nothing about it until I called the county. Of course, I was not the only tenant that was having this problem, so it was not something that I had to convince the inspector about. In Mr. Selepack's case, I believe that he has so much time on his hands (and resentment for his apartment complex's management company) that he has started to inflate his problem. I was on the 14th floor when I had the infestation problem, so mice do travel. But many of my neighbors had the same issue... and they were all on the 14th floor.

I am usually the one who would side with the tenant, but in this case, you can't fault the management company if he isn't even willing to let maintenance in to make the repairs. If he is that unhappy with his living arrangements, then he needs to either move to another apartment or buy his own place. That's what I did.
This guy is scary.
I believe this story 100% because I lived in that building 4 years ago, had a 1 bedroom apartment on the 5th floor and moved out because the rodent problem was so bad. It's the management company that insists on using glue traps which are inhumane and also don't work that well, especially when a mouse wakes you up in the middle of the night screaming in a glue trap next to your bed. I also believe that he's caught 50 of them since 2006, easy. I caught at least 20 of them in the course of one year.
I know Bill pretty well. He walks his dog in the neighborhood and Logan Circle as do I. He doesn't strike me as a "complainer" or "whiner" in the least. I see that he is in great pain from his many surgeries and he deserves some compassion from his landlord. I agree that he should try and let the repairmen in when they need to do work, but they do need to give him notice.

Bill, I know I have told you this before, but you just need to move out and cut your losses. I think at this point the landlord isn't going to help you out, so it may be time to just drop the tenant court proceedings and move to another building. Just my two cents... I just hope you stay in the neighborhood so Pete can play with Max and we can laugh at all the random people in the park as we do almost daily :)
This guy is more than scary. (see Glenn's comment) He has a reputation for violent outbursts, has had fights with police officers and refuses to keep his rat-dog on a leash. Several of us in the neighborhood have had incidents with this dude. He is a loose cannon and I wonder if the City Paper will report the story when he goes over the top. That is a matter of time.
I've lived in 1415 Rhode Island for many years. I've seen mice in my apartment a few times, all within recent years. Not a big deal. However, I know several people who have moved out because their apartments were overrun with rats. This guy clearly has an attitude problem, but I believe him. His story is consistent with what other people have told me. It's not a building-wide problem. Depends on your floor and unit. I think most units are fine.
I live in the Newport West and find this article to be very troubling. For what I pay a month, I expect the building to be pest free and not the subject of a newspaper article. I have not experienced mice or rats, but I have had a bug or two, and I keep my apartment very clean. I hope to move in the future.
Whoa. This sounds like the worst possible mix of a guy with a lot of time in his hands and a less-than-responsive management. Although there are some things wrong with the building (one of the two elevators will be out of commission until August, I think) I just can't see how an apartment that high up can have fifty rats. I had a mouse -not a rat- when i moved in, and although we didn't catch it, it's never bothered us. Management was very responsive, and someone came up and patched up a hole behind the heater. As the article mentions, his living conditions may be what's attracting the rats, which I'm sure spill over into his neighbors'.

Dude just needs to move. What I found most upsetting about the article is that he pays $950. Bastard.
Wow. This sounds is the worst possible mix of a guy with a lot of time in his hands and a less-than-responsive management. Although there are some things wrong with the building (one of the two elevators will be out of commission until August, I think) I just can't see how an apartment that high up can have fifty rats. I had a mouse -not a rat- when i moved in, and although we didn't catch it, it's never bothered us. Management was very responsive, and someone came up and patched up a hole behind the heater. As the article mentions, his living conditions may be what's attracting the rats, which I'm sure spill over into his neighbors'. Dude just needs to move. What I found most upsetting about the article is that he pays $950. That Bastard.
I live in the Newport West now and I think this guy is nuts. I think he might be trying t find a way to make some fast cash - if he hates it so much then LEAVE.
umm im pretty sure this is my uncle bill. and you guys to FRUIT OFF. me and my cousin (M.S) are very annoyed by all of you because IM PRETTY SURE YOU GUYS KNOW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT HIM,!!!!! so id appreciate it if you would knock it off.!! (: mmmmk so f off all of you!!
What this guys says about Mike Loiza is absolutely true. I live in another Gelman Management building with mice (we've killed at least 15 so far), roaches in the kitchen and bathroom, a cracked window and their elevator broke my finger and ripped off the nail. One night, I came home to find my toilet in my bathtub. It turns out that they fired their maintenance guy midway through the job and (1) didn't call to let me know I would be without a toilet and shower (I only have 1!) and (2) failed to tell me why - he was fired for sneeking into a neighbors apartment to steal $1K in vacation money and the thief still had the key to my apartment for that entire night. While they did change the locks a day or so later, they never told me why and certainly weren't honest enough that night to give me the choice to go to a friend's house while their former employee / thief had the key. Or, I could have kept the chain up on my door.
This guy has moved into my neighborhood in Sterling, Va and he is insane. No rat problem here but he has been a neighborhood nuisance since he moved in. I don't know if his rat problem is what he claims but I do know he is a danger.
Rats are everywhere in this building, there has always been an infestation there and the company does not do anything about it. Rats do get up to the upper floors. I do not know this tenant but he is right about the rats.
I have lived at the Newport West for years and have never seen a mouse roach or otherwise in my apartment. I occasionally see a rat in the back alley but that's city living. These people are obviously disgruntled for some reason or mentally disturbed.

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