What You Should Know About New York City’s Rat Issue

By: ROS Team May 11, 2021

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Rats thrive wherever they have access to water, food, and shelter.  Rats pose a health threat to people because their waste and saliva can contaminate food and spread disease.

New York City has seen a drastic increase in its rat population, landing at #3 on the list of rattiest cities in America (Chicago and Los Angeles hold down the #1 and #2 spots).

Thanks to all the leftover food that’s tossed from the city’s nearly 25,000 restaurants, rats have plenty of resources at their disposal to survive and multiply.  However, by taking adequate measures, New Yorkers can position the city to win the war against the growing rat population.

Read Also: Best Ways to Protect Your Home From Pests This Summer

Health Hazard

Rats carry pathogens through their waste and saliva that can cause fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. Some of the diseases they carry are significantly dangerous for children.

The Rat Population

It is often said that there are more rats than people in some NYC neighborhoods. Although there is no exact way to certain, officials believe there are roughly 2 million rats in the city.

Peculiar Habits of Rats

Rates are hard to trap because of their ability to squeeze through tiny holes. They don’t have a skull like most other mammals, so they have no trouble getting through tight spaces to avoid capture.

In fact, their bodies are so flexible that they can fall from a 6th-floor building without incurring any injury.  They’re also able to leap as far as 4 feet, and adult rats can even tread water.

Rats typically travel along the same routes. Their reproduction rate is very high–they reach puberty at just three months of age. Once mature, they can reproduce after every two months.

COVID-19 Chaos

In the wake of the pandemic, restaurant closures created some chaos for NYC rats, which manifested in some increasingly erratic behavior, mainly because restaurants were their primary food source.

As a result, rats started improvising and became increasingly violent.  With more rats forced to the streets to find their next meal, they became increasingly visible to the general public.

As the city returned to some sense of normalcy following the nearly year-long lockdown, the rats who survived were back to the streets. The number of rodent complaints reported in March 2021 eclipsed the number of reports made the previous March or during any month prior to that.

Brooklyn residents had the highest number of complaints followed by residents living in Manhattan and Queens. As restaurants continue to re-open, more food will be available to rats which will likely cause the complaints to surge even more.

Commercial areas that were shut down in the lockdown also experienced a boom in the rat population.  Like neighborhoods, rats are now foraging for food in the broad daylight and harassing people while they are dining at restaurants, particularly those who are eating outside on restaurant patios.
The New York City Department of Health is in charge of controlling the city’s rat infestation problem. The department believes that completely eliminating rats is impossible, but the department does believe certain measures can help control their population boom and are working to proactively address the issue throughout the city.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has already announced that NYC will be taking measures to improve sanitation services in the city, which includes managing the number of overflowing litter bins and increasing trash pickups. It’s believed this is one of the first steps in curbing the rat population.

Health Department Intervention

The health department runs an inspection program to help residents get rid of the rats on their properties. The property fails the inspection if any of the following signs are noticed:
Rats roaming around;

Burrows, which are where rats live, are visible;

Rat droppings;

Gnaw marks; and

Excessive garbage.

Owners will receive their inspection reports by mail. If the property fails the inspection, the owner will have five days to comply with laws to address the issues noted in the inspection report.  Failure to do so by the follow-up or second inspection could result in fines.

It’s also possible that the department will clean up the property and the owner will have to pay the bill. Citizens who want to report a rodent infestation can do so online or by dialing 311.

Tips for Controlling Rats:

The ultimate way to control the rat population is to remove all sources of their food, water, and shelter. However, that’s not always so simple.  Here is a step-by-step guide on how to help control the rat population.

Step 1) Find Rats’ Footprints

Look around for places where rats may live. The idea is to notice their presence and acknowledge that there is a rat issue.  Rats are usually found in holes, in relatively wide concrete cracks, under bushes, and in greenery, and close to garbage.

Look for their droppings and follow their tracks.  Pay particular attention to areas of a property that are dark and damp–it’s a high probability that rats are there or will be in the future. The best time to spot rat activity is at night when they are the most active.

Step 2) Clean Up

Next, clean up in the area(s) where you found rat footprints or droppings.  Remove dark and damp locations in your apartment and wash everywhere you find droppings with a bleach solution. If possible, ask your neighbors to do the same so rats don’t migrate to their homes.

Step 3) Get Rid of Clutter

Clutter provides a hiding place for rats; it’s where they sleep and reproduce. If there is a basement in your home, focus your decluttering efforts there first. Likewise, if you have a shed or garage, start decluttering. The idea is to keep everything arranged, clean, and tidy so that space can get adequate light and remain dry.

Step 4) Remove Bushes

Removing or trimming shrubs and bushes will also help curb rats from taking up residence on your property.  Also, pull out ivy around burrows and don’t saturate the area with dense ground clutter.

Step 5) Tighten the Noose

When it comes to food, rats don’t need much. They can survive on one meal per day. Don’t let your garbage become their buffet–secure all trash and dispose of it regularly. You can’t leave garbage sitting out for even one night, or else rats will find their way to it. Also, put leftover food in tightly sealed containers. If rats starve, they cease being a problem.

Step 6) Plug Up Holes

Rats can move through holes and cracks as small as a half-inch. To prevent their movement for real good, look for any holes on the property and plug them.

Step 7) Hire a Professional Pest Control Company

If you need reinforcements, hire professionals for rodent baiting. If you own a home, you can place the rodent bait by yourself.  But, for commercial properties, it’s highly recommended that professionals install the bait.

A good company will inspect your property first and then provide a quote depending on the unique requirements of your property. They should give you a comprehensive and written report about the conditions of your home regarding rodents and recommendations for what needs to be done.

Professionals should rid the property of the conditions that attract rats and help them thrive.  They should also educate you on how to prevent rats from living on the premises in the future.

Start your search for a professional pest control company by reaching out to several companies and interviewing them. You can also ask your neighbors, friends, or family members to recommend a good company. Always make sure the company is registered with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Finding a Rat-Free Apartment in NYC:

Inquire from the Prospective Landlord

Tenants shouldn’t rent an apartment without inspection. But how would a prospective tenant know if the apartment has a rat problem? The best way to find out is by asking the landlord questions about the living conditions in the apartment.

Ask about any special measures they’ve implemented to curb the rat issue. Also, ask if they’ve received any complaints from previous tenants and if tenants were satisfied with the steps you took to mitigate the problem.

Contact Previous Tenants

Another way to determine if the apartment has a rat issue is to contact previous or current tenants and ask them if they’re aware of if there’s a rat problem in the building.

Ask how their experience has been in the building and was landlord cooperative to their complaints. Ask about the preventive measures in place at the apartment for rats.

Hire a Home Inspector

While you might want to save some money, history tells that hiring a professional to examine the property thoroughly is worth the investment. Generally, a standard inspection doesn’t include a rodent inspection, so you’ll need to get a separate quote for that service.

Get the Health Department’s Help

Lastly, if you do have a rat infestation, you should consider getting help from the health department through their website.  You can search for your particular building on the site and see if the department offers an inspection report, clean-up, and rat baiting. You can also refer to the site to see if the building has passed a rodent inspection or not.

Final Thoughts:

Rodents pose a serious threat to health and quality of life. The government can’t handle the problem alone given the scale of the issue. It has to be a concerted effort between both the public and private sectors. Doing little things like decluttering or trimming back bushes can curb the rat issue in your community.