Rat influx roils the Polish Triangle

Citing a dramatic increase in the rat population in the Polish Triangle neighborhood, members of the John W. McCormack Civic Association met with a city health inspector on Tuesday to discuss ways of stemming the influx of rodents in the streets, around trash cans, and across their yards.

Some members wondered why the rat population in the area has gotten so much worse in recent years. “In this area, 10 maybe 20 years ago, it was never this bad. Why is it so bad now?” asked McCormack board member Alina Morris.

“Rats have always been here, they’re always going to be here,” answered Environmental Health Inspector John Ulrich. Noting that “in the sewers there are billions of rats,” he said his “best guess is that the influx is due to a “combination of [nearby] infrastructure work – there’s tunnel work or utility work – and trash storage.”

Ulrich took up the question of what can be done to diminish the attractions for the pests. “The number one cause of rodent activity is trash, it’s their food source,” he said. “Some people think it’s construction, but 90 percent of the time it’s people not maintaining their trash. “If you have a neighbor – sometimes seniors might have trouble maintaining their property – you can give us a call and we’ll show up and provide them with services. We’re just trying to help people fix the issue.” 

Ulrich said is another mechanism the city employs to try to keep the rodents at bay is the issuing of tickets by code enforcement officers for things like trash violations. He encouraged members who have rodent issues to report it through the city’s 311 phone line or app. 

“Trash is required to be stored in watertight, rodent-proof containers with tight fitting lids at all times,” he said. “They shouldn’t be overflowing.”

Some attendees shared concerns that landlords may not be monitoring their properties adequately, overlooking when tenants contribute to overflowing trash. 

“I’m in this position,” said Caitlyn Moore: “We have trash bins that don’t even have lids on them, so you know they’re not keeping rats out. One time I opened the trash and one just flew out. Do we contact the landlord or is it best to contact 311?” she asked. 

Urlich said that tenants should contact Inspectional Services, which will work with landlords to get the proper trash receptacles installed. “We’re reactive and we respond to complaints,” he said.

According to Urlich, the rats will only eat the poisonous bait that’s stored inside the rat traps set around the city as a last resort, which is why it’s so important that residents maintain their trash, especially their dogs’ feces.

“They will eat anything,” he said. “A big thing that people don’t know is that they eat dog waste and thrive on it. They could live just on that,” a revelation that prompted numerous groaning noises.

“If you’re in a neighborhood like this where we all live on top of each other and there’s three-families next to three-families,” said Ulrich, “we give rats places to live and we feed them. They’re not going anywhere. It could be as simple as that, once they come and find a food source, they multiply pretty quickly.” 

Board member Millie Rooney said she’d be organizing a walk with pest control staff through the neighborhood sometime in the spring to point out rodent issues for anyone who wants to join them.