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Tis the season for pest control.

Rats are proliferating around the city and building owners must be vigilant to ensure the furry beasts don't find their way inside. No area is immune as rats burrow comfortably in the city parks and sewers and often find themselves merely tunneling or crossing nighttime streets to find their way into the toniest residential buildings. They are seen on subway tracks and at construction sites, rummaging through garbage cans, climbing out of sewer openings or interrupting summer picnics in elegant city parks.

Keeping them out of the building in the first place is most of the battle, say the experts. Once rats find their way into a building, a pair can produce babies twice a year, both in summer and winter.

According to Julius Kelly, president of Fat Rat Extermination, the litters range in size from six to twelve and those in turn can reproduce within six months. That means if a pregnant female finds her way inside, within a year, 500 rats or more can be ransacking your property.

This burgeoning population is being seen by the exterminators, who are getting more calls to get rid of the rats. Ben Weisel, president of Metro Pest, said he used to get 95 percent of his calls for roaches and only five percent for rodents. That 5 percent is now up to 15 percent of his business. "There has been a considerable increase in the rat population," he explained.

Kelly says rats carry many diseases, including Marine typhus fever, leptospirosis, infectious jaundice, rat bite fever, trichinosisand, as mammals, are susceptible to rabies, although rats and other small rodents rarely pass it on and none has been documented in the area.

Most of those diseases are thankfully not normally found in this area. Mice can also pass on hanta virus, but again that is quite rare and not normally found in the Northeastern United States. And rats also carry their own itchy baggage in the form of fleas and ticks. The bubonic plague that is still found in this day and age in India and the Southwestern United States is carried by rat fleas, while ticks carrying Lyme disease can also be found on rats, albeit more in the suburban areas of the metropolitan area than in the concrete jungle.

But every year, many children and adults are bitten by rats in their very own beds, and that is not something city officials take lightly.

The Department of Health therefore takes rats very seriously and the schedule of fines reflect that concern. Fines can easily range from several hundred dollars to $2,000, depending on the severity of the infestation and actions the owners takes to quell the problem.

Restrict Entry

To ensure that rats don't make a nest in your building, Weisel says the "key thing is exclusion."

The best way to keep rats away from the inside is not to make it comfortable for them outside or around the building. George Baque, Jr., vice president of Arrow Exterminating, said owners must make sure all the debris around the outside of the building is cleared and there is no stacked firewood or other debris that provides perfect hiding and nesting places.

"Close any openings, like a section of missing weatherproofing around garage or other doors, and clean window wells," he said.

There should also be no open or broken concrete where the rats can burrow into buildings, advised Weisel. Garbage should be kept in closed metal containers with tight-fitting lids both inside and out.

Rodents look for shelter, they seek food and they like water and moisture, said Kelly. Therefore, Weisel says you want to make sure the place is dry and there is no rat food available, i.e. garbage or other food items. "Anytime people are feeding pigeons or birds, the rats will come and get what is left," noted Baque.

And to ensure they don't get inside, make sure the sewer line is capped or the rats will come in directly through the waste pipe.

"They walk through that pipe and if it's uncapped inside the building, they walk right in," Weisel said. While some owners just have a piece of wood as a cap, that often rots away or is easily tipped over by the strong vermin. "You need a metal plate on it and if it is open, that's a no no," said Baque.

The rats also come up the main water pipe coming into your building, noted Kelly and "can bite through the actual piping."

Rats, he noted, have the charming ability to bite through certain metals. To illustrate the strength of their teeth, Kelly uses a hardness index wherein iron equals 4.0; copper equals 2.3 to 3.0; aluminum equals 2; and lead equals 1.5. Rat teeth, however, equal 5.5.

If the building is near a sump pump or water basin where water drains, owners or superintendents should monitor the area and either cut overgrown weeds themselves or let local officials know about the problem, advised Baque. Smaller towns are more responsive, of course, than places like New York City.

When construction is going on, the digging also disturbs rat nests, Baque noted, and the rats, therefore, have to find a new place to go. What you don't want is for them to find your building to be an attractive alternative.

Finding Them Inside

While mice can be found in apartments, as they are small and easily walk inside walls, up pipes and nest behind kitchen sinks, the larger rats normally are located on lower levels of the buildings.

"We don't find large rat infestation in apartments, but we find them in compactor rooms, storage rooms, and basements," Weisel said.

Rats also go undetected longer. Sometimes, the first sign is a burglar alarm that no longer works, as rats are attracted to them and chew through these wires. "They are gnawers and you have to worry about alarm wires," said Baque.

Other ways of determining if your building has a rodent problem are through the urine smell and the droppings.

Mice are also a problem for building owners. "If you have one you don't have the other," explained Kelly. When it comes to mice, tenants often see the small droppings in the pantry and kitchen and alert the managers of the building. "They also seem to be easier to catch," said Baque, "but that doesn't mean that we haven't had problems with mice."

Rat droppings, however, are large and range in size from one to four whopping inches, said Kelly.

They are also active at night, starting one half hour after dusk. "Usually after the house has become quiet," Kelly said.

That's when the residents or night security officer might hear noises made by the rodents scratching and shuffling around.

"Call an exterminator when you see droppings or if it bites a child," advises Kelly. "The rats are very dangerous and the [city] can fine you on the basis of a tenant complaint."

All exterminators need to be licensed just to buy the special chemical baits that are not sold over the counter. "They should be able to show you their license," Kelly added.

Catch Rats First

When Weisel is called in for a job, the first thing he does is try to catch as many rats as possible, before using any poisons. The exterminators all noted the stench of dead rats is quite terrible, and their object is to make sure the rats are removed and only a few need to be killed.

Baque said his company does not use poison and instead uses sticky traps and spring traps: the old fashioned mousetrap. But those built for rats, he warned, can easily break small fingers and need to be placed behind refrigerators or in places that children cannot get to and people will not walk on.

"Use either glue boards or rat traps baited with peanut butter, salami, marshmallows or chocolate," he said, "whatever the rats are used to eating."

They also use a bait that is similar to that which makes cats regurgitate hair balls. "The rats can't regurgitate and they start bleeding internally," explained Baque.

Another rat-associated product is a power that Weisel uses that is walked through by the rats. Then they lick themselves off "just like a cat" and ingest the poison. The powder can also be brought back to the nest by nursing mothers and helps to kill off the entire family.

For places like day-care centers or in commercial food preparation areas, Weisel said he uses a sonic device to move rats to a different location before he sets traps and bait. "Then we use a combination of baits to exterminate the rest."

Kelly said the over-the-counter baits "don't work." All the exterminators said the poison Warfarin is no longer used, primarily because much of the rat population is resistant.

Violations

If the building is issued a Department of Health violation from the Bureau of Pest Control, the owner will have a certain amount of time, about 30 days, before there is a re-inspection. Weisel says the exterminators will go there and thoroughly treat the area and document the treatment in writing for the investigators.

There are a series of three inspections: The first time the owner is given some time to correct the situation, and after a second inspection, if it is untreated, it will go to a third inspection before the owner is called to a tribunal hearing.

"Typically I see fines from $200 to $500 on the first offenses," said Weisel. "It would have to do with the severity of the problem and conditions at the building."

Sometimes there are very difficult rat problems, said Baque. "They've gotten caught in traps and won't go near them, or we have to go to different baits," he explained. "Then we have to go back two or three times a week. We have to play every one by ear. Every rat job is a custom job."
COPYRIGHT 1996 Hagedorn Publication
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:New York City
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jan 3, 1996
Words:1663
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