New York City rat sighting rates have reached the stRATosphere.
In the first nine months of this year, the city fielded almost 21,600 rat complaints, a tally about 71% higher than the count reported at the same point in 2020, according to rattling government data.
City officials are scrambling to root out increasingly bold rats — boundless in their ranks — who pop out from under stoops and scurry along sidewalks. But early government efforts to derail the rodents, including a program to demolish dilapidated outdoor dining sheds, have yet to produce obvious improvements.
The city experienced a massive surge in rat complaints in 2021, with the dining sheds often cited for drawing out vermin. But if the rat-filled view from the street level was alarming last fall, it has only worsened in 2022.
The year-to-date ledger of rat sightings jumped from 12,636 at the end of September 2020 to 18,601 through September 2021, according to figures from the city’s 311 complaint office. Through the end of last month, this year’s count was a sky-high 21,577, up more than 15% year-over-year.
Reported sightings continued at a torrid pace over the summer: the tally was around 16,000 at the start of August, according to city data.
Mayor Adams, who as Brooklyn borough president memorably displayed dead rats at a 2019 news conference touting rat-fighting traps, said in August that the city was “saying no to rats” through its crackdown on unused restaurant sheds. He even took a sledgehammer to one Manhattan hut.
But the rats are still saying yes to New York. And the causes of their spread are numerous.
Construction is booming across the city, and work sites send rats racing into the open.
City Councilman Erik Bottcher, a Manhattan Democrat, teamed up in May with Mark Levine, the Manhattan Borough President, to introduce legislation that would require that applicants for some construction permits confirm they have employed a pest management professional for their projects.
That bill is expected to pass in late October, along with another bill, introduced by Councilman Chi Osse, a Brooklyn Democrat, that would mandate annual reports on rat mitigation from the city’s Health Department. (The Health Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.)
Levine said the construction permitting bill has drawn “widespread support” due to New Yorkers’ “clear acknowledgement that we have a rat infestation that’s out of control.”
“We have to attack it on every front,” Levine said by phone.
A scourge of trash on the city’s pavement, perhaps inflamed by pandemic growth in residential garbage, has also fed the rise in rats.
In the spring, Adams said that the city would expand a pilot program bringing sealed trash bins to the five boroughs.
The Adams administration is also considering a proposal to narrow the period in which New Yorkers can haul their waste to the curb for collection, pushing the start of set-out time from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The 4 p.m. start time is the earliest in any major U.S. city, according to the Sanitation Department. But any shift will not happen overnight.
“At this point, it is just something we are strongly considering, but we expect to move forward in the next few months on a process of community input and implementation,” Belinda Mager, a Sanitation Department spokeswoman, said in an email.
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