YORKVILLE — When the sun goes down, the curtain goes up on the neighborhood's "rat circus."
As darkness descends onto East 88th Street each night, horrified neighbors said dozens of rats can be seen welling up from holes in tree pits along the street, scurrying on sidewalks, digging through garbage or fighting with each other.
"I've witnessed on a nightly basis a circus of rats going back and forth between an alleyway to the eight or 10 bags of garbage at