Rats, just like us they need food, water, and shelter, all of which we, the human residents of the neighborhood, provide. We are all responsible for creating a comfy home for our unwanted guests, as the New York City “rat information portal” makes clear.
It’s a myth that “rat cities” live in the sewers and subway systems. Only small groups live there. Most rats live in burrows in the same neighborhoods we do. If we want to get rid of rats, we need to take a good look at our habits, our buildings, our tree wells, and our garbage, according to Caroline Bragdon, who is a tough but very engaging inspector for the Department of Health.
She’s full of good ideas and very little pity for rat-infestations or sloppy people or ill-maintained buildings. In a training for residents, building owners and managers, and business owners (sponsored by Community Board 7 and Councilmember Gail Brewer), she laid it on the line: rats thrive because people are careless.
- Garbage on the curb the night before pick-up allows rodents plenty of time to gnaw through to the goodies.
- Throwing “organic” garbage, such as orange peels or the left-overs from your take-out into the bushes creates a rat buffet.
- The oily spots left on the sidewalk after the garbage is picked up makes a fine snack. It must be washed with 10% bleach solution, not just hosed down.
- Ivy in tree wells is great for nesting and hides burrows.
- Tree wells themselves make great nesting places. Look for the burrows and fill them in, especially if trash is stacked near them for pick-up.
- A hole the size of a quarter around pipes, in foundations, under doors is an entrance to a rat. One the size of a dime will do for a mouse.
- Open windows and, most enticing, an open door to the compactor room of big buildings are like posting on rat-Facebook.
- Throwing your trash on top of garbage cans rather than lifting the lid and then closing it (a problem in brownstones).
- An unclean trash chute entices rats into the building and up, up, up. Yes, rats climb. Once they get into the space where garbage is stored, they can get just about anywhere.
- Do not allow pooling water. Gardeners need to watch this and, if puddles form in the street due to uneven pavement, residents or maintenance staff should sweep them away.
So what’s a neighborhood to do?
Look for improper trash disposal, greasy spots on the sidewalks, rodent droppings and trails, burrows, and pooling water, then clean them up or point them out to those responsible.
- Clean up after yourself. Don’t throw garbage out the window, off the roof, or into the bushes. Really! You shouldn’t be doing that anyway!
- Call 311 to register a complaint with both to the Department of Health and the Department of Sanitation.
- Call 311 to report buildings or businesses that are not cleaning up. The fine is $300.
- Call Community Board 7 (Phone: 212-362-4008) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org) and your councilperson to report the 311 ticket numbers.
- Adopt a garbage can.
- Make sure your building is disposing of trash properly. Encourage the board of your building to send the super and maintenance staff to a Rat Academy, if necessary. For more information about training, send an email to email@example.com or call 311
- Be very careful when hiring an exterminator. A monthly visit to pick up a few dead rats isn’t going to do anything about the multiple litters per year that Mama rats have. Also, the exterminator should inspect the top of pipes in the basement for rat trails and change bait boxes frequently. An untended bait box often hides a burrow.
The Upper West Side will be part of a pilot project to reduce meals-on-curbs for rats by installing organic recycling bins in buildings. Talk to your board about joining.
Rats get crazy and go away if we take away their food and water so keep your eyes open, your garbage properly sealed, and your complaints loud and frequent when others don’t comply.
-- Molly Sugarman