As Trash Pickup Declines, Rats Run Rampant; Here’s What the City Will (and Won’t) Do About It

UWS rats are adorable. Photo by Paul.

By Carol Tannenhauser

On Monday night, the Community Board 7 Parks & Environment Committee held a meeting focusing on what co-chair Natasha Kazmi called, “the deteriorating conditions of cleanliness and hygiene on the streets and sidewalks, the parks and playgrounds of the Upper West Side. The problem is urgent, very visible, and affecting everyone.”

And, in many cases, it moves…darts or scampers, that is. You guessed it: “The top sanitation concern on the Upper West Side is that of the rodent population,” Kazmi said, based on a survey of 28 local block associations and 314 individuals, taken by the Committee in anticipation of the meeting. “We asked for specific streets or blocks [where the rats are], but the responses were just too many and too universal to list.”

Caroline Bragdon, from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who “oversees neighborhood rat programs for the city” was frank. “I want to acknowledge that there’s been a pause in neighborhood-level rat work in the last two years, and it’s entirely because of the pandemic. When COVID hit, our program went on pause and all of my staff and I were reassigned to COVID-related work. We were staffing vaccination pods, and doing business reopening inspections and key to the city. The good news is my staff and I returned to [our rat] work today.”

So, how long until we can get the rat problem under control, a board member asked?

“As the weather gets colder, humans will go inside and there will be less food waste. Also, rats and mice don’t do well in the cold. There will be a reduction in their reproduction and activity — assuming it does get cold.”

The second and third sanitation concerns of those surveyed were: “missing or overflowing trash cans,” and “trash in the streets.”

Marissa Yanni, of the NYC Department of Sanitation, said, “The frequency of trash collection and street cleaning is still only once a week. That came from the Mayor’s office. When we get a new mayor in January, we’re hoping that will change.”

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 47 comments | permalink
    1. Danielle says:

      I assume the photo was taken on Riverside Drive. We have a neighbor who feeds the vermin. You will see her around sunset walking along the park on Riverside Drive, leaving little red bowls out. I often walk after she has been there to DOZENS of rats, more rats then a production of the nutcracker feasting on her good will. So when it gets cold they will know that she will be there survival. While her UWS neighbors will have to suffer with being overrun with rats

      • Don Kedick says:

        This is a huge problem near the 92nd st Petco as well. Tons of food dumped out “to feed the pigeons”. A feast for the rats.

      • Carlos says:

        Someone should walk right behind her and take away the bowls.

        Can’t we just put more traps out? There are supposedly lots of people looking for jobs. It doesn’t take a degree or much else to put out then collect rat traps.

      • james says:

        There are actually two women with carts of bird seed feeding the rats almost every evening.
        One lives on 88th street and sprinkles her feed all down the block while she walks to riverside to empty her cart. I’m surprised no neighbors complain about her since she literally puts it front of brown stones and buildings
        The other women has multiple dogs with her and feeds the rats nightly too by the 88th Street steps..
        Until someone in the city cracks down on those two,the hundreds of rats in riverside will continue to enjoy their feast

        • Dani says:

          Could these women be reported to someone?

        • Ann Gary says:

          There’s a pigeon-feeder on the 4th floor of 321 West 89th St, who throws food out of the back window. This creates a feast for all of the rats in the neighborhood.

      • SL says:

        Every day I see multiple people feeding the squirrels in Riverside park in the 70s. Despite signs being up saying not to because they are also feeding rats. They should start fining people.

    2. Don Kedick says:

      Rat traps and poison won’t mean much if we don’t fix the underlying conditions that let the rat population explode. If you cut their population in half, it’ll bounce back right away as long as there’s enough trash and food waste to support them. But cut the food supply and the rats will vanish too.

    3. Sarah says:

      …Does that mean there was literally no rat control efforts for the past two years? Am I reading that right? If so, no wonder!

      • Nevets K says:

        You’re right!
        And notice this expert bureaucrat’s language: “there’s been a PAUSE…” Where do they learn this language from? I know they practice it daily. Instead, say truthfully, “WE STOPPED dealing with rats for the past two years.” And is it “entirely because of Covid”?
        Now that could not possibly be true. “Covid” did not make the decision. A person or people did. What
        person? What people? Why not say? It may have been a correct and necessary decision, but Covid did not make it.

        • Marilyn says:

          As a dog owner for the past 11 years, I don’t think there are more rats now. I think most people just weren’t around to see them.

