- Associated Press - Saturday, June 13, 2015

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) - David Webber and Diana Lyons had planned to renew their lease and stay another year or two in an apartment on the third floor of a 117-year-old Queen Anne-style house in Lafayette’s Historic Ninth Street Hill neighborhood.

But their plans abruptly changed May 27 after a bat bit Lyons on the wrist when she entered their attic apartment at 904 State St.

“I think it was flying and I walked into it,” she told the Journal & Courier (https://on.jconline.com/1B7f44G ). “I put my hand up to get it away from my head and that’s when it bit me.”

The bat disappeared, and Lyons went to the St. Elizabeth East emergency room. She said a doctor examined the puncture wounds and confirmed it was, indeed, a bat bite.

“I was kind of hoping it was just a scrape and they wouldn’t have to do anything,” she said. “But they said it was an actual bite.”

The medical staff immediately injected multiple doses of immune globulin and pre-produced rabies antibodies around the wound, in her upper arms and other parts of her body, Lyons said.

She was advised to return four times during the following four weeks to receive a series of rabies vaccines.

The vaccines stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies that can stop the rabies virus before it travels up the nerves from the wound site to the brain, said David Lin, Franciscan St. Elizabeth Health director of infectious disease.

“If you’re bitten by an animal you can’t observe, you have to assume it has rabies,” he said. “By far, the vast majority of rabies cases in the United States are from bats.”

Lin didn’t treat Lyons. But he said the medical community plays it safe because the rabies virus, if left untreated, is always fatal to humans.

The frustrating thing for Lyons and Webber is that the May 27 incident wasn’t the first time they said they’d seen a bat since moving into the apartment in August 2014.

Nor was it the first time they said they told their landlords, Lou and Nancy Nargi, about the problem.

It was the seventh occurrence since fall 2014, the couple asserted. Four bats flew away; Webber killed two when he swatted them with a metal tray; and another died after flying into a wall, Webber said.

Things came to a head on May 11, when Lyons called the Tippecanoe County Health Department and asked the staff to pick up the dead bat.

It was tested for rabies, and no virus was detected, chief environmentalist Ron Noles said.

Webber provided the Journal & Courier with copies of email conversations he said he had with Lou Nargi between May 11 and May 25.

On May 11, Webber advised Nargi via email that a bat had appeared in the apartment the previous night.

“We can’t live in these conditions,” Webber wrote. “Would you please send a professional to assess and correct the situation today.”

Within three hours, Nargi replied, and asked whether the tenants had complied with his request that they leave the lights on in the closets, which are not sealed off from the attic.

“That has always worked to discourage bats from getting in,” Nargi wrote. “It’s most likely to occur during the fall and spring, but as far as I can remember, we’ve never had a tenant have more than one occurrence.”

Subsequent emails show Nargi contacted the Lafayette code enforcement staff, as well as a wildlife group to investigate the presence of bats. He maintained that during 30 years of owning the house, the closet lights forced the bats out of the attic.

Webber’s emails increasingly took on a tone of agitation. He argued that the closet lights weren’t deterring the bats, and noted that plaster from the attic space had fallen through some of the dropped ceiling tiles in the apartment.

At one point during the winter, Nargi asked the couple to occasionally climb to the top of the attic stairs and empty a blue bucket he placed there to catch water from an apparent leak, Lyons said.

She finally made a June 2 appointment for Lafayette building inspector Steve Fischer to evaluate the property.

While the structure and electrical service were in good shape, Fischer said he would notify the Nargis they would have 30 days to start dealing with the bats, remedy the falling plaster and install a window in one of the bedrooms as required by city code.

“It’s relatively safe to be here,” Fischer said. “But I don’t want a big chunk of plaster falling down on someone. And bats biting people creates the potential for rabies.”

The house bears a plaque issued in 1995 by the Wabash Valley Trust for Historic Preservation, a symbol of an effort to protect the integrity of the 1898 residence that still has original woodwork inside.

“Even if the house were not plaqued, my comments would be the same,” said John Burns, president of the trust. “I encourage people to do regular maintenance on their homes.”

Lou Nargi would not comment on the tenants’ specific complaints or any plans to repair the house, which is for sale.

“Our position is, it’s an ongoing landlord-tenant dispute, and we don’t feel we’ve done anything wrong,” he said. “We will continue to reach a resolution, but we don’t feel it’s appropriate to litigate this in the pages of the newspaper.”

Nancy Nargi, an at-large member of the Lafayette City Council, said they would rectify the problems.

“We have to follow the codes and regulations just like everybody else,” she said. “This is the first time in 30 years we’ve ever had somebody call and complain to the city. We’re going to work diligently to solve the problem.”

The life cycle of bats, however, will delay complete elimination of the bat problem, Denise Hays said.

She owns Wildways Humane Wildlife Choices and is permitted by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to remove wild animals from dwellings.

A professional can seal the dime-sized openings that allow bats to enter buildings through siding, dormer windows and loose mortar, Hays said.

But this is bat baby season. Bat pups can’t fly, so they remain indoors from mid-May through mid-August while the moms go out and forage for food to bring back their young.

“If you exclude access now, you’re going to have bats living inside the attic and you’re going to have bats dying in there, which brings a whole host of other problems,” she said.

What can be done is to exclude the bats from the living space, then return in the fall to completely seal the house after the juvenile bats take flight, Hays said.

None of this resolves Lyons’ and Webbers’ problem. There’s only 11/2 months left on their lease.

Lyons won’t stay overnight at the apartment, and she sometimes wears a hat just in case another bat appears.

The strain on their relationship forced the couple to give the required 60-day notice that they won’t renew their lease.

Webber wants the Nargis to let them out of their lease early, return their security deposit and pay their moving costs.

“We are at wits’ end with his lack of response throughout this whole ordeal,” Webber said. “He knows there is a solution to the problem and he just doesn’t want to do it.”

“We wanted to stay here for a couple of years,” he added. “We don’t have money to move. We don’t have money for the legal process to file a claim against the Nargis.”

___

Information from: Journal and Courier, https://www.jconline.com


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