‘Rats the Size of Cats’ Colonize 89th Street Tree Bed for Months; DOT Responds After WSR Inquiry

Rat holes.

By Lisa Kava

Feeling neglected and bounced around by city agencies, residents of an Upper West Side brownstone have been experiencing an ongoing battle with rats right in front of their home.

“We see rats the size of cats running around day and night. We hear baby rats crying for food! Our garbage bags are ripped apart by hungry rats,” said Marcia Owens, one of the residents of 42 West 89th Street.

The problem has been going on since last summer. The rats run from a large sinkhole in the street to an adjacent tree bed in the sidewalk. According to Marcia and her husband Howard, a speed bump was installed on the street about a year ago and the sinkhole developed shortly after. The couple assumed it was caused by the speed bump, but has since learned it was actually caused by a thriving colony of rats.

The street caved in and the cave-in provided the rats with a fabulous place to make a home,” Marcia said.

The sinkhole subsequently caused the tree in the tree bed to lean into the street. The NYC Parks Department removed the tree in January, but did not immediately treat the rat holes in the tree bed, which appeared along with the sinkhole. The rats multiplied and prospered.


The residents went to NYC Rat Academy this winter, where they were informed that they were not permitted to place poison in either the tree bed or in the street, since both are considered city property. Working with a private exterminator, the group placed traps and poison in the front garden. But the traps were unsuccessful and the rat holes that were filled with poison and heavy marble chips on top re-appeared within 24 hours.

The neighbors reached out to Council Member Helen Rosenthal for help, who in turn contacted the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Upon finding ”no leaks or defects,” the case was referred to the Department of Transportation (DOT). Rosenthal’s office wrote to DOT on February 3rd, but as of Tuesday, April 14th, DOT had not repaired the street.

“I know it is a very busy time for the city,” Marcia said. “My heart goes out to city workers and those who are risking their health providing services for people at home and in hospitals. This problem may seem tiny in comparison. But I worry about the consequences of these rats moving in and carrying their own disease.”

WSR emailed DOT about the situation on Tuesday, April 14th. That same day, a spokesperson responded, “DOT is aware of the issue at this location and we are working to schedule a repair.” Rosenthal’s office also “received confirmation from DOT that they will address the cave-in,” but it said, “we do not have a timeline.”

To the Owens’ delight, on Wednesday morning, April 15th, workers from DOT arrived on site to “temporarily fix the street” after all these months.  The workers did not tell them when the job will be completed but they did indicate that it was the rats and not the speed bump that caused the street to cave.

Fixed temporarily.

Unfortunately other Upper West Siders have noticed a recent increase in rat sightings.

A resident of West 108th Street wrote that he witnessed about 50 rats running around the garbage bins in front of his building earlier this week.

WSR asked the Department of Sanitation about any disruptions in garbage removal.

“As of yesterday morning, 459 total employees have tested positive (this is the total number; not all are Sanitation Workers. 87 employees have resumed work.) Trash and recycling collection continues citywide. Residents should follow their normal schedule. While it’s possible some may experience some delays in collection, any delays have been minor. We ask for their patience and cooperation as we work to deliver services as quickly and safely as possible.”

NEWS | 37 comments | permalink
    1. DisgustedUWS says:

      Ever increasing property taxes seem never enough to afford us the bare minimum one can ask: clean streets where you don’t need to fight for space with rats. It’s just shameful

      • John says:

        Those property tax’s will have to double because of the carnage of the close down and you will still have the rats.

    2. Scott says:

      I’m gonna defend the rats. The DOT messes everything up starting with the re-design of West End Ave. And speed bumps do little besides irritate drivers and damage their vehicles, which I guess is the point. If people are driving badly just install speed cameras.

      • GM says:


    3. B.B. says:

      Rodent sightings, conditions conductive to attracting, etc.. are reported to New York City Department of Health, not Traffic.

      Reports can be filed either by telephoning 311 or online.


      At end of filing report you are either given a complaint number for tracking purposes, and or it is sent to email address given at time of filing.

      That report number can be used when viewing NYC rat portal map to determine status of complaint.


      Yes it is bureaucratic, asinine and backwards, but what local government isn’t? They are run for and by civil servants all of whom have turf they want to defend.

      Have known many persons who reported rats on street, sidewalks, in tree beds, and so forth that filed complaints in this manner. They tracked reports online once a complaint number was assigned and were able to see follow-up information.

      DOH/city sends out inspectors usually during daylight hours. Yes, rats aren’t normally active during that time, but the inspectors are looking for signs of rodent activity. If person making complaints gives accurate information and or agrees to direct inspectors to issue, it will be noted.

      Then agency decides how to proceed which in part is determined by where rats are coming from, what conditions are attracting/feeding them, etc..

