Cambridge Rat Discussion

Here are my notes from a meeting the City had about rat issues on 3 October.

When a rat complaint is made, Inspection Services Department (ISD) is notified about the concerns and they let staff know.

ISD will investigate an area and look at trash cans out on the road, etc., but their real authority is not trash on the public way (that is DPW) but the sanitary code. Commonwealth Connect, the City’s online citizen issue reporting system, has a rodent sighting option. But the City’s complaint management system See/Click/Fix does not do ticketing, which can complicate things as tickets are managed in a different database.

A rodent search on the City’s open data portal page states who has been cited by address, and a lot of other things, and ISD is updating its website to better cover some of the City’s rodent issues. But you need to call ISD directly to ask about the status of particular citations.

Citation Process:

90% or so of citations are mailed to the owner of the property, who is then given 7 days to respond. Then ISD reinspects and if nothing has been done they may resend the citation or put it on a door hanger. Then they come back and check the property again. Eventually, if the issues are not resolved they can go to court but these cases are taken at criminal court and the judges don’t view them favorably so it’s not that effective a way to address the problem. However, if someone does not show up for court, the court may issue a warrant for that person and that can get them to pay attention to the underlying ISD citation about rats.

Citations, which cover anything under the code, do not come with fines. It’s just an “Order to Correct” the violation. We could add a monetary fine if we wanted to, though. That would be a conversation for ISD to have if public sentiment, or other factors, pointed in that direction. We fine for improperly shoveled sidewalks and get over 50% collection but for the folks who don’t pay, the City would have to go through the trouble of going to court to collect. The City can already issue fines for improperly handled trash but not for rat infestations in general.

Dumpsters are covered under our dumpster ordinance and fines can be issues for violating that. The license for a dumpster can even be revoked. Construction dumpsters also need licenses.  Restaurant inspections include dumpsters as that is attached to the food permit and the milk permit.

The City believes that education on rat mitigation is important, so citations should be clear on why folks are cited. That information is in the citation.

Without rat activity, as opposed to a rat sighting, ISD will not comment on rats as an problem for a property. That is, they need to see some evidence that rats are there rather than just field a complaint that someone saw rats there.

Some people may lack the capacity for whatever reason to address rats (not enough money for an exterminator, mental health issues that result in hoarding, etc).

Owner may get an exterminator and then the City interacts with the exterminator to determine if relevant issues are being addressed. If an owner has gone to a professional, the City thinks the problem has been solved, though it may still ask for a report. All of that can take a lot of time and the result may still be that the issue does not get solved. But the owner can do the extermination or other actions personally as well- in either case, the City will check to see what is happening and if it seems that the problem is solved, for example if the trash cans are properly covered and that was the citation, the case is closed. If trash can covers become an issue again, a new case is started.

Even if an owner addresses all rat issues properly, the problem may not be solved as rats are often a neighborhood-wide issue. Cooperative efforts are very important in such cases and working with people who want to address the issue can be a more effective way to move forward than trying to get non-cooperative people to participate. Eventually, the non-cooperative parties are often brought into the program through court and, maybe, warrants, but that is a huge amount of effort and the case may be continued and stay with the magistrate for a while as the rat issue gets resolved. Through it all, neighbors have to stay involved and let ISD know of ongoing concerns as ISD may think the problem has been solved when it hasn’t.

The City baits on its own property but does not do extermination work on private property. It also cannot recommend any particular exterminators. And City construction documents are very detailed in rodent management requirements. Plus ISD will pass out information before a City project to help people understand how to manage rodents. But construction tends not to bring in new rat problems, though it may make existing rat problems worse. Prior to the King Open demolition, the City did 960 inspections in the neighborhood and had no complaints about rats during that process. Before a demolition project, the structure has to be free of rats.

City staff cannot go on private property unless invited except if it is reasonably open to the public.

While ISD works on trash and harborage issues on a property, DPW works on trash issues starting at the curb and has a lot of information about rat mitigation on their website. They have an evening inspector covering the next day’s route.  There is a whole regulatory program around trash– trash cannot be put out until 6 PM the previous evening and plastic bags (no kitchen bags) must be put out the day of collection (which, technically, could be 12:01 AM).


4 Responses to “Cambridge Rat Discussion”

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  3. jmeese says:

    I live in Agassiz. There was a huge uptick in the number of rats in my neighborhood when there was large-scale construction work going on all along the Red Line. This included Lesley’s Lunder Arts Center and all sorts of work near MIT. Construction included pile-driving and other foundation work that caused great vibration and noise. Current mitigation measures for construction sites just aren’t up to the task. Cambridge, Somerville, and Boston all need to work together to mitigate the rat population because the critters can migrate. There’s a great deal of planned and permitted construction, so this concern will extend into the future. While making sure that dumpsters have snug tops is important, its even more important for all construction sites to employ mandated, robust, state of the art, mitigation measures, in my opinion.

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