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Why Are There So Many Rats in New York City?

November 27, 2020
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Rat infestation in a home is a serious problem because they bring destruction and diseases with them. But in New York City – the country’s third most rat-infested city – rat sightings are so common that you can easily spot a rodent as you walk down an alley.

So why is rat infestation such a big problem in New York? Since they migrated to NYC in the late 1700s, rats have infested the city’s alleys, basements, and parks. The reason for centuries of rat infestation can be blamed on the abundance of trash in the city.

Why Does NYC Have So Many Rats?

Rats are prevalent in places where there are people, may it be in the countryside or the city. In places like New York, species like Rattus rattus (black rat) and Rattus norvegicus (Norwegian rat) thrive because of the abundant food sources. 

These pests are also extremely clever, which is why it’s hard to get rid of them easily. They can learn different tools to use to their advantage. They are also extremely patient when consuming their food – they will take a small portion of the food first to make sure that it’s safe before eating the rest.

Another reason why it’s hard to eliminate them is that they can reproduce rapidly; a female rat can produce at least 8 pups per litter. These newborn rats will then start reproducing with other rats in just 5 weeks.

Rat Migration to NYC in the Late 1700s

Rats migrated to the city when ships from France and England arrived at the city ports in the late 1700s. Since then, they have been infesting the city’s streets, basements, and parks. Other species of rats also tried to enter the city during the US trade with Africa and Asia, but they were unable to gain a foothold because of the presence of Norwegian rats.

The rats in the city also evolved since they arrived in the country. A study by a Fordham University graduate student found out that the two kinds of brown rats in NYC (uptown and downtown rats) are genetically different from each other. This study helped uncover the evolutionary process that city rats experience.

What Makes NYC Attractive to Rats

It’s no secret that rats are attracted to clutter and open food sources like the dumpster at the back of a restaurant. Since NYC produces up to 14 million tons of trash every year, the city is like a paradise to these rodents.

However, it’s nearly impossible for the trash piles in the city to get smaller. The least that residents can do is make it harder for the rats to access these dumpsters and garbage bins. One part of the city’s rat reduction plan is to replace the trash compactors in the city with ones that have a mailbox style opening.

Rats in New York: A Rapidly Growing Species

Despite figuring out what attracts them to the city, it’s hard to provide an exact number of rats present in New York. In 2014, statistician Jonathan Auerbach estimated the rat population in the city to be around 2 million. This was computed using the rat sightings in the city lots and estimating the number of rat colonies present per lot. But this estimate doesn’t account for the potential colonies that are found in the city’s underground.

There is also a variation in the rat sightings reported by different neighborhoods at different times of the year. The populations either spike or plummet depending on the season – sightings are particularly high during spring and early autumn. Because of the variables to be considered, the 2014 estimate should be taken with a grain of salt.

How Did the Pandemic Affect the Rat Infestation in New York?

The coronavirus outbreak has affected various industries and caused small businesses to close down. Among these establishments are the restaurants that had to take a break when the quarantine was in effect. Because of this, city rats had limited food sources during the pandemic, urging them to fight over the resources or resort to cannibalism.

Social distancing in the country has also allowed these rodents to move freely in the streets of New York. With fewer employees to perform rodent control services, rat infestations around NYC are bound to increase.

Attempts to Control the Rat Infestation in the City

The city’s Department of Health is responsible for enforcing rules and regulations about the rodent infestation problems in New York. Although they have recognized that completely eliminating these pests in the city is unrealistic, they have made various countermeasures that control the infestation’s prevalence.

The New York state government has become more active in approaching the rat issue by introducing a rodent control approach called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This rat control method focuses on implementing effective preventive measures and utilizing environmentally safe removal procedures. They also passed the Indoor Allergen Hazards Law in 2018 and announced a neighborhood rat reduction plan with a $32 million budget in 2017.

Indoor Allergen Hazards Law

For tenants renting an apartment in New York City, they don’t need to worry about the costs of rodent removal services when a rat infestation occurs in their unit. According to the Indoor Allergen Hazards Law (or Local Law 55 of 2018), building owners are required to keep the tenants’ apartments free of any indoor allergen including molds and pests like rodents and cockroaches. They are also expected to fix the conditions that caused these problems.

As stated in the Local Law 55 of 2018, owners are expected to:

  • Conduct annual inspections of the units for indoor allergen hazards
  • Ensure that the units are cleaned and free of molds and pests before a new tenant moves in
  • Provide the new tenants with a copy of the pamphlets and fact sheets about the dangers of rat presence in the apartment and how to keep them away
  • Remediate the pest infestation using Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
  • Remediate mold conditions and solve the main problem that caused it (standing water, moisture condition, leaks, etc.)

In addition to the owner's requirements, the tenants must also keep an active role in preventing the rats and other indoor allergens from entering the unit. The tenants are expected to:

  • Keep their unit dry and clean
  • Place their food in properly sealed containers
  • Keep the sinks and counters clean
  • Remove clutter, such as paper bags and newspapers
  • Cover the garbage cans with tight-fitting lids
  • Tie the garbage bags before removing them from the apartment
  • Avoid applying chemicals and other pesticides that have strong smells

The $32 Million Rat Reduction Plan

In July 2017, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced a multi-agency plan to reduce the rat population in the city by targeting three of its most infested parts: Lower East Side, Bushwick/Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the Grand Concourse area. This initiative attempted to lower the rat activity in the city by up to 70% by limiting the food sources and available shelters.

Mayor de Blasio said in his speech that the city refuses to accept rats as a normal part of living in NYC. These pests can contaminate food and spread diseases, reducing the overall quality of life for people in the city. As part of the rat reduction plan, the Mayor’s administration implemented the following programs in the mitigation zones:

  • New waste containers
  • Installation of rat pads in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) buildings
  • Better trash management in DOHMH-designated areas
  • More anti-rat staff and frequent trash pickup schedules
  • Better enforcement of rat-related violations
  • Introduction of new laws that call for better trash management

Rodent Problems in Your Property? Call Positive Pest Management Now

Here at Positive Pest Management, we provide our clients with the highest quality rodent control and exterminating services. Our services areas include residential and commercial buildings in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan.

For all the rodent problems on your property, call us now at 1-800-294-3130 for a safe and effective rat extermination service.

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