New Yorkers can smell a rat.
Vermin complaints to the city health department went up last year to 24,586, from 22,300 in 2012, according to an audit from city Comptroller Scott Stringer. And the report chided the agency on its handling of rodent reports and field inspections.
"Rats are a daily, stomach-turning insult to New Yorkers," Stringer said in a statement. "Without a vigilant and timely response by the city to citizens' complaints, this problem will come back to bite us again and again."
According to the audit, there were instances when the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which is responsible for pest control, should have failed a property during inspection and incorrect details were logged into its system. The audit also showed that the agency blew its 10-day window for initial inspections on a quarter of the 18,415 complaints it looked at last year.
For the 386 inspections where properties were requested to clean up last year, 44% of them, or 171, lacked an assessment needed to get the agency to remediate the problem.
The Health Department strongly rejected Stringer's findings and his auditors' conclusions. The agency said that the comptroller's report looks at a small number of complaints that make up 15% of its initial inspections. The rest of them are done through an agency program in which inspectors go through every block and lot of an area with an infestation, regardless of whether a complaint was lodged.
"We believe the auditors reached incorrect conclusions because they focused only on complaints while ignoring the fact that complaint response is a small part of the Department's overall approach to discovering where rats are present, notifying owners about how to respond, and carrying out targeted efforts to exterminate and prevent rats from reemerging," the Health Department said in a statement. "By not considering the larger program, many recommendations would lead to less efficient use of personnel and agency resources."