DOHMH Establishes Rat Mitigation Zones
Prepare for more inspections and tougher enforcement for violations in these zones.
In a recently published notice, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) announced it’s holding a hearing on proposed rules governing the creation of Rat Mitigation Zones as mandated by Local Law 110 of 2022. Last November, Mayor Adams signed this bill into law, which directs the DOHMH to create these zones. This bill was signed at the same time as the bill allowing the Department of Sanitation to determine when buildings must set out their garbage and recycling to reduce the time that trash sits out on city curbs.
According to the notice, the DOHMH considers the following criteria to determine whether a community district, or any part of the community district, should be designated as a Rat Mitigation Zone:
Commissioner orders to abate. The number and percentage of inspections for properties within a given community district that resulted in an abatement order issued by the DOHMH in a 12-month period, and the location of such properties within such community district.
City agency referral letters. The number and percentage of inspections for properties within a given community district that resulted in the issuance of a city agency referral letter by the DOHMH in a 12-month period.
Summonses. The number and percentage of inspections for rat activity for properties within a given community district that have resulted in the issuance of a summons in a 12-month period, and the location of such properties within such community district.
Rat exterminations. The number of rat-baiting visits by the DOHMH at properties within a given community district in a 12-month period, executed by the DOHMH following a failure to comply with an order to abate.
Reports to 311. The number and nature of 311 requests for service or complaints related to rat activity within any 12-month period within a given community district.
Susceptibility to rat infestation. The number of properties that are managed by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation that are susceptible to rat infestation or have failed inspection for rat infestation in a 12-month period.
Availability of resources. The availability of resources to implement rat mitigation measures and the most efficient use of such resources.
The notice identified four zones across three boroughs the DOHMH designates as Rat Mitigation Zones. The notice notes that identifying these zones won’t limit or prevent the department from any nuisance abatement or other pest control activities in areas not designated as a Rat Mitigation Zone, including with the same methods used in a Rat Mitigation Zone.
Rat Mitigation Zone Community District Borough
Chinatown, East Village, Lower East Side Zone 103 Manhattan
Harlem Zone 109, 110, 111 Manhattan
Grand Concourse Zone 203, 204, 205, 206, 207 Bronx
Bushwick, Bedford Stuyvesant, Prospect Heights Zone 303, 304, 308 Brooklyn
Increased Enforcement in Zones
As part of a recent announcement regarding the appointment of Kathleen Corradi as the city’s first-ever citywide director of rodent mitigation, Mayor Adams drew attention to the Harlem Rat Mitigation Zone. He announced that four city agencies will invest $3.5 million starting in fiscal year 2023 to launch an accelerated rat reduction plan in the Harlem zone. This zone includes 28 NYCHA properties, 73 NYC Parks locations, nearly 70 DOE schools, and over 10,000 private properties.
The funding will accelerate rat mitigation work in this zone and allow testing new and emerging technologies to fight rats, including:
- 19 full-time staff and 14 seasonal staff to inspect, exterminate, and maintain or clean public spaces to prevent “mischiefs” of rats.
- New equipment, like tilt trucks, to better contain and manage waste and extermination supplies, such as bait, traps, sensors, fumigation machines (including Burrow RX and CO2 machines); Rat Ice; and exclusion methods, like wire lathe around structural rat burrows and landscaper fabric designed to keep pests out.
- Eight new “Rat Slabs” at NYCHA Douglass Houses and Johnson Houses, a rat mitigation tool to harden earthen floors and prevent rat burrowing.
The announcement also indicated that there will be increased proactive inspections and enforcement from the city towards private properties. Owners in other zones can expect similar protocols. Private properties will be inspected twice annually for rat-related violations, and issued violations accordingly. City locations will be inspected monthly.
The city also stated it will offer Harlem-specific rat academies in the coming months. These are free training courses in rat management for community members, which include property managers, superintendents, and building staff.
Health Department Inspection Process:
Rodents, Insects, and Other Pests
Article 151 of the NYC Health Code requires owners to keep their properties free of rats and other pests and to address conditions that can lead to pests. Owners may have to hire a pest management professional when appropriate.
If a tenant submits a rat complaint to 311, the complaint gets routed to the DOHMH and inspectors will be sent to investigate the situation. The Health Department will inspect the property within around two weeks of receiving the complaint, unless the property was recently inspected.
If Health Department inspectors find signs of rat activity on a property, the owner will receive a commissioner’s order by mail to fix the situation. The letter will include an inspection report detailing the findings, guidance on how to fix the problems, and department contact information.
About 10 days after an inspection, the Health Department will conduct a follow-up inspection. If the conditions haven’t been corrected, the owner will receive a summons. The owner can appeal violations to the NYC Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.
If a summons isn’t dismissed, it can lead to fines of between $300 and $2,000. The Health Department may provide rat management services on properties where the owner fails to do so. Owners may be billed for this work.
Signs of rats outside of your building can trigger a violation notice from the DOHMH. In one case, the DOHMH issued a violation notice to an owner based on findings of “active rat signs” in violation of NYC Health Code Section 151.02(a). The inspector observed fresh droppings in the backyard of the landlord’s building. At a hearing, the landlord didn’t dispute these findings but submitted a letter from a pest control company stating it had placed bait boxes in the area cited.
The administrative law judge ruled against the owner, finding no indication of ongoing remediation measures. The owner was fined $300. The owner appealed and lost, as the owner was required by the Health Code to take measures as may be necessary to prevent and control the harborage and free movement of rodents. The owner failed to show that measures were in place on the violation date, or that there were ongoing, long-term measures in use [DOHMH v. 540 West 189th Group LLC, July 2022].
Indoor Allergen Hazards Law:
Pests and Indoor Air Quality
Allergens are substances in the environment that make indoor air quality worse. They can cause asthma attacks or make asthma symptoms worse. Common indoor allergens, or triggers, include not only mold but pests such as mice and rats, and cockroaches.
In New York City, Local Law 55 of 2018 requires that owners of buildings with three or more apartments to inspect units annually for indoor allergen hazards and keep their tenants’ apartments free of mold and pests. This includes safely fixing the conditions that cause these problems. Leaks that can cause mold, and cracks that allow pests to enter can lead to allergen exposure, so properly repairing these conditions as soon as they are observed is the best preventative action for tenants and property owners.
Under Local Law 55, owners must use integrated pest management (IPM) practices to remediate the presence of pests such as mice, cockroaches, and rats, and any underlying defects (such as moisture) that may have caused the infestation. IPM practices require you to do the following:
- Inspect for, and physically remove, pest nests, waste, and other debris by High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) vacuuming, washing surfaces, or otherwise collecting and discarding such debris;
- Eliminate points of entry and passage for pests by repairing and sealing any holes, gaps or cracks in walls, ceilings, floors, molding, base boards, around pipes and conduits, or around and within cabinets by using sealants, plaster, cement, wood, escutcheon plates, or other durable material;
- Eliminate sources of water for pests by repairing drains, faucets, and other plumbing materials that accumulate water or leak;
- Remove and replace saturated materials in interior walls;
- Attach door sweeps to any door leading to a hallway, basement, or outside the building to reduce gaps to no more than one-quarter inch; and
- Use pesticides sparingly, and only when applied by a NYS-licensed pest professional. Note that any pesticide applied should be applied by a pest professional licensed by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Use of pesticides cannot and does not replace the need to use IPM practices to address the infestation.
- Under the law, owners are required to inspect apartments at least once a year, and more often if necessary, when an owner knows or should’ve known of a condition that causes a pest infestation. In addition, you’re also required to inspect or eliminate the presence of pests when a tenant notifies you of an infestation or requests an inspection of a condition that’s likely to cause pest infestations.