HARLEM — Lake View Apartments is a four-building, 400-apartment complex on East 106th Street and Fifth Avenue, located across the street from Central Park and just a block from the end of tony Museum Mile.
But residents of the building say visitors to both the park and the museums that line Fifth Avenue would be shocked to learn about the giant brown and white rats that have taken over the grounds of the complex.
"Those rats are so big that they use the rat traps as dinner tables," said Jo Ann Lawson, president of the tenant's association at the building.
State Sen. Bill Perkins, who has targeted rats in the subway, has penned a letter to the city's Department of Health asking them to step in because the condition poses both a health and safety hazard.
"This is not a sewer dump. It's a major housing development on Fifth Avenue a block from world-class museums and the world renowned Central Park," Perkins said.
Outside of the building are a series of burrows the rats use to traverse the property. The rats are no longer scared off by a yell or a foot stomp.
Near the overflowing trash storage area on East 106th Street between Madison and Fifth avenues, the rats pop in and out of the burrows like a real-life version of Whac-A-Mole.
The rats can be heard squealing and several were seen foraging food from the trash area. One brown rat was seen digging a new hole while a white rat climbed from the trash area.
"I wish people could get along the way they do," Perkins said of the different colored rats. "I've been in the subways and the dump and have never seen anything like this."
The normally nocturnal rats are active all day long, which is indicative of a major infestation. The rats have made their way into a ceiling area in the lobby and can be seen as high as two stories up scurrying on scaffolding that has been in place for years.
The rat population is so plentiful that residents say hawks from Central Park are regularly seen hunting near the complex early in the morning.
Rats can spread diseases including leptospirosis and humans can be affected by the fleas and ticks they carry. The rodents are also are known for their distinctive foul odor.
Lake View residents said they are frightened for their safety and concerned for their health.
"I have to steel myself up to walk through the middle of the complex. If I see them I'll start hyperventilating. I can't breathe and I'm deathly afraid," said Angela Donadelle, who has lived at the building since it opened in 1976.
The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has issued numerous violations to the building's owners since February, according to a spokeswoman from the agency. DOH also conducted multiple exterminations following February and March inspections.
Moreover, the department reinspected the property on June 5 and issued the owner an order to abate the property after finding active burrows and rat droppings. An inspection to determine compliance is scheduled for this week.
Bessie Galbreath, who has also lived at the building since the 1970s, said she too is fearful.
"It's frightening. It's disgusting. It seems like the rats are after you sometimes," she said.
Debra Gaines, who lives on the second floor, said she has seen about 10 rats scurrying across the scaffolding just outside her building. She's concerned they will find their way into her apartment.
"I look out the window in the morning to see the weather and I see this family of rats running back and forth," Gaines said.
Other residents said they hear rats scurrying in their walls all night long.
Things are worse around the building's grounds. Dozens of holes cover a grassy area near the trash dump. Residents have tried to stuff bottles and cans in some of the holes but nothing helps. The area is littered with bones that the rats have scavenged from the trash, residents say.
Ron Dawley, CEO of Dalton Management, said they are taking steps to address the problem and said some aspects of the rat problem are beyond their control.
"The city this year is terrible. It's a neighborhood problem," Dawley said.
Dawley said that since the Parks Department stopped poisoning rats because the hawks who ate them were dying, the rat population from Central Park has increased.
To address the issue, he says the management company recently hired an exterminator to come three times a week.
They are also considering repairing the concrete in some areas and installing wire mesh to prevent the rats from burrowing. It's an idea Dawley admits has not been successful in the past because the rats found their way around the mesh.
To deal with the rats' food source, Dawley said the company is looking into hiring a private trash hauler to take garbage away more frequently than the city does.
"We are right across from Central Park. They breed there and run across the road and it's like lunchtime," he said.
Perkins said the trash, not Central Park, is the main cause of the problem and that the steps the management company wants to take and that the Department of Health have taken are not enough.
"The rats are not around because they like the view of the park. They are around because they like the food," he said. "For them to say anything other than they are moving the garbage or finding a better way to contain it is unacceptable."
The Department of Health did not immediately respond to the criticism.
Residents from the complex also aren't buying it. Lawson said the rodent problem has been an issue for several years and has now spiraled out of control.
"I don't believe the hype because they make promise after promise. That's why we want the city to step in," Lawson said. "We are treated like stepchildren in the middle of Fifth Avenue."