          • SL says:

            I’m also a dog owner and used to seeing a rat run past me during evening walks esp on garbage days. Now it’s four at a time which seems more than before.

    4. Anon says:

      We need to get rid of the outdoor dining buildings. Food sometimes falls on the floor. In a restaurant the floors are washed every night. That isn’t true or the sidewalks and parking spaces that now have dining tables over them of course the rats love them.

      Outdoor dining may have kept restaurants in business during the worst of the pandemic but it is time to end ot.

      • Dani says:

        I agree.

      • Don Kedick says:

        If the problem is “food sometimes falls to the floor” then there are some pretty clear solutions that don’t involve shutting down the best thing to happen to NYC restaurants since pizza.

        • Bronx Boy says:

          Agree with Don Kedrick that we should keep the outdoor dining.

          The sheds need to be cleaned, but I think a bigger problem is that rats can shelter beneath them. They need to have some kind of fencing that allows water to flow through but doesn’t let rats or mice or garbage gather inside.

          Maybe they could also be made so that once a month or even once a week, they could be moved and the street below cleaned and disinfected. Or perhaps make it so the floor could be removed to make it possible to clean the street that way.

        • ml says:

          Rats nesting under the restaurant street sheds.
          Also the restaurant street sheds prevent proper rain/water drain-off.

          The restaurant street sheds are a huge rat issue.

      • Josh P. says:

        We leave piles and piles of trash on the street every night. Unless people are dumping entire meals onto the floor and leaving them there, the dining sheds are not the source of the problem. The only real solution is to get the trash off our streets. The community board requested a report from the city about ways we could repurpose curb space, including toward trash containers. I don’t think the city has ever responded – whats going on?

      • UWS Dad says:

        There were plenty of rats in the neighborhood before the pandemic. Also, the restaurants are required to, and do, clean the sidewalks every day. As the article said and other commenters have reiterated, the issue is that the city has stopped trying to control the rats for the last 1.5 years.

      • UWS Dad says:

        One of the worst rat areas I’ve seen is PS333 on 93rd St. Right in the middle of the block and nowhere near any outdoor dining sheds.

    5. Mark Moore says:

      I jumped out of the dining shed at Mamoun’s last week because there was a very large rat walking on the back of the bench seats. It came from inside the back/bottom of the shed and then went back in. I emailed Mamoun’s corporate office and it looks like maybe they might have removed some parts of the shed to access the rat space but I’m not sure.

      • Eric says:

        What a shame. With the city’s allowance for these sheds should have come with a responsibility from the restaurants to assure public health via cleanliness. For them, it’s just about the profits, not about functioning responsibly within a community.

        The minute the health crisis allows, the sheds should be gone. The majority of restaurants have shown a disregard for the neighborhoods they serve. We supported them; they have not returned the favor.

      • I’ve seen a big rat race INTO a restaurant shed during a lull & disappearing between 2 slats in the flimsy wall of the shed.

        Fort Knox they’re not… I mean, the whole point of these sheds is that they’re open, right? So here’s the law of unintended consequences at work yet again.

    6. Jean Luke says:

      It’s amazing my real estate taxes have gone through the roof for my small building and we can’t even get good sanitation pick up and clean streets. DeBlassio just wastes so much money with all the enormous tax revenues that come in.

    7. allison says:

      Everyone should sign up for curbside collection of food waste in rat proof brown pins. It’s a free program offered by Dept of Sanitation. Almost 50% of the contents of black garbage bags is food waste – remove the food and rats will find go elsewhere

      • Ish Kabibble says:

        I was unaware of this. Sadly, I’m in the majority I fear. Seems like a great idea. Not sure good it is in the real world though….

    8. UWSconcerned says:

      New mayor can’t start soon enough. What is our City council representative doing to put pressure on the City to help the situation?

    9. UWSGrumpster says:

      Are there any, ahem, unorthodox rat control measures we can take…that won’t hurt pets? Otherwise between the trash and the soft-headed “do gooders who feed wildlife” I feel we are outnumbered and outgunned…

    10. Melissa Bates says:

      Her comment about rats not surviving the cold bc the humans go inside? Where do you think the rats go?? Inside! Get this under control.

    11. Bill says:

      The NYC govt is fully responsible for getting the issue under control. People feeding animals, restaurant sheds, et al, ALL fall to the city to manage. The school property @ WEA and 96th is totally overun where food is being disposed.

    12. Seth G says:

      For the curious: Robert Sullivan’s book _Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants_.

      One takeaway:as long as we put garbage out for pickup in easily accessible plastic bags overnight, rats will come to the buffet!

    13. Joan says:

      The block between W. 70th and W. 71st St on Broadway is just disgusting. There should be more trash cans there since there is so much fast food (MacDonald’s, Little Italy etc.) and heavy foot traffic. The piles of bicycles and food trucks don’t help either. All the trash cans there should be the type that are enclosed. If the ones on the street are overflowing then the store owners should add trashcans in front of their stores and bag the garbage.. I ate outside at Little Italy and many people are totally oblivious to the garbage they leave at their tables or on the floor. This particular strip should be one of the ground zeros for a cleanup. Gross!

      • Cjberk says:

        Joan: you are so right. That block has always been filthy. Bicycles piled up behind the sign “no bicycles”. Trash and half eaten food on the sidewalk. Now rite aid has closed so no lighting on that block. The UWS is lost. We have blocks of empty stores from 70-80th street/Broadway. We have yet to hear an explanation of the filthy eyesore in front of Fairway where the rat infested empty pallets and garbage block the curb. The rats jump out at you at night. How can this continue to exist? Soon we will have nothing but wandering homeless, dark empty stores, and a few awful restaurants. No place to shop, no place to browse, no place to enjoy. Certainly no place to live. A slum.

    14. B.B. says:

      Have said this before, and am doing so again NYC’s rat population began exploding when city stopped allowing buildings to incinerate trash. Second blow came with allowing commercial and residential trash to go out in plastic bags.

      As NYC winters move towards being more warmer with fewer to nil long hard freezes rats can breed all year. Long as temps are above freezing, and rats can find food/water/shelter, they will breed.

      Outdoor dining is just piling onto an already bad situation.

      • ml says:

        Another NYC rat factor is overdevelopment and no zoning requirements for new buildings trash containment.

        In FiDi, high-rise residential buildings have replaced small commercial buildings, particularly Fulton/William/Nassau. The amount of garbage from these buildings is unbelievable.

        Lots of new fast foodplacestoo.

    15. George CPW says:

      The city needs to hire the pied piper.

    16. Martin says:

      Years ago I recall a rat sterilization program that was under consideration. I believe it involved rat “poison” that was laced with a sterilizing agent. Why is this no longer considered?

    17. UWS_lifer says:

      Isn’t the solution obvious…

      Just release a bunch of big snakes to kill and eat the rats. Then, after they are done, release a bunch of mongooses to get the snakes.

      Now everyone knows that mongooses hate jackals. I think you see where I am going with this. After the jackals have eliminated all of the mongooses (mongeese??) we can domesticate the jackals and let people adopt them. I mean, they are basically just cute doggies

      However, this brings us full circle to people not picking up after their dogs and making the neighborhood filthy.:)

      • UWS Dad says:

        The rats are bad but the increase in dog feces not being picked up, on every single block, is far worse.

    18. Sharon says:

      Bring back Curbside Pickup of Food Scraps to the Upper West Side. The brown bins are rat proof. this program deters rats and helps the environment. Sign your building up now.

    19. L. BRAVERMAN says:

      Another problem is stupid plastic bags, rather than the rat-proof steel containers of yore.

      I live at Amsterdam & 81 St. It was a regular street; you used to cross it in the regular way; but then because of I don’t know, maybe the bike lane, they built a tiny traffic island, a few feet by a few feet; so now the bakery throws out their garbage in large see-through bags (instead of sturdy steel containers) 3 feet from the aforementioned traffic island… which now has RAT HOLES!

      So these days rats are getting food deliveries too, gratis: from Orwashers Bakery!

    20. Vince McGowan says:

      In this new authoritarian mode of city living how about removing the right to vote from the crazy individuals who feed the rats. Cancel culture can work both ways.

      • Marilyn says:

        Indeed. If birds and squirrels can’t find enough to eat in this city: DARWIN!
        Not only are they feeding the rats; the bread they put out isn’t good for the animals they are “feeding” nor for the dog’s who eat it. It’s great for the rats, though.

    21. Marilyn says:

      For starters put BACK the trash cans that were inexplicably removed a few years from West End Avenue, Riverside Drive and Riverside Park.

      In addition in Riverside park they recently have removed MORE trash cans and made “Rat Hotels” by making unsightly, unsanitary and inconvenient “pods”of several trash cans grouped together.

      When trash cans Initially removed signs saying take your trash were put up. This is a pedestrian city and park some urban planning theory based on places people drive to for a specific outing is very different from our parks.

      The trash cans were always heavily used. Of anything we needed MORE not less.