Couch Turf: Tenant at 14th and Rhode Island documents a home invasion.
Couch Turf: Tenant at 14th and Rhode Island documents a home invasion. Credit: 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.”