A grandmother could be forced out of her home for feeding birds after neighbours have complained that the seed is attracting vermin.

Tracy O’Neill, 52, who is known locally as ‘The Bird Lady of Pennywell’, said she is supporting wildlife and feeding her feathered friends twice per day helps her mental health. 

But housing association, Gentoo, said neighbours have complained that seed meant for the birds is attracting vermin, including rats.

Ms O’Neill has now been issued with an official warning letter urging her to stop the feeding after there have also been other complaints.

The letter could pave the way for the grandmother’s housing situation potentially being brought before the courts.

Tracy O'Neill (pictured), 52, who is known locally as 'The Bird Lady of Pennywell', said she is supporting wildlife and feeding her feathered friends twice per day helps her mental health

Tracy O’Neill (pictured), 52, who is known locally as ‘The Bird Lady of Pennywell’, said she is supporting wildlife and feeding her feathered friends twice per day helps her mental health

But housing association, Gentoo, said neighbours have complained that seed meant for the birds is attracting vermin, including rats

But housing association, Gentoo, said neighbours have complained that seed meant for the birds is attracting vermin, including rats

She started feeding the birds with seed eight years ago, after being diagnosed with anxiety and depression. It is an activity that she enjoys with her grandchildren, too.

Ms O’Neill said: ‘I feed them in the morning and then at about 3.30 in the afternoon. I suffer with anxiety and depression and feeding the birds is my release, it makes me feel better that I’m doing something to help them.

‘I get pigeons, finches, sparrows and robins, and I just love to sit back and watch them. I live on my own and it makes me feel less isolated.

‘When my two grandchildren come to visit they also love to feed the birds.’

She has resided in her home in Sunderland for 26 years and originally lived there as a child before moving back later in life.

However, neighbours say the bird seed is predominantly attracting pigeons and Gentoo said it has received reports of rats in the area.

Gentoo said neighbours have reported damage to properties caused by the pigeons, as well as washing being ‘dirtied’ by the birds.

Ms O’Neill started to get complaints from neighbours last spring, and on September 20 was visited by a Gentoo officer.

The officer warned her to stop feeding the birds or risk being served with a ‘notice of seeking possession’ of the property if further complaints were received.

Gentoo said Ms O’Neill has been visited by representatives on ‘multiple occasions to discuss the situation’. 

The 52-year-old said: ‘As soon as I go out to feed the birds, I can see neighbours videoing me on their phones.

‘We are advised by experts to feed the birds to help them survive the winter months and to me it’s just nature.

‘The wildlife was here before us and with more and more habitat being destroyed it’s inevitable that birds and animals will end up in people’s gardens.

‘I love animals and when I’ve seen any birds which are injured I’ve even taken them in to help them recover.’

One of the key areas of the dispute is focused on how the birds are being fed with Gentoo saying bird seed is being discarded on the floor, potentially attracting vermin.

The company also said representatives ‘encouraged’ Ms O’Neill to use fat balls and bird feeders.

Ms O’Neill said: ‘Gentoo said that feeding the birds on the ground risks attracting vermin, but I always put the food on the bird tables and feeders, not on the floor.’ After being given the verbal warning, Ms O’Neill admits she has continued to feed the birds.

Ms O'Neill has now been issued with an official warning letter urging her to stop the feeding after there have also been other complaints

Ms O’Neill has now been issued with an official warning letter urging her to stop the feeding after there have also been other complaints

She added: ‘If I stopped feeding them then I would feel guilty about letting them down.

‘They arrive at the same time, waiting to be fed and even peck on my window when it’s time to come out.

‘I just don’t get what all this is about. All I’m doing is feeding the birds, something which other people do, including other people who live on this street.

‘I just think it’s very sad that people have nothing better to do than complain about me feeding the birds.’

On February 1, Ms O’Neill was left shocked when she received a letter from Gentoo informing her that your ‘landlord intends to begin proceedings for possession of the property.’

The letter addressed from Gentoo said she was being served a Section 8 notice as set out in the Housing Act 1988.

It stated: ‘I enclose by way of service upon you a Notice which is the first step towards requiring you to give up possession of your home.

‘This notice tells you that your landlord intends to begin proceedings for possession of the property. You should read it carefully and seek advice about your circumstances as quickly as possible.’

The reason for the notice was specified as breaking her tenancy agreement on the basis of ‘nuisance’ created by feeding pigeons.

Explaining the breach, the letter stated: ‘You must show consideration towards your neighbours and the public at large, by not causing excessive noise or behaving in a way which makes life unpleasant for others.’

The letter also cited previous warnings given to Ms O’Neill.

It stated: ‘On September 15 your landlord received numerous complaints regarding you feeding pigeons, resulting in nuisance being caused.

‘On September 20 you were visited by your landlord’s Neighbourhood Coordinator. It was noted that you had two large bags of birdseed in the passage. You were advised of the complaints received and requested to stop feeding the pigeons.

‘You were warned that if further complaints were received it was the intention of your landlord to serve you with a notice of seeking possession as this was not the first time you had been spoken to in respect of the issue.’

After reading the letter, Ms O’Neill said she burst into tears and said the notice has had a detrimental impact on her health.

She said: ‘Since getting the news my blood pressure has gone through the roof and I’ve been prescribed extra tablets from my GP.’

The notice does not necessarily mean Gentoo will begin eviction proceedings against Ms O’Neill, as this would be a subsequent process involving taking her to court, with a judge ultimately ruling on the matter.

Within the letter, Ms O’Neill was informed she ‘may wish’ to seek advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau.

The letter, sent on February 1, states that Gentoo now has 12 months to invoke court proceedings if it chooses to do so. Beyond this time the notice will lapse.

Gentoo say they’ve issued the notice as a ‘reminder’ to stop leaving loose bird seed in her garden and they intend to support and work with Ms O’Neill ‘to ensure no further action is required’.

However the wording in the letter has still left Ms O’Neill fearful for the future.

However, after receiving complaints from neighbours, Gentoo stressed that ‘everyone has a basic right to enjoy where they live and not to have their home environment affected by any form of distress and nuisance’.

The spokesperson added: ‘We’ve received numerous complaints from people living nearby who say the actions of this customer in constantly leaving out loose bird seed in her garden has attracted unwanted vermin to the area in numbers.

‘We’ve been dealing with this particular issue for more than six months and have visited the customer on multiple occasions to discuss the situation and try to resolve the matter to everyone’s satisfaction

One of the key areas of the dispute is focused on how the birds are being fed with Gentoo saying bird seed is being discarded on the floor, potentially attracting vermin. Stock Image

One of the key areas of the dispute is focused on how the birds are being fed with Gentoo saying bird seed is being discarded on the floor, potentially attracting vermin. Stock Image

‘Gentoo colleagues have spoken to the customer on many occasions to politely ask that she stops doing this as it’s causing a serious nuisance to neighbours. Sadly, those requests have been to no avail.

‘We’ve also received reports of pigeons causing damage to another property. Rats have been reported many times due to loose bird seed being left out and many neighbours also complain about their washing frequently being dirtied by pigeons.

‘On top of this, guttering of the properties is also getting blocked and needs to be cleaned.

‘We know people like to feed birds and that’s why we encouraged the customer to use bird feeders and fat balls in order to continue feeding smaller, wild birds as this method would not attract pigeons, gulls and rats in the way that leaving out loose bird seed does.

‘However, we then received further complaints less than a week later. This is a recurring problem for residents in the area and we have a duty and responsibility to respond to the issues they’ve raised.

‘We’ve since written to the customer and reminded her to stop leaving loose bird seed in her garden as it is attracting vermin and causing upset to others.’

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