Rats! Rodents Get Their Own City Web Site

Rat Information Portal Debuts on City Web Site

The city wants to make sure rats have no place to hide, at least online.

A Rat Information Portal, complete with a searchable map of rat inspections and violations, debuted Thursday on the city's Web site.

Beyond providing advice on rousting the rodents, the site aims to encourage residents to act as rat watchdogs, using the map to track trouble spots and pressure property owners who are slow to address them.  "It's so they can better understand what's expected of the people in charge but also what they can do to help push it along," said Dan Kass, an assistant commissioner of the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The rat portal, which also offers everything from photos of rat droppings to tips on choosing an exterminator, is the city's latest move to turn up the heat on the rodents. In recent years, the city has dispatched inspectors with handheld computers to canvass neighborhoods for signs of the vermin, hired a renowned rodent expert and stepped up efforts to evict the pests from parks.

Rats have long been a feature of life in the nation's largest city, but some high-profile infestations have put a spotlight on the scurrying vermin. Television footage of rats scampering around a Manhattan KFC/Taco Bell restaurant after closing time in February 2007 became an Internet sensation, prompting parent company Yum Brands Inc. to close the location permanently and the city to ramp up restaurant inspections. Later last year, city officials acknowledged they were fighting a rat problem in the park surrounding City Hall.

Kass said the city is seeing encouraging results from its neighborhood-wide inspections, which began in the Bronx last winter. The idea is to check for infestations in an area, instead of react to complaints about individual properties.

Preliminary results show the approach is improving eradication efforts, Kass said.

Health officials aren't the only ones doing their part to combat rats, said a spokesman for the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents the owners of about 1 million city apartments.

"Owners, in general, are very conscientious about it," said the spokesman, Jack Freund. "It's in nobody's interest to have a rat infestation."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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