By Scott Etkin
Here are two words that you never want to hear at a Community Board 7 meeting: “Rat reservoir.”
Unfortunately, that’s how Caroline Bragdon, director of neighborhood interventions and pest control at New York City’s Department of Health, characterized parts of the Upper West Side. “Manhattan Valley is still considered what we call a ‘rat reservoir,’ meaning that it has a higher level of rat activity than the surrounding areas,” she said at a Community Board 7 Parks & Environment Committee meeting this week.
On a Zoom call, Bragdon provided an update about the agency’s ongoing efforts to combat the city’s rat population, and explained what restaurants and landlords in particular need to do to abate the problem.
Bragdon gave detailed information about the extent of complaints on the Upper West Side. Certain streets in the neighborhood have been identified as hot spots. For example, since January 2023 there have been numerous failed inspections in the following corridors:
|Location||Initial Inspections||Follow-up Compliance Inspections||Extermination Visits|
|Broadway from 103rd Street to 106th Street||19 initial inspections (14 failed)||4 follow-up visits (2 failed)||21|
|102nd Street from West End to Broadway||8 initial inspections (7 failed)||2 follow-up visits (2 failed)||10|
|79th Street from Broadway to Amsterdam||23 initial visits (13 failed)||6 follow-up visits (5 failed)||22|
|71st Street from Broadway to Columbus||6 initial inspections (4 failed)||4 follow-up visits (4 failed)||3|
The best way for concerned citizens to keep track of the Department of Health’s inspections is through the Rat Information Portal, an interactive map showing all the properties that have been inspected over the past six months and the results of those inspections.
“Because we go back and we’re continuously doing new inspections, you’re going to see a different map every day,” said Bragdon. “We really want people to go to the Rat Portal and see results, because we get so many inquiries asking about inspection results and we want people to know, they’re available online.”
Outdoor dining structures are major factors of the rat problem. Rats have been found to nest underneath or alongside the structures, where it is very difficult to manage them. “There’s no way to control a rat problem once it’s underneath a dining structure unless you take down the dining structure,” Bragdon said.
She advised people who see rat activity in dining structures to call 3-1-1, which should lead to an inspection by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Since not all restaurant owners take down structures with rat problems, the Department of Health is offering training — in partnership with DOT and Small Business Services — to teach them what to do to manage the problem.
In addition to cleaning around and below the structures every day, Bragdon said restaurants must keep their garbage in a container or only put it out on the street right before it is collected.
Dining structures that are built next to sidewalk tree planters are especially troublesome, because the dirt creates a hospitable environment for rats.
“Tree pits are a big problem on the Upper West Side,” she said. “Part of the reason is there are beautiful, old, established trees. As they mature, their roots systems grow and they lift up the sidewalk, which creates a lot of hollow voids, and this is what rats love to build their nests in.”
Bragdon has been working with the team at DOT responsible for the permanent plan for outdoor dining. She expects the new plan, which will roll out in the fall or spring of next year, to “look very different than what we have now.”
In the meantime, the Department of Health is making an effort to expand the outreach of its “Rat Academy” trainings, which teach rat-control techniques to not only landlords, property managers, and businesses, but also tenants, tree pit stewards, and community organizations.
Over the years, the agency has run hundreds of co-sponsored Rat Academy events, both in-person and virtual, including several on the UWS. Register here for the following upcoming events:
- May 24th (3:00 to 5:00pm);
- May 31st (5:30 to 7:30pm); and
- June 8th (5:00 to 7:00pm).
“We ask a community host to sponsor and recruit community members to come to the event, and then we tailor [the training],” she said. The agency’s outreach team is also available to share information at community events this summer. These visits can be arranged by contacting email@example.com.
You can watch the full recording of Ms. Bragdon’s presentation at the link.