The seller of a home in Prince George is not negligent for not having disclosed information on a prior bat problem to the purchasers, a B.C. provincial court judge has ruled.
The buyers, Emmeline Van Geemen and Kevin Van Geemen, purchased a house in Prince George in May 2019. The 43-year-old home was located on two-and-a-half acres of land on the banks of the upper Fraser River. The Van Geemens claim that the seller, Eric Stevenson, misrepresented the condition of the home by not disclosing that he had found bat guano (droppings) years prior.
“The claimants had no issue with the bats who lived peacefully outside in their bat houses, but recoiled from sharing their inside space with the flying mammals,” Justice Judith Doulis stated.
The Van Geemens did not allege fraud; instead, they claimed that Stevenson was negligent for “failing to take reasonable care in his efforts to evict the bats from inside the residence,” which cost them $33,036 to remediate.
Stevenson said that he had no knowledge that the bats remained inside; when he moved into the house in 2015, he had “no reason” to suspect there were were bats inside the home.
“He noticed the bats arrive in late spring, after the mosquito hatch, and then migrate south in the late summer or early fall. The bats roosted in their bat houses and feasted on the swarms of mosquitos which infested the property,” the court documents state.
“Eric Stevenson and Hannah Watler lived harmoniously with the bats and regarded them as an ecological asset.”
Stevenson did notice old and dried bat guano inside the exterior siding in the fall of 2016 when he was replacing it on the south side of the sunroom. However, Stevenson said it was not a “significant amount” and he was unable to find any opening through which the bats could get in.
“He cleaned up the guano with a shop vacuum and replaced the sun-damaged siding. Thereafter, Eric Stevenson routinely inspected the exterior of the residence for any openings or access points and sealed them with foam and mortar,” court documents state.
He again found guano in the fall of 2017 when he renovated the master bedroom and ensuite bathroom. When Stevenson went to remove the cedar planking from the master bedroom, he uncovered a “handful of desiccated guano.”
However, upon inspecting the vapour barrier and roof insulation, he was satisfied there was no recent indoor bat activity.
“He vacuumed up the guano and threw it on yard. He considered it benign,” according to court documents.
The 2017 incident was the last time Stevenson saw any signs of indoor bat activity.
“Neither he nor Hannah Watler ever saw a bat inside the Residence; they never saw a bat enter or exit the residence. They never heard or saw anything to suggest bats were roosting in the ceiling. Their cat and dog never behaved in any way to indicate there were bats inside the residence,” the court documents state.
When Stevenson signed the property disclosure statement, he thought he has fixed the bat issue and thus did not mention it to the sellers.
The judge noted that while the property disclosure statement required Stevenson to disclose information about any pests or rodents, “bats are neither.”
“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,” Doulis stated.
“Unlike rodents, bats do not have teeth that allow them to gnaw through building materials. The primary nuisance of bats inside a building is the noise, smell or guano.”
Doulis did acknowledge that an indoor bat colony is a “latent defect” – the sort not readily apparent upon an ordinary inspection – and that the claimants could not see the animals until they removed the cedar planks that closed off the ceiling envelope.
The Van Geemens did find droppings, that they initially believed to be from mice, the the corner of the master bedroom. Then, the Van Geemens removed one of the ceiling boards in the ensuite bathroom and “feces rained upon him.” The Van Geemens still believed they had a mouse problem and hired a pest control expert. The expert told them that the droppings were actually bat guano and so began the $33,000 process to eliminate the bat issue.
The Van Geemens also said that one evening, at dusk, they observed a “swarm of bats spewing out from the gutters” from the peak of the sunroof room, counting 85 in total.
Doulis said that while she believed that the Van Geemens found guano in the ceiling in July 2019, there is no admissible evidence on the size and age of the bat colony. The Van Geemens had claimed the ceiling bats were part of a long-standing intergenerational colony which returned each year.
Doulis said that she accepted Stevenson’s evidence that all he found was a small amount of bat guano in an exterior wall and once in the master bedroom’s ceiling in 2016 and 2017.
“He 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. I believe him.”
The judge found that Stevenson did not act negligently in not disclosing the guano he found and dismissed the Van Geemens’ claim.