BUSHWICK — Health officials want local residents to think like rats in a bid to rid the neighborhood of the beady-eyed pests — or face fines for not doing more to get rid of the rodents.
The city's Department of Health said it plans to inspect every property in the area and fine offending owners whose properties attract or harbor rats.
The out-of-control rats have created a "crisis" in Bushwick due to loose or overflowing trash, leading the health department to undertake a sweeping survey of the neighborhood to help combat the scourge.
"We’re teaching the area how to think a little like a rat," said Carla Toro, from the DOH's Office of Pest Control, at a Community Board 4 meeting Wednesday night.
"No food — no rats. No water — no rats."
Yves René, Brooklyn borough manager for the DOH, said a government-funded project four years ago that included providing residents with 7,000 trash cans with lids helped cut the rat population in half. But he said the sly creatures have recently proliferated again.
"If a chicken is flying out of the window to the street, rats will still have food to eat," René said of residents littering leftover food, insisting that open garbage containers and litter were the number-one cause of the problem he called a "crisis."
"We can do baiting until we’re blue in the face," he said of poisoning the current rodent population. "But until we all work in unison, we’ll have a rat situation."
After inspecting each property in Brooklyn's District 4, the Department of Health will post results to a map on its website, said René, adding that the agency will send notices to each rat-infested property owner offering to educate them on how to take action. If a property owner fails a second inspection, he or she will be fined.
"I've been to a building where the owner said, 'You need to help,' and when I showed up I found at least 100 diapers behind the house," René said. "These were not clean diapers. This is why the responsibility is on the owner and tenants."
Residents at Wednesday's meeting complained that the trash problem extended beyond their properties, including rubbish outside schools and fast-food restaurants, and on vacant lots.
"The agencies need to talk to one another," said resident Joena Bennett, regarding the Department of Health's communication with other city agencies.
"These are respectable, responsible homeowners, and we're getting a civics lesson for elementary schoolers," she said, triggering applause.
René said his agency would work to communicate better with the Department of Sanitation, as well as conduct workshops in schools and with other local organizations about the infestation.
During a rat’s seven-month lifespan, it has about 48 babies — or four litters of 12, René explained. With less food available, the mother would give birth to litters of just four babies each, and baiting could kill off the majority of the living rats.
Still, the city can never be rid completely of the rodents.
"They've been around here long before we were," René said of rats. "And I have a feeling they'll be here long after we're gone."