Rats have always been a part of city life, but lately it seems they are taking over Hell’s Kitchen. Residents on early morning walks see them scurrying about, moving in and out of tree pit burrows; Restaurant workers stomp around in their outdoor dining structures to scare the rats off before welcoming patrons; Some brazen rats can even be spotted rummaging through trash piles in broad daylight.

311 Rat Sightings in Hell's Kitchen

Hell’s Kitchen’s 311 data for January and February show that rat sightings have doubled at the start of this year from the same period in 2021. So what’s with all the rats? 

In Hell’s Kitchen, we have a high density of residential buildings and restaurants plus lots of foot traffic from visitors. Add in the ongoing impact from the sanitation budget cuts in 2020 and this creates the perfect storm for rat activity. We have all seen overflowing litter baskets, piles of garbage bags out for collection, and poorly sealed residential trash cans. If you haven’t, check out the YouTube video below that was filmed outside 358 West 48th Street.

YouTube video

Organic material like food scraps make up about a third of our waste stream. By making it mandatory for all residential buildings to participate in curbside composting, we would remove a big chunk of the rats’ food supply. Diverting all that organic material from the landfill to be made into compost will save the city millions of dollars in waste export fees down the line, while providing valuable nutrients for our parks and green spaces. 

In addition, requiring comprehensive sanitation plans as part of the permanent outdoor dining program is a must. The current structures are vulnerable to becoming havens for rats if they cannot be cleaned daily with bleach or routinely treated by a pest management company.

So what can we do about it? Include an incentive for restaurants to participate in the Clean Curbs Program. This pilot program allows businesses to apply for permission to build waste and recycling containers in the parking lane or on the sidewalk. By dedicating a few feet of space to rodent-proof waste containers, we can solve multiple issues — no more piles of black garbage bags on the sidewalk, and preventing access to food scraps to deter rats from hanging around. 

Rat in Hell's Kitchen
Rat sighting on W47th Street and 10th Avenue. Photo: Steven Herring

If residents, property owners and businesses work together, we can reclaim our neighborhood from the rats! Check out the Department of Health’s “Rat Portal” at nyc.gov/rats to learn more about neighborhood rat indexing on your block.

Want to get involved? Join the West 47/48 Block Association on Saturday, March 19 from 11:30am-2pm at Fountain House (425 W47th St) for a Day of Action Against Rats and Litter. We will be joined by Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, District 3 Council Member Erik Bottcher and representatives of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Department of Sanitation and Manhattan Community Board 4. You will be able to learn about rat reduction measures, talk to local businesses about proper waste management and attempt to fill in some rat burrows. Hell’s Kitchen Litter Legion will be on hand for the clean up portion. Sign up here for the event.

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