Rodent complaints remain high under new rat czar



Trash set outside a Hell’s Kitchen business. Photo by Emily Injeian

The number of 311 complaints about rodents in Manhattan remains elevated compared to pre-pandemic levels, despite New York City’s renewed efforts to boost sanitation and reduce its rat population.

In response to growing public outcries for cleaner streets, the city has increased its sanitation efforts, including the mayor’s appointment of a “rat czar” and the establishment of Rat Mitigation Zones, which increase inspections of certain problematic neighborhoods. While some New Yorkers believe the new policies are a step in the right direction, those who work in Hell’s Kitchen want to see more done.

Hasan Omar, an employee at Clinton Fruit Market on 9th Avenue and West 47th Street, said when it comes to rodent mitigation that “it’s a little better” than before, but that “there are a lot of rats out there.” He hopes that the situation improves in the coming months, when limited outdoor dining means less food on the streets for rats. But he said that the city’s sanitation efforts are “not enough.”

And Omar isn’t alone.

District 3 City Councilmember Erik Bottcher, who represents Midtown, ran on a platform of improved sanitation according to his campaign website. Since he took office in January 2022, the city has instituted some new sanitation policies. This includes upping the budget for a multi-agency clean-up initiative from $8.2 million in 2021 to $14.3 million in 2022, according to a Department of Sanitation report. And since April, city council also pushed trash set-out times back from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

But these policy changes come at a price and have been implemented incrementally. The Rat Mitigation Zone program, founded in 2017 under Mayor Bill de Blasio, cost $32 million. The special service requires city inspectors and exterminators to check buildings for rat activity in certain neighborhoods more frequently than in other parts of the borough.

Currently there are two Rat Mitigation Zones in Manhattan: Chinatown, and most recently Harlem, after Adams added $3.5 million to the budget. 

But the program is not yet in Midtown. 

Many of the buildings in Hell’s Kitchen haven’t been inspected in the last six months, according to NYC Open Data’s Rat Map. For Mohammad Adam, who works at a bodega at the corner of West 48th Street and 9th Avenue, more inspection means a cleaner Midtown. “This is the best way,” he said. 

Last year’s appointment of the city’s first-ever Director of Rodent Mitigation, Kathleen Corradi, magnifies the public’s intensifying concern over rats. Reports from NYC Open Data also showed there were twice the amount of 311 complaints reported from March 2022 to September 2022 compared to the same six-month period in 2020. This year, that number has only fallen slightly, from 74 complaints to 67. 

A city hall official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press, said in an email that the designated zones are reviewed annually, and that their expansion into other neighborhoods, such as Midtown, “depends on several factors including resource availability.” The official added that while Hell’s Kitchen isn’t a Rat Mitigation Zone, it is one of the Department of Health’s Annual Indexing Zones, meaning that buildings in the neighborhood are inspected once a year. Councilmember Bottcher did not respond to request for comment. 

In the meantime, Midtown business owners do what they can to keep their properties clean and rat-free. 

Robert Melo, owner of Frisson Espresso, a café on West 47th Street, said that even with more rules around trash collection some people don’t follow them. He believes the rat situation would improve if Hell’s Kitchen residents and visitors treated the streets like they “want to be part of something,” said Melo. “Fix the problem. Don’t make a bigger problem.”