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Rats! Seattle’s new regulation to ward off the pests

King County's Environment Health Rodent Program is set to help protect homeowners from rats. (AP)

Seattle is set to impose a new rat regulation aimed at the local construction industry.

“Seattle is a port city, we definitely have a lot of rats,” said Leah Helms with King County’s Environment Health Rodent Program.

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That’s right, King County has its own rodent department.

Seattle tops the list of American cities with the most rats, KIRO 7 reports. Seattle ranks no. 11 out of 50 on the list.

“In the City of Seattle, and in King County, it’s the property owner’s responsibility to deal with their rat problems,” she said.

But when the property owner is a developer who is sitting on a vacant property, rat problems can become quite significant. Especially when you consider the fact that Seattle is in the middle of a construction boom with many vacant properties awaiting demolition. With so much development going on around the city, rats will move from formerly vacant and torn down properties into neighboring homes or buildings .That’s the corner of Seattle’s rat issue that the city wants to target.

Modeling it after similar regulations in Kirkland and Shoreline, Seattle will implement a rat eradication regulation on builders starting in 2017. It basically requires developers to prove they have consulted with a pest-control agent before any vacant building is demolished. And if there is an issue, those rats have to be eradicated before the building comes down.

“That rat eradication program would have to be in place at least 15 days prior to the demolition — to ensure, to the best degree, possible that a pest control agent has taken steps to manage any sort of pest infestation on the property before the building comes down,” said Bryan Stevens with the City of Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections. “When you come in to demolish a building, where are the rats going to go? They are going to disperse and become a problem for everyone else in the neighborhood.”

Rats and development

Stevens said the regulation is a response to concerns from the health department about rat issues in recent years. The health department is in charge of inspecting complaints about Seattle rats. If necessary, the department engages in code enforcement.

“Over the last couple of years the county has reported seeing an increase in rat complaints and asked the city to partner with them to help reduce the issues coming through their office,” Stevens said. “A lot of that stems from vacant buildings.”

Helms notes that there hasn’t necessarily been an uptick in complaints, but complaints do come in more often during certain times — when people start seeing and hearing rats.

“Rat activity goes up in the spring and in the fall, which corresponds with their breeding cycle,” Helms said.

Throw development into the mix — and winter demolitions — then you have a rat problem scurrying over to all the neighbors.

“They’ll go in many directions to find a new place to live,” Stevens said. “Instead of allowing that to continue … the better approach is to require a licensed pest control agent implement a rat eradication program before we allow someone to demolish that property.”

“There are a number of (buildings in Seattle) that have been vacant for years or many months that have rat problems,” he said. “If it’s unattended they find a way in.”

For the homes that don’t want rats, Helms suggests some basic advice: remove items from your yard that will give them shelter, use a rodent-proof garbage can, seal up your home, and keep bird food out of reach.

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