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The proliferation of rodents in the District has residents concerned but a city official and expert says the problem is manageable with proper maintenance techniques and practices.
“As a four-term advisory neighborhood commissioner, I have to deal with a lot of issues and rat abatement is definitely one of them,” said Gordon Fletcher, the advisory neighborhood commissioner for single-member district 5A08 and the chairman of commission 5A in Ward 5. “There’s a lot of development going on in the city and that tends to make the ground’s foundation unstable. That is where rats live. They leave where they are and they go into homes, cars, the streets, and the alleys. I am familiar with the problem of rats because I am from New York City. I can say that the rats in New York and the rats in D.C. are neck and neck.”
The pest control company Orkin in 2022 ranked the District in the top five of being among America’s rattiest cities, with it placing fourth. The District is the second-rattiest city on the East Coast following New York. The ranking is based on District government statistics of new residential and commercial rodent treatments from September 2021 and August 2022.
On April 12, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced his appointment of Kathleen Corradi as the city’s first-ever citywide director of rodent mitigation, also known as the rat czar. In the new role, Corradi will coordinate across city government agencies, community organizations and the private sector to reduce the rat population. Adams said Corradi will have a $3.5 million budget to work with.
“Kathy has the knowledge, drive, experience, and energy to send rats packing and create a cleaner, more welcoming city for all New Yorkers,” Adams said at a news conference. “The rats are going to hate Kathy, but we’re excited to have her lead this important effort.”
The District doesn’t have a rat czar but Gerard Brown, the program manager of the District’s Department of Health’s Rodent & Vector Control Division, serves as the chief responder to complaints about rats. Brown goes into the community to combat rats, speaks to groups about abatement practices and works alongside employees from other agencies such as the Department of Public Works. While Corradi will manage a new department of the New York City local government, Brown runs one of the divisions in the Health Department.
D.C. Responds to Rat Infestation
The rat infestation appears to have taken hold throughout the city and not relegated to a particular ward according to data from the D.C. Department of Health. The data reveal as of April 7, there were 6,151 requests for service in 2023 with Ward 1 leading with 1,354, followed by Ward 5, 1092. East of the Anacostia River, there were 699 and 308 calls for service dealing with rodents according to city data, in Wards 7 and 8, respectively. Brown said the perception that rats congregate in low-income neighborhoods is a myth.
“The truth is that rats appear where there is ample food and water available to them,” Brown, 67, said. “The appearance of a neighborhood has nothing to do with whether rats are present.”
On April 7, Brown led a small group of residents and media on the 1400 block of Sheridan Street in Northwest to show an example of a habitat of rats. Outside of an apartment complex in a small, dirt field near a dumpster, sizable holes in the dirt, known as rat burrows, were present. Brown’s team of employees acting as exterminators poured carbon monoxide and talcum powder into the holes through hoses. After the liquid solution’s insertion, rats scurried out of the holes to get away from the stench.
“This is a poison,” Brown said. “This will kill them.”
Brown said he and his team respond quickly to complaints about rat infestation. He said a site will receive a visit and treatment and the team will make a return trip in 14 days to assess the situation. In some instances, he will issue tickets to owners of residences, such as apartment buildings, where anti-rodent practices are not being kept up. Brown said his team will visit a site in 14-day increments until there is no rodent activity.
To get rid of rodents, Brown advises residents to eliminate all clutter around the outside of homes and porches, store any garbage in metal or heavy plastic containers with tight-fitting lids, remove weeds and debris near property, add metal weather stripping and trim doors to stop gnawing and entering underneath and seal all holes in exterior walls, floors and foundations using sheet metal, cement, or wire mesh. He encourages residents to call 311 at the first sight of a rodent.
Fletcher said Brown has performed well fighting rodents.
“When I call him on behalf of my constituents, he is on the job,” Fletcher said of Brown. He is ‘Johnny on the spot.’ He gets it done.”