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Just in time for Halloween, New York City Council has passed laws intended to scare away the Big Apple’s rat population — with policies designed to limit trash on the street, add more rat-proof refuse containers and new construction site regulations which were sponsored by Hell’s Kitchen’s Council Member Erik Bottcher in his first bill.
The multi-point Rat Action Plan, passed by the City Council on Thursday, is designed to combat rats in their favorite places: trash bags, vulnerable buildings and construction. The headline measure is moving the time trash can go out to 8pm, in hopes of avoiding “rush hour rat buffet”.
And it digs into the city’s ongoing construction-rodent connection — District 3’s Bottcher sponsored the construction portion of the bill, known as 442-A, mandating that permitting for construction requires the certification of a licensed exterminator to effectively treat the premises.
Local advocates were happy to hear of action being taken, as Hell’s Kitchen’s own sanitation hero and Litter Legion founder Catie Savage told W42ST that having witnessed the regular relationship between buildings under construction and a rise in rats, she was happy to see Council Member Bottcher’s portion of the bill go into effect in Midtown, where construction and renovation outrun much of the rest of the city.
The plan mandates buildings with previous rodent violations to install preventative rat-proof trash containers. It also designates that specific areas of New York develop rat mitigation systems, including in Hell’s Kitchen.
“Construction causes enough issues without having to also worry about increased rat activity,” said Council Member Bottcher. “I’m proud that my bill with Borough President Mark Levine will ensure that rodent abatement is a part of any large construction project moving forward. I want to thank my colleagues for their support of this bill and Chair Nurse and Speaker Adams for supporting this entire package of legislation.”
The legislation does not, however, mention a solution for rats taking up residence in the city’s parked cars, which W42ST reported on in August as car ownership increases in the wake of the pandemic.
In a city where rats are a feature of life and have even achieved celebrity status, the passing of the bill inevitably generated a viral moment. “The rats are absolutely going to hate this announcement…but the rats don’t run this city — we do,” added Department of Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch in a now-viral clip addressing New York’s newest mitigation strategies intended to tackle the significant uptick in the city’s rodent population.
According to official city reports, rat sightings have increased 71 percent from 2020. Earlier this year W42ST crunched the numbers and showed how winter 2022 had been rat-infested.
In addition to Council Member Bottcher’s legislation, the plan will implement laws sponsored by Council Member Chi Ossé requiring the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to issue an annual report on the effectiveness of rat mitigation efforts throughout the city.
“Today, we declare that rats will no longer be the unofficial mascot of New York City. This Council is passing the Rat Action Plan as a response to the tens of thousands of rodent sightings and complaints made across the five boroughs,” said Council Member Sandy Nurse, Chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management and a sponsor of the legislation.
“The Rat Action Plan will make significant progress toward making our city cleaner, with stronger rat mitigation activities and greater accountability. To continue our efforts against rats, I look forward to working with my Council colleagues on further legislation to achieve our city’s Zero Waste goals.”
In Hell’s Kitchen, Savage said monitoring the Rat Action Plan’s effectiveness will be key. “It’s a really great first step, and we’re moving in the right direction — its success will depend on the enforcement aspect of these policies,” she said of the legislation.
Savage added that regardless of changing the time of day for trash pick up, the key to mitigating rats is to limit the amount of time that trash sits on city streets. “Rats and trash go hand in hand — and whether it’s 4pm or 8pm, the less time that the trash actually sits out before it’s picked up, the fewer rats there will be,” she added.
As a next step, she hoped for the continued expansion of the city’s composting program, noting that “finding an alternative stream for the kind of trash that really attracts rats in the first place” would significantly alter the interest of scrap-seeking rodents.
Members of the City Council expressed what seemed like wild optimism that this was the beginning of the end of the rats. Sponsoring Council Member Shaun Abreu said: “New Yorkers will not have to fear as many rats hiding in late-night shadows, or more frequently, rampaging through our subway system and sidewalks without fear.”
There is little consensus on why the rat problem has got worse. Exterminator Bennett Pearl of Positive Pest told W42ST back in August that he’s “not buying” outdoor dining as the source of the increased issues, adding the sheds are “not the reason rats are in residential zones — or why entire blocks where there’s not a commercial store on the block have rats running around the during the day”.
Instead he raised a more worrying theory, that the pandemic’s closures had created a Darwinian strain of super-rats. “When commercial zones shut down, they were literally starving to death, and only the strongest survived — which is very scary to think about, because they’re basically rats on steroids, and it’s all the smartest rats left.”
W42ST has reached out to Pizza Rat for comment and we will update if we hear back.