SHAWNEE, Kan. – When Rico Johnigarn moved into his apartment complex in Shawnee nearly four years ago, he said his basement became infested with bugs within a few months. But the bugs became the least of his worries once he discovered a bat living in his basement.
“I went downstairs because I shower up there (upstairs), but I go downstairs to change from my work clothes, and I went down, there was a bat just flying erratic,” Johnigarn said.
What started as one bat, soon turned to four or five.
Johnigarn said when he contacted his landlord about the issue, he was told they couldn’t be removed because bats are a federally protected species.
“I said, ‘You saying I got to live with bats?’” Johnigarn said. “And she (a leasing office employee) said, ‘For now, yes.’”
Johnigarn said he complained to his landlord numerous times regarding water leaking in his basement walls and bug infestation, but the problem was never resolved. He said he is concerned that the bugs could possibly be attracting the bats.
He said he believes the bats are getting inside through his chimney, which was once infested with wasps. Johnigarn said he used to kill five or six wasps a week throughout his home, but hasn’t seen them since the bats arrived.
David Hilt, co-owner of animal control company B&H Wildlife Services, said insects and moisture are the perfect concoction for attracting bats.
“So preventing those things would reduce the chances of them coming in, but also removing their ability to get inside,” Hilt said.
“Without looking at the (apartment) building and knowing the situation, it could be structural issues that are allowing them to get in, or if it was just one (bat), it could be a door open or a window or through a chimney.”
Problem Solvers wanted to help Johnigarn, who said he’s concerned about the potential for bats to carry and pass disease, along with the health of his son, who has asthma.
FOX4 called Fox Run Apartments at least two times for comment and left voicemails, but did not receive a call back.
Johnigarn said each time he calls the property, it always goes directly to voicemail, making it difficult to speak with a real person who can assist him.
“Bottom line, you know, I’m not bitter with these people,” he said. “Just get rid of the problem.”
“Don’t give me excuses why you can’t. I know you can eradicate these things. Get rid of them, that’s all I ask.”
Vona Kuczynska, a fish and wildlife biologist in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Missouri Ecological Services Field Office, said it’s illegal to kill some bat species, but it’s always legal to remove them from a residency.
She said it’s important for homeowners and landlords to take bat removal seriously because bats return to their nesting places annually.
“Usually, if one bat gets in the house, it just wants to get out,” she said. “But if you have a colony of bats, you could have them multiply because they’re breeding.”
“So, in that case, yes, for sure, you wouldn’t want to leave that situation alone and hope that it goes away because they do come back to the same place year after year after year.”
Jordan Biggs, co-owner of B&H Wildlife, said failing to remove a bat from a residency runs the risk of potentially contracting diseases, such as rabies and histoplasmosis, an infection caused by breathing in spores of a fungus often found in bird and bat droppings.
“As the bats disturb the fecal matter by crawling through the installation in the house, things of that nature, that’s when the disease (histoplasmosis) becomes more relevant,” Biggs said.
Kuczynska said fewer than 1% of bats have rabies, so the risks associated with disease are mild. She said the biggest concern is removing bats in such a way that it does not harm them, as bats are incredibly fragile creatures and can be easily harmed in the process.
“There’s a lot of misinformation on this topic, where people think that they cannot remove bats because they’re protected,” she said. “Not all bats are protected.”
And even if the bat that wandered its way into your house is protected under federal or state law, Kuczynska said you should still remove them.
“Even with protected bats, even if you have a federally protected bat in your house, human safety comes first,” she said. “So in that situation, you can still remove the bats.”
Biggs said bats can enter holes in the structure of a building as small as the size of a dime.
“Easiest way to explain it is if there’s a way for them to get it, they will find it,” Biggs said. “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually, they will.”
“A lot of homes, as they start to settle, create cracks, big openings, things of that nature, they find that and go, ‘There’s a new place for me to live.’”
He said the best way to prevent bats from entering a residency is to maintain the structural upkeep and integrity of the property.
“Any preventative measures are great,” Hilt said.
Hilt said it’s better to contact an expert that knows how to safely remove the animal than try to remove it yourself because if a protected bat species is killed during removal, an individual could be fined up to $20,000.
“Legally, they (an individual) can do it (remove the bat) on their own, but they’re probably going to fail and they’re going to get back in or they’re going to end up killing the bats in the process,” Hilt said. “They really should call a professional.”
“They can try it, and they do, but that’s how we’re killing tons of bats and that’s why they’re an endangered species.”