A friend of ours lucky enough to live in a Chelsea apartment with a rear patio noticed she had company this spring: A gypsy contingent of rats was using her rear wall as a superhighway to the restaurant next door, occasionally detouring to her place for a refueling stop.
As pest management expert Gil Bloom explains it, our friend's experience is not uncommon.
“It’s often a matter of your neighbor’s sanitation,” says Bloom, the vice president of Standard Pest Management. “If you see a restaurant next door putting their garbage out improperly, that needs to be addressed.”
Rats favor restaurants that don’t put their garbage inside metal containers; dump grease (illegally) down drains; store food like bags of potatoes outside against a wall; and conduct food prep like vegetable chopping in the backyard, leaving lots of edible morsels behind.
A neighbor like that can boost your local “rodent profile” from low (you may never see a rodent in your yard) to rat-terrorized.
Find Your Next Home
Talk to the restaurant and/or call 311 to file a complaint, and check out NYC’s rat portal for information on mounting a rat crackdown in your own neighborhood.
Also take steps to make sure your own space—or the backyard next door—isn’t a rat magnet:
1. Don’t be a rat buffet Rats only need an ounce or two of food a day, and even a piece of roll, a beer or cup of soda qualifies as a nice meal.
So clean up after barbecues and your dog (rats eat THAT too). If you have a garden, fence it in with hardware cloth, which looks like metal graph paper. (This will also help keep out squirrels.)
2. De-clutter, de-clutter, de-clutter Rats commonly dwell in foot-deep burrows, not just the subterranean depths of sewers and subway tunnels. Moreover, like all rodents, a rat thinks of itself as a hunted animal, explains Bloom.
“That’s their profile in nature, so they prefer sheltered areas. If you have woodpiles or clutter or chairs stored against the wall, they’re more likely to be there than in an exposed area,” says Bloom. “If you have ground cover, like ivy, you might want to reconsider as rats like to burrow underneath sheltered areas.”
3. Put out poison “bait stations” You can buy child- and pet-resistant bait stations and rodenticide at hardware stores, or use professionally laid traps for larger areas.—i.e. rat poison-- at the hardware store. It usually only takes one feeding to ingest a lethal dose, but 3-5 days to actually kill.
(Bloom says rats scuttling around in broad daylight, against their natural nocturnal urges, have usually either been starved out of the nest by dominant rats or are dying from poison.)
What doesn’t work, according to Bloom:
- Red pepper spray: You have to reapply it every time it rains; if you touch it and touch your face afterward, you will be unhappy; and the spicy stuff doesn’t even make it into the mouths of rats that are chewing and gnawing
- Mothballs: Not only do they not keep rats away, but they’re easily accessible and poisonous to dogs and small children.
- Repellent sold in garden stores: It washes away in the first rain.
4. Eliminate straight lines Rats are “linear” by design and habit, says Bloom. “They like long lines—so don’t leave a lot of pipes and wood with long straight lines to run along.”
For more tips on rat-proofing your space, check out NYC’s illustrated rat prevention guide.
Rat proof garbage bags?