      In cases of friends rats had made homes in tree beds, this to point large mounds could be easily seen. City came out and baited holes by tying poison to long cable that went down into holes. Subsequent inspection visits determined rats were gone, and holes were sealed.

      In cases where you have several issues such as cracks in sidewalks, curbs, gutter, sinkholes obviously DOH does hot have authority. Then they will either contact proper city agency to deal with issue, or send property owner a notice to correct situation or face civil penalties. We had rats coming out of hole in concrete sidewalk. City issued property owner a notice, next day the super was outside mixing up concrete and sealing over hole…

      • Deborah Miller says:

        This comment must have been written by a city employee who never had to deal with rats themselves. This is no longer an isolated problem for a building here or there. Would love to get their advise what’s next when you’ve done all the above but there is absolutely no action on your complaints and filings by anyone, including the public advocate’s office? We have a rat king as mayor who cares more about Indiana than the UWS, and a council member who cries foul about tall buildings but ignores what’s happening on the ground.

    4. B.B. says:

      Important thing to remember about rats is that they are very intelligent and adaptable.

      They will exploit any opening larger than say a quarter to fit their body through. If a rat can get its head through a hole it will pull rest of body. If hole is too small but can be chewed through, rats will enlarge it by using their teeth or front paws.

      As mainly under ground dwelling creatures Norway rat is an excellent digger; it can easily create/enlarge holes in earth. Rats can also chew though wood, weak concrete, and many other materials including asphalt. Between their sharp incisor teeth and front feet rats are very efficient in creating gaps/holes, or whatever.

      All over city rats exploit cracks in or around gutters, storm sewers, curbs, sink holes, etc… to come up from underground and find food. Once the latter mission is reached then things become difficult. If rats determine there is a food source they will become determined to reach it.

      Finally as any old school building super, exterminator, farmer, or whoever can tell you this is prime season for new rat sightings. Spring time is mating season for all sorts of creatures, as well as when they are out looking for new homes.

      • Rat A. Tooey says:

        About yer:
        Won: “rats … are very intelligent and adaptable.”
        T’anks! We sure is!

        Too: “Norway rat is an excellent digger”
        Yup! Don’t no about no Norway– ain’t never been dere. Me and my fambly is native NYers. Just like dat guy who’s in dat white house. I hears some calls him a rat…but he’s lotz dumber than us

        T’ree: Spring time is mating season
        Oh, yeaaahhh!!

    5. B.B. says:

      Regarding garbage collection and rats.

      Things are getting bad for rats because several things are happening at once.

      Spring time means mating and young rats looking for new territory/sources of food.

      Meanwhile thanks to covid-19 response large numbers of restaurants and food serving/selling businesses have either closed or scaled back amount of food thrown away. That means less garbage for rats to find/eat.

      In many cases places commercial waste is being collected far earlier than usual. This means instead of garbage bags sitting on streets until wee hours, they are gone before 11PM. Again depriving rats of food source.

      Meanwhile on residential side with so many families having decamped for the country or elsewhere there isn’t as much food being thrown away. So yes, while there are garbage bags in front of residential housing it may not contain much food. Dominate rats will fight off younger to preserve what they can get..

      Experts are predicting rats will soon begin engaging in turf wars as some try to muscle in on new areas due to lack of food.


    6. luke says:

      even noticing more rats flattened by cars in middle of streets, so far i’ve seen at least 7 or 8 in the last 2 weeks

    7. Marcia says:

      Many Thanks to Lisa Kava for her help in getting the DOT to fill in the hole for now with both dirt and asphalt. As of this morning not 24 hours later the rat holes are back in the tree bed and our flower garden. I have contacted Terminix to come out again and try for more poison!! Last I’d like to mention that in 2018 Con Ed dug up the street looking for gas leaks! The sink hole is exactly where they dug the hole! Perhaps they too are responsible for the sink hole and the rats!!!!Again Many thanks to Lisa for her help!!!

    8. 75guy says:

      earth is healing

    9. Gene says:

      We are Broadway Pest services and have seen a big uptick in Rat activity in the neighborhood, with restaurants closed, those rats are moving to new territories. We are considered essential and have worked tirelessly to end them.

    10. B says:

      Get your cats ready!

    11. B says:

      Louisville Sluggers for those rats, then a bucket loader should scoop ’em out…problem solved.

    12. Wek says:

      We were informed by 311 that the city is not dealing with rodent issues at this time due to social distancing!?!?!

    13. Lori says:

      we have the same problem with rats in front of our building on Broadway between 76th and 77th. They continue to multiply. On one given night there where dozens running around. They have come out of no where!

      • B.B. says:

        IIRC there are several food places on that block including a Maison Kayser. Again with most restaurants/food serving places either closed or having dramatically scaled things down there is less being thrown away.

        No food in garbage bags (or even bags to begin with), means rats are out looking for what they can find.

        People usually don’t realize how many rats are in or around garbage bags. Especially on avenues in front of food places. Worse are when places put those garbage bags full of food either near tree beds or above subway ventilation grates.

        Rats have excellent sense of smell and also soon learn where they can find reliable sources of food. They will continue infesting an area until totally convinced food isn’t coming back. Then they start expanding their search territory.

        Above is why cannot understand why people “dumpster dive” or whatever food from garbage bags left on curb. You see them digging through bags while rats or mice are jumping out of the other side scuttling back to their nest areas.

    14. Dale Brown says:

      We have a rat problem on 79th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. We have 5 rat holes. The Rat Academy had reviewed 4 of the holes (5th hole was discovered jew three weeks ago). They suggested putting the garbage bags out one hour before garbage pickup, putting plastic bags of garbage in very tight closing metal trash cans or very tight closing heavy duty plastic containers. One can also try spraying bleach on the garbage bags.

      • B.B. says:

        Rat problem in Manhattan and really much of NYC exploded as result of two actions.

        First city banned buildings from burning trash in incinerators. Then they allowed trash to be placed out for collection in plastic bags. It has been off to the races ever since.

        Trash that once was burned daily now sits in or adjacent to buildings for one or two days. Even when it is moved to curb it goes out mainly in plastic bags. Either way it attracts and feeds rodents.

        It doesn’t help matters that many smaller five or six story apartment buildings or tenements don’t have space to store trash. So there are (often overflowing) garbage bins in front of buildings. Each night you can see rats scurrying up from sewers, catch basins, tree beds, gutters to make their way to those garbage bins.

        Six nights per week for commercial, and three for residential large numbers of plastic bags are placed on curb for collection. It is like an all night buffet for rats.

        DSNY has long since moved to two man trucks, so wholesale movement back to metal cans isn’t likely. That and one reason city moved to plastic bags was due to complaints from residents about noise sanitation made while emptying metal garbage cans.

        However facts are facts; long as an area continues to throw trash out in plastic bags, there is going to be a large rat problem.

        You may poison, trap or otherwise get rid of rats on a block, but others will soon move into that vacated territory. Again long as there is a food source, rats will continue to thrive.

        If you look at DOH rat portal map you see some areas/streets year after year have high numbers of rat sightings/evidence of live rats.

    15. RS says:

      If you really want to curtail the rat population become a proponent of Organics recycling within the DSNY Organics program (https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dsny/site/contact/organics-collection-application). The brown bins are rodent proof (if properly closed) and organic material/your food garbage (rat meals) will NOT be accessible for them to chew through plastic bags and eat.
      Follow this link to tell Mayor DiBlasio to continue the Organics program (http://chng.it/jB4J2752FW) and that a byproduct of expanding this program will be the reduction of the rat population in NYC.

    16. AC says:

      All these trees along sidewalks , , , all they do is create tunnels beneath sidewalks for rats to travel. The roots from trees either displace the soil or upheave the sidewalk thus allowing these rodents to travel unnoticed.

      Back in 2016, on West 80th when building #208 replaced their sidewalk, over 60 rats sprung out and scattered to surrounding basements. Hearing people and grown men scream in the middle of the day was memorable!

      • B.B. says:

        That is not possible. Rats do not have some sort of magical power that allow them to enter sealed basements. If doors and windows were closed, no gaps, cracks or other openings to exploit rats cannot enter a cellar or basement.

        Yes, the Norway rat primarily lives underground. Any disturbance of same or their hiding/nesting areas will cause them to scatter. But then again this is why property owners are supposed to keep their buildings rodent proof at all times. So if rodents scurry around the foundations, they cannot gain entry into building.

        • AC says:

          at BB, when you get a chance, swing by 80 street between B’way and Amsterdam (South Side). You’d be amazed at the amount of rat traffic at sunset and dusk. Lots of these old tenements have gone from Oil to Gas, resulting in abandoned ‘lines.’ Several old lines (including sewer) just serve as a highway between the building and Street curb – add a tree and they have their own park!

          • B.B. says:

            Actually there are a few blocks either do not walk down at night if possible, or if cannot avoid do so in middle of street. 80th, 81st, and often 82 from CPW right down through Broadway are on that list.

            There is tons of old/abandoned infrastructure under many UWS/Manhattan buildings.

            Unused coal cellars, old steam (from Con Ed’s direct steam lines), water, sewer (these can be from when individual homes stood on lots that were combined to form one large building), and so forth.

            Some row houses have one or more sub-basements that long since aren’t used. Root cellars (from days before refrigeration), where summer boilers or kitchens were located (to help keep heat from coal boilers or ranges from heating up house in summer), etc…

            These areas form nice voids for rats to nest. Then don’t forget under many parts of UWS there are long buried streams and creeks that can supply water. Rats must have water and you will never find Norway rats living far from a source of it.

            If you’ve ever waited for subway train along 8th avenue line along CPW you’ve seen/heard all this water. That is where all the water you see coming down from above to drains in track bed.

    17. George Grumbach says:

      The same types of ratholes have appeared (and been ignored) by the city in the tree beds on 91st Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue. In addition, the area inside Central Park to to the left of the entrance drive on 90th Street is infested by a myriad of rats. If the 89th Street history is relevant, the rat problem will be batted back and forth but various city agency for months to come, ‘Where is the Pied Piper when we need him? A lot more helpful than Mayor Bill.

    18. Sue says:

      We have (and have had ) a terrible rat problem on West 76 Street between Columbus and Amsterdam which has only gotten worse. I have seen a rat come near a stroller with a child in it by the synagogue on our block.
      Con Ed is also doing work which has stopped. Holes are left uncovered where they were working.
      Calls to 311, political reps, etc. and no response.not even a call back.

    19. Uws mom says:

      Huge Kudos and grateful thanks to Florian Krammer (rat video posted above) who gets a double award for being most public health minded New Yorker.

      Not only does he sent videos of rat activity in the neighborhood to the Dept of Sanitation, but he and his ace team at Mt Sinai have created an especially sensitive antibody test for Covid19 that has received FDA approval!!! The protocol for this test has been made public for health researchers around the globe.

      Way to spot a great source, West Side Rag! If Sanation Dept workers can safely get tested for return to work soon, it may be thanks to the work of Dr. Kramer’s team!

      • Marcia says:

        REALLY??? I would love that! But they tried carbon monoxide and they LIVED!!!!!

        • B.B. says:

          Dry ice/carbon monoxide will only work if the holes lead to a nest not one or more tunnels.

          You can generally tell when rats have a ground nest because there is a mound in the earth. Like beavers rats have a tunnel that goes down, then up to the nest. This helps keep water out.

          Where you don’t see any such mound it is likely rats are just using those holes to enter and exit tunnels that take them their nests elsewhere underground.

          Rats will travel on average 50 to 100 feet away from nest in search of food and water.

    20. Connie says:

      Park the garbage truck on the corner of a street let residents bring garbage in a bag . Truck could wait one hour . Then proceed to another stop.until worker are able to resume there regularly scheduled work time. One garbage could even monitor recycling if it’s needed. Stronger able people might help handicap individuals.all things are possible with the love off Jesus.

      • B.B. says:

        I pay a huge amount of taxes to NYC and expect services paid for to be rendered. Am not hauling trash to some communal point on an avenue or anywhere else.

        If city wants residents to do DSNY or other civil servants jobs, then there should be some sort of tax decrease or rebate on the table.

        • Bruce Bernstein says:

          so “BB” feels that if we all have to chip in, in a crisis, that the rich people (the ones who “pay more taxes”) should get compensation for doing such.

          talk about entitlement.

          by the way, you don’t get sanitation services based on taxes you pay,. that is not how government works. You get sanitation services DUE to being a resident. We ALL get (and deserve) said service, no matter our tax bracket.

    21. Bruce E. Bernstein says:

      I take exception to another one of “BB’s” comments. He/she said:

      “Yes it is bureaucratic, asinine and backwards, but what local government isn’t? They are run for and by civil servants all of whom have turf they want to defend.”

      The “bureaucratic, asinine” procedure is regarding rat tracking. It’s hard to tell exactly what the complaint is, as the procedure itself seems perfectly logical. Perhaps BB is complaining about reporting the rat sink hole to NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) instead of the DOT (Department if Transportation, not “Traffic”.) But DOHMH has expertise in rat alleviation; Transportation doesn’t.

      I am sorry about the long wait for action on this sinkhole but this is not because of a perfectly logical procedure.

      More insulting is BB’s complaint that NYC government is run “for and by civil servants”, and presumably all they (we) care about is there “turf.”

      “civil servants” simply means public sector employees. We keep the city running in good times and bad, but it seems especially shallow and unaware to make these sorts of dismissive comments during the current pandemic. Where would the city be right now without the public sector employees, who are doing heroic work? Who do you think is staffing the public hospitals, the MTA, police, fire, teachers? We continue to go to work every day, thousands have gotten sick, probably hundreds have died.

      We’re not doing this because of “turf” but because we care about our work, and take pride in it. it turns out we’re “essential” but many lawyers, accountants, real estate types, and “consultants” who get paid 3, 4, 5, times what we do — or more — are not so “essential.”

      Before the pandemic, i saw frequent complaints and put-downs in the WSR comments section of NYC public employees. I hope that the current situation changes a few attitudes.

      We don’t want or need applause every night at 7. Maybe just treat us with respect every day; and pay us a little better.