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City Council hears testimony on so-called 'Rat Bill'.

Ridding the city of rats should not be the sole responsibility of the real estate industry, an industry official told New York City Council members Sept. 20.

"We need to work together on this problem. It cannot be one industry's or one person's responsibility," said Nicholas LaPorte Jr., Executive Director of Associated Builders and Owners of Greater New York Inc.

LaPorte was among those who testified before the City Council's Committee on Housing and Buildings regarding bill Int. 677, which would require builders to conduct rat abatement before digging a foundation or doing other earthwork. Council Minority Whip Stephen Fiala, R-Staten Island, introduced the bill in January. If passed, contractors would be required to submit certification that appropriate trapping or baiting had been completed before receiving a new building or demolition permit.

Proponents of the bill say construction projects are contributing to the city's rat problem and builders should be held responsible for helping to address the problem.

"Our purpose is not to blame the construction industry, the city, or any other entity," said City Councilman Bill Perkins, a sponsor of the bill. "This is not a simple bullet but nevertheless, it is a giant step in the right direction."

Opponents, however, argue the method of rat abatement prescribed in the bill will do little to accomplish the goal. Rats nest a few feet below the ground and come to the surface after excavation is done, not before, so abating rats on the surface prior to digging is useless, they argued.

"While we have all seen the rat population roam the streets and parks, they settle very comfortably in nests several feet below the ground. The root of our problem lies not with building sites but with the environment that we have created with our sanitation practices and collection methodologies," LaPorte testified.

In 1999, the city issued 4,673 new building permits and 2,381 demolition permits. This year from January to August the city has issued 3,225 new building and 1,832 demolition permits, according to Stanley Shor, Chief of Staff at the city's Department of Buildings.

The city has long grappled with rat infestation, but interest in the issue resurfaced after news stories were published claiming large numbers of rats were found at Baruch Houses, a public housing complex on the Lower East Side, and Gracie Mansion. A few months ago, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced the formation of a city task force to determine ways to reduce the rat population.

The city's Health Department does not keep figures on the rat population but some estimates put the number at six rats for every city resident. Although rats can carry disease, health officials say they are more of a nuisance than a health threat.

The Health Department's Pest Control Program conducts inspections, exterminations and lot cleaning to eliminate rodent shelter and reduce the overall rodent population. The department also responds to complaints and investigates reports of rodents on private property. Owners who fail to comply with city orders to abate sites of rats are subject to fines, said James Gibson, Assistant Commissioner Veterinary and Pest Control Services for the Health Department's Bureau of Regulatory and Environmental Health.

"Major building activities frequently disrupt rodent habitats, bringing them to the surface where they can infest nearby neighborhoods. This problem is already addressed in most, if not all, city-financed building projects. This legislation would extend rodent abatement to all building projects in the city," Gibson testified.

LaPorte said the root of the problem lies with the city's sanitation practices and waste collection methods.

"Every night we leave a virtual sidewalk buffet for rats to feast. The placing of food waste in plastic garbage bags that are readily gnawed into by the rat population provides ongoing sustenance contributing to their growth and propagation," he said.

LaPorte suggested the city should collect garbage more frequently or require that it be stored in more solid containers.

"If you put rats in an empty lot and denied them food they would be dead in a very short time," he said.

The committee took no action on the bill Wednesday.

Council testimony of Nicholas LaPorte Jr, Executive Director Associated Builders and Owners of Greater New York

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, my name is Nicholas LaPorte, Jr. and I am the Executive Director of the Associated Builders and Owners of Greater New York, a real estate trade association, representing more than 100.000 and owners in the City.

I would like to thank Chairman Spigner and the members of the Housing and Buildings committee for allowing us to testify on Intro 667.

Once again I am appearing before this body to deflect another proposal that seeks to lay the responsibility for resolving a problem square on the real estate industry. While I understand that there is a compelling need to deal with this issue, Intro 667, is clearly no the appropriate mechanism.

Intro 667 will accomplish very little in the war against the rat population in the City. This bill requires the baiting and trapping of rats on a building site, prior to the issuance of a building permit.

Baiting and trapping rats on the surface does not come close to successfully dealing with the problem. While we all have seen the rat population roam the streets and parks, they settle very comfortably in nests several feet below the ground. The root of our problem lies not with building sites but with the environment that we have created with our sanitation practices and collection methodologies.

Each night, in every neighborhood of the City, we leave a virtual sidewalk buffet for rats to feast. The placing of food waste in plastic garbage bags that are readily gnawed into by the rat population provides ongoing sustenance, contributing to their growth and propagation.

Sporadic extermination programs performed by the City are not sufficient to stem this tide. The burden of this battle must fall on the City through more creative sanitation disposal methods that reduce or eliminate feeding opportunities.

Food waste must be handled in a manner that either removes it from the City's sidewalks or disposes of it in receptacles that are more reliable than plastics bags. I would suggest that the City encourage the use of food waste disposers as a way of dealing with this issue.

Adding this component would mean that an exterminator must be brought in, traps have to be set and baited and a period of time must pass to ensure successful extermination. This will add thousands to the construction bill for a process that is flawed from the onset. The larger the site, the more expensive the process. Imagine the logistical problems on a development site in Staten Island where several hundred acres may be involved. This is an expensive and intrusive requirement.

In a time when the City is desperately seeking ways to encourage the construction of affordable housing, this bill is introduced that adds another hurdle to the building process, a process that already requires expediters.

In summary, we at the Associated Builders and Owners are strongly opposed to this legislation as it once again lays responsibility at the real estate industry's door for a duty that clearly belongs to City government. This legislation would result in an ineffective process that will add time and expense to the cost of construction and add one more reason to the list of why builders shy away from New York City.

Once again, I would like to thank the members of the Housing and Buildings Committee for listening to us on this important matter.
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Author:KEITH, NATALIE
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Sep 27, 2000
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