A bizarre lawsuit involving two 78-year old twins and the countless thousands of rats running around in their exclusive Pacific Palisades home has posed a major challenge to local health regulations. Marjorie and Margaret Barthel are being sued by their neighbours, Scott and Liz Denham. The Denhams maintain that the Barthel sisters have been fanatically feeding the growing rat population for decades and may have added as many as 500,000 new rats to the Los Angeles' Westside. They were driven to the lawsuit after moving into their new home next door to the Barthels in 2007 (they also sued the previous owner for failing to warn them of the health problem). After calling in an exterminator to deal with the rats they found on their own property, the link to the house next door was quickly discovered. The Denhams later learned that the Barthel sisters were virtual recluses who never left the house at the same time.
Marjorie and Margaret Barthel had been living at that address since 2002 and apparently made a frequent habit of feeding wild animals, including rats. After attempting to involve the L.A. County Department of Public Health and the City Attorney's Office, the Denhams were basically ignored despite ample evidence of health infractions. Exterminators who had been called in to deal with the rat problem in the past reporting seeing the rats eating and drinking from plates containing dog food and milk with the sisters looking on approvingly.
Representatives of the Barthel sisters claimed that the Denhams had frightened them with threats of adverse publicity and lawsuits. The sisters themselves defended their actions by quoting scripture and maintaining that their actions were in keeping with their religious beliefs. Although their bizarre hoarding behaviour suggests an extreme form of Diogenes syndrome, no psychiatric assessment has been done in the case.
Last December, the Barthels agreed to have the rats exterminated and called in a team of exterminators (who seemed a little shell-shocked afterward given the scope of the rat problem). Attempts at resolving the lawsuit have failed due to the Barthels' insisting that the Denhams withdraw their request for a permanent injunction against keeping rats.