New York rats 'out of control,' says top US politician

Rats

Just ride the subway to hear people's stories of New York rats. "They're everywhere," says one traveller.

"You'll see six of them just waiting for the train," says another.

New York has been infamous for its rats for decades but now a top politician in the city says things are getting worse.

"It's absolutely out of control," says Scott Stringer, Manhattan's borough president. "They bring disease and they keep people away from this city."

ratcatcher
Sam Soto, ratcatcher

To see how serious things really are, Newsbeat spent a day with Sam Soto, a pest controller who works all over the city.

Our first stop was to a wholesale supplies shop in North Manhattan run by Sam's friend Andy.

Sam picks up traps, poison and deterrents.

"Tools of the trade," he explains. "I can't do a proper rat job without these tools."

Mega colony

From there, it is a short drive to a cellar beneath a giant apartment complex in the Bronx.

"They're experiencing a major infestation," says Sam. "It just sort of exploded overnight."

Within minutes of our arrival, a small rat darts out of a pile of bins and disappears into the wall.

We also meet David, who works in the building as a porter.

"How bad was it before we started?" Sam asks him.

"I'd come to work in the morning," says David, "and there'd be three or four rats in each area down here."

"How many areas?"

"About 35."

"You're talking hundreds," explains Sam. "It was what we call a mega colony.

"They get food down here, water and shelter.

Kicking a pile of full bin liners, he says, "these garbage bags are like a supermarket for them. This is like their favourite restaurant."

Hotline

The whole area smells of urine.

"That is the rats," says Sam. "They are constantly urinating as they are running. They normally defecate wherever they eat."

Rubbish bin in New York
New York now has a special rat hotline to report sightings of the pests

This has been a big job for Sam. It's taken his team weeks to clear out dozens of rats. But he doesn't agree that things are getting worse.

"The number of calls I've received have been pretty much steady," he says.

"You will get pockets, but it's nothing like what he (the borough president) is talking about."

Back in his Bug Off store, Andy has another theory for why reported rat sightings may have gone up.

"New York has instituted a complaints hotline," he says.

"Now we're seeing more phone calls like, 'Oh my goodness, a rat chewed my garbage bag', etcetera, etcetera.

"Before, they couldn't collect that type of data. Now they can."