Rat infestation in Prospect Heights prompts residents to call on city for solutions

Rats have become a major problem in Prospect Heights, residents say. Above, a rat is seen near a burrow behind a building on Lincoln Place, between Underhill and Washington avenues. Photo Credit: Prospect Heights Rat Task Force

Residents in Prospect Heights, which has the highest concentration of 311 complaints about rats, are calling on the city to address the problem.

Rats have become a major problem in Prospect Heights, residents say. Above, a rat is seen near a burrow behind a building on Lincoln Place, between Underhill and Washington avenues.
Rats have become a major problem in Prospect Heights, residents say. Above, a rat is seen near a burrow behind a building on Lincoln Place, between Underhill and Washington avenues. Photo Credit: The Infatuation/Matty Tae

It started with one building. One Prospect Heights building and an adjacent lot overrun with rats.

“Over the course of the day, we’d see like 15-20 rodents in just one part of the block,” Carol Morrison, 64, said about the corner of Lincoln Place and Washington Avenue. 

Morrison, a life-long Brooklynite who has lived in Prospect Heights for about 21 years, started a task force in May to address the infestation on Lincoln Place. But once she and her neighbors started talking with more residents, they quickly learned the problem was larger than they thought.

“We recognized that it was not just this building, but so many buildings up and down Lincoln Place and St. John’s and Eastern Parkway,” she told amNewYork. 

A rat is seen near a burrow behind buildings on Lincoln Place, between Underhill and Washington avenues, in Prospect Heights. 
A rat is seen near a burrow behind buildings on Lincoln Place, between Underhill and Washington avenues, in Prospect Heights.  Photo Credit: Prospect Heights Rat Task Force

An analysis of 311 complaints about rat sightings by Renthop showed that Prospect Heights has the highest concentration of complaints among city neighborhoods. Based on data from 2017 and 2018, the neighborhood had an average of 529.7 yearly rat complaints per square mile. Brooklyn also had the highest total number of complaints of the five boroughs, with more than 6,500 reports in 2018.

“It’s really a health crisis and infestation,” said Morrison, who also works in Brooklyn as a social worker.

The Prospect Heights Rat Task Force began reaching out to local representatives to find out what was being done to kill the rats, which led to an interagency meeting on Aug. 19, hosted by the office of City Council Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, who represents the neighborhood.

“Let me be clear; the Department of Health, and other city agencies have worked diligently since we’re reached out to notify them of the rodent concerns in Prospect Heights,” Cumbo said in a statement. “However, their actions were not enough to stymie constituents concerns … That’s what the interagency taskforce will address.”

The Department of Health has conducted 125 initial inspections, 64 compliance inspections and 100 exterminations so far in 2019 on three blocks of concern in Prospect Heights, the mayor’s office said. 

But the DOH’s efforts in Prospect Heights have not solved the rat problem, Morrison said, and the task force is calling for the city to make their neighborhood, or the ZIP code 11238, part of its Rat Reduction Plan.

Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the Rat Reduction Plan in 2017, dedicating more than $32 million to address the rodent problem in three areas of the city: the Grand Concourse in the Bronx; Chinatown, the East Village and Lower East Side in Manhattan; and parts of Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights in Brooklyn. The plan includes replacing wire wastebaskets with steel cans, more frequent trash pickups and stronger enforcement of building violations related to rats.

In the targeted areas of Brooklyn, there has been a rat reduction of 37% in parks, 74% in schools, and 80% in NYCHA developments since 2017, according to data from de Blasio’s office.

“We refuse to accept rats as a normal part of living in New York City,” spokeswoman Avery Cohen said in a statement. 

The city is considering expanding the targeted zone in Brooklyn, a DOH spokesman said, but there is no timeline on when that will happen.

“We recognize the success of our rat mitigation efforts and will expand as necessary to ensure our neighborhoods stay clean and rat free,” DOH spokesman Michael Lanza said in a statement. 

Morrison and the task force also have called out building owners who leave trash out or ignore fines, but ultimately, they want the city to do more.

Besides problems with trash at residential buildings, Morrison says the Department of Sanitation removed more than a dozen garbage bins from commercial areas, contributing to the rat problem. The Department of Sanitation, however, says it has increased the number of litter baskets in Community Board 8, which includes Prospect Heights, by 11 since July 2018. 

“Basket removal and placement is a fluid number, as Sanitation Department field supervisors routinely gauge the effectiveness and use of litter baskets around the city, and they adjust litter basket placement as needed,” spokeswoman Dina Montes said in a statement. 

A few neighborhoods away, Borough President Eric Adams on Thursday revealed a new rat trap that caught 107 rodents around Borough Hall in a one-month pilot program. 

Adams plans to expand the program to a yet-to-be-chosen NYCHA complex and a location in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

“Why isn’t 11238 getting this?” Morrison asked.

Nicole Brown