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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, April 15, 2024

Mouse infestation in SMFA dorm prompts months of complaints, exterminator visits

1047 Beacon St., a first-year residence for SMFA students, is pictured.

Just before midnight on Feb. 27, several students gathered in a room on the third floor of 1047 Beacon St. to decide whether to kill a live mouse stuck in a glue trap. After months of submitting work orders and calling for assistance that night, it was clear to residents that no one would be coming to help. Together, the residents came to a conclusion: Killing the mouse was the right thing to do. After placing the mouse in a trash bag, one resident offered to step on it.

This was not the building’s first mouse sighting; interviews with students and a resident assistant, as well as documents, emails, videos and photos obtained by the Daily, show that 1047 Beacon St., a first-year dorm for the School of the Museum of Fine Arts that houses up to 34 students, has been infested with rodents since October.

Residents also allege that the university has been slow to respond, offering inadequate extermination services and sending residents with complaints through a sea of red tape, all while the infestation persists.

In a statement to the Daily, Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of media relations, said that the Office of Residential Life and Learning takes concerns about mice “very seriously.”

“ORLL has been in consistent communication with building ownership, facilities staff, and students,” Collins wrote. “It has been sharing a weekly communication with students with updates and has taken a number of steps, including offering students free food storage containers to limit open food in the building as well as temporary housing options on the Medford campus if they do not feel comfortable on Beacon Street.”

Alyson Costa, one of the first residents to see a mouse, has been alerting the administration to the issue since early October when she submitted a work order to deal with mice in her room. However, she said the process of getting the administration’s attention has been confusing and time consuming.

Costa did not initially receive a response from the university, and no traps were set in her room after the initial work order.

“My work order was supposed to have been flagged [by an RA],” she said. “At that point, there’s absolutely no reason that the school should not have known about this.”

An RA for the Beacon Street dorm, who spoke to the Daily on the condition of anonymity, said that they submitted a work order around the same time and that sticky traps were placed in the RA’s room shortly after. No mice were caught in the traps, but they saw another mouse in their room in early November.

At the same time, other residents spotted mice in their bedrooms and common areas. Cassandra Kellner, another resident of 1047 Beacon St., had her first mouse sighting after Thanksgiving Break.

“I was sitting in my room … and I saw a mouse run across my floor,” Kellner said.

The RA was hopeful that the university would address the problem while the building was largely empty over winter break.

“I’m thinking, ‘We submitted work orders, hopefully they’ll bring an exterminator in over winter break when no one else is here,’” they said.

But by January, the mice problem still endured. The RAs addressed the issue at a building-wide meeting at the beginning of the spring semester, where they instructed residents to avoid leaving food out in their rooms and to be careful about disposing of trash properly.

Throughout February, residents began spotting mice more frequently and finding mouse droppings on desks and clothes.

“Two weeks [after winter break], the mice came back. … We would hear them pretty much every 30 minutes, if not more frequently,” Kellner said.

On Feb. 24, after seeing another mouse in her room, Costa said she began making calls to various administrators.

“I’m done with this,” she recalled thinking. “I did it the right way, I submitted a work order, the RAs know, I’m going to call whoever I can.”

Since 1047 Beacon St. is located in Brookline, Costa said she began by calling Tufts’ Boston Facilities Services phone line. The Boston line, Costa said, gave her another number to call. Costa said she called the second line twice and left a voicemail that went unanswered.

Next, Costa said she called Student Services, who directed her to speak with her RAs; when Costa asked to speak with someone higher up, she said that Student Services advised her to contact the ORLL. Costa said ORLL put her on hold when she informed them that she was calling about mice in 1047 Beacon St. before telling her they could not comment on the situation. Costa said ORLL told her to get back in touch with Student Services.

“I was really bothered,” Costa said. “I had called everybody, and they were sending me in circles [with] all these phone calls.”

Later that day, Costa received an email from residential operations stating that an exterminator had set traps in common spaces and bedrooms which would be checked every one to two days and that maintenance would be checking the building and closing any holes they found.

Three days later, on Feb. 27, an exterminator sent by building management came to the building. Costa said the exterminator told her that her room was secure except for a hole in her door, but that he could not fix it as that was the landlord’s responsibility.

“I asked him, ‘When do you think that this mice problem is going to clear up?’” Costa said. “And he said, honestly, that he did not think what he was going to do was going to fix this problem. So the exterminator who’s doing the work tells me that he does not think it’s going to fix the problem.”

On March 7, ORLL notified residents that an exterminator would be sent to the building again, but as of April 1, building residents were still spotting mice.

The RA explained that students were confused about whom to call for help, attributing this to the fact that the building is not owned by Tufts, but by an external LLC.

“I think there’s a big disconnect between [Tufts’] department of facilities collaborating with the external facilities that our [building manager uses],” the RA said. “I think Tufts facilities just didn’t really acknowledge our work orders.”

Carol Fiore, the building manager of 1047 Beacon St., declined to comment.

As mice began to get caught in nonlethal traps, residents claimed they were not given clear instructions on what to do next.

“[On March 8], a mouse got caught in one of my traps and it was literally screaming,” the RA said.

According to the RA, they called Tufts’ Medford campus facilities line, but after waiting on hold, they were told that facilities couldn’t remove the mouse because Tufts does not own the building.

The RA said that when their supervisor emailed the building manager, the manager sent someone to handle the mouse. The night when the residents decided to kill the trapped mouse unfolded in a similar manner. The RA said they called Tufts facilities and the Tufts University Police Department nonemergency line, but no one would come to dispose of the mouse.

“As an RA … I took it into my own hands. I shoved the mouse on the sticky trap — which is so inhumane, anyway — into the trash bag, and then one of my residents was willing to step on it,” the RA said. “[The resident] was like, ‘It’s the most humane way because you’re ending its life quickly.’”

According to Collins, “Pest issues are typically dealt with during daytime or business hours, when pest control experts can be called to the location. Students who find pests in traps are asked to message residential life personnel, who work directly with building management to address these concerns.”

The RA described the night as “chaotic” and expressed frustration with the school’s response.

“I understand [that for] maintenance and facilities, [this] isn’t within their usual vicinity of what they’re supposed to deal with,” the RA said. “But to have a student deal with a rodent or a pest issue that’s already been terrorizing us? A lot of my residents don’t even feel comfortable sleeping in their rooms, especially [the room where the mouse was killed].”

There are still mice in the building, Costa said, noting that the amount of mouse feces has been increasing. To raise awareness and put pressure on the administration, Costa has been putting posters up around the SMFA and Medford campuses.

Costa told the Daily that ORLL offered to move her from 1047 Beacon St. into a new room on the Medford campus. Costa said she wants to remain in the area, as all of her classes are on the SMFA Fenway campus. She believes all of the residents in the building should be given a solution.

“I know the Massachusetts health code for rental apartments,” Costa told an ORLL administrator. “I have a right to live in a rodent-free apartment, you have a responsibility to fix this. I’m not moving, you’re going to fix the problem.”