New Yorkers Complain About Rats, City Struggles to Respond
NEW YORK—It’s been almost a year since Jenice Ruiz noticed a rodent problem in her walk-up apartment building in Hamilton Heights. The tenants tried to get help by calling 311, the city’s complaint call system, but a solution is nowhere in sight.
Rats still camp out in the basement laundry room; unyielding droves of mice invade their homes.
“They don’t really do much about it,” said Ruiz, sharing her impression of the Health and Mental Hygiene Department (DOHMH).
The City Comptroller Scott Stringer at least partially vindicated her opinion in an audit report released Sunday.
The audit revealed that one in four rat complaints wasn’t inspected within two weeks, a limit the department set for itself.
Even when inspections are conducted, only two out of five actually report signs of rats. If the inspectors indeed find rat activity, the department requires the property owner to correct the problem within five days.
Within a month after receiving the notice, such landlords can expect a follow-up inspection. If signs of rats persist and the problem is severe, the department may clean up the site or send exterminators and bill the landlord for expenses.
Rats and mice can spread over 35 diseases, including salmonellosis and leptospirosis, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Last year, the city received over 24,000 rat complaints, an increase from about 22,000 the year before.
Although the department requested an extermination or cleanup in almost 1,700 cases, the audit found almost half the exterminations took more than a month to finish and about quarter took more than two months.
The department doesn’t have a specific time limit on when the jobs are supposed to be done.
As for cleanups, those are done to deal with excessive garbage, which attracts rodents, but the majority of the 274 requested last year wasn’t done as of March 2014.
The department struggled to explain the unfinished cleanups, referring to a lack of resources.
It also highlighted that it conducted almost 100,000 inspections last year, most of them on its own initiative.
Less than 20 percent of all inspections were prompted by a complaint.
Ultimately, the department agreed to put some deadlines in place for completion of the cleanups and exterminations.