Is it an infestation or just a few creepy bugs?
That was the question put before the B.C. Supreme Court after a woman sued the former owners of her North Vancouver condo, alleging they failed to disclose an infestation of silverfish in the suite.
Soon after, she spotted silverfish in the apartment and requested that it be fumigated. That kept the bugs at bay, but only temporarily. She fumigated again two months later and still they returned, turning up in the kitchen, living room, cupboards, dining room, bathroom, bedroom “and on three occasions, in her bed,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Steven Wilson noted in his ruling.
Flood contacted the previous owners about the bugs. They acknowledged “unfortunately, silverfish were something we lived with too,” and recommended Flood keep the floors and baseboards free of dust.
The building’s manager declined Flood’s request to have the entire building fumigated, and in February 2019, she found another silverfish in her bed.
“She went to sleep on the couch but decided that she could no longer tolerate living in the unit. She listed it for sale and moved out in the meantime, staying with friends and then renting, until the unit sold,” the ruling states.
The apartment did sell, but at a $20,000 loss for Flood.
Flood sued the previous owners to recover the costs she spent updating the condo, moving expenses, rental expenses, loss of opportunity and damages for her mental health.
When asked in their property disclosure statement whether they were aware are of any infestation or damage by insects or rodents, the previous owners declared “No,” which Flood alleged wasn’t true. Had she been aware of the silverfish, she wouldn’t have gone through with the purchase, the court documents stated.
What is a silverfish?
Silverfish are wingless insects that can grow to almost two centimetres in length, with three bristle-like appendages on their tails. They are nocturnal and tend to hide in tight crevices during the daytime before coming out at night in search of food. They are common in all types of buildings, but especially in damp climates like Vancouver’s.
“Silverfish do not cause damage to structures, nor do they spread disease,” Wilson acknowledged in his ruling.
The previous owners testified they saw silverfish in their home but only infrequently.
“[One previous owner] described herself as someone who does not like bugs in general and could not reside in a property that was infested with bugs,” the judge summarized. “She agreed that she would prefer to live in an environment that was free of bugs and silverfish, but this was simply not realistic and bugs are a fact of life, including in older buildings.”
When Flood sold the condo, she disclosed the silverfish in her PDS to the new buyer, who also testifed the bugs were present, but not in worrying numbers.
“Although he finds silverfish creepy, he knows they are not a concern,” Wilson wrote, adding later, “They would squash it and throw it out, and could go a week without seeing any.”
Flood and the defendants each called their own pest control experts, who gave differing opinions on whether the number of silverfish in Flood’s former condo amounted to an “infestation.”
Ultimately, Wilson concluded infestation is in the eye of beholder. The number of silverfish in an apartment at a given time may fluctuate for a variety of reasons, Wilson added, and there was no evidence that the original owners were lying in their declaration.
“Pest control companies are called in to provide services when a client has made the personal decision that he or she cannot tolerate the quantity of the particular insect that they are seeing. To those individuals, the number of insects seen, be it large or small, constitutes an infestation,” Wilson wrote, ruling against Flood. “However, to provide the word with such a subjective interpretation would render it meaningless in the context of a property disclosure statement. A PDS is intended to be provided to a prospective purchaser to enable them to make an informed purchasing decision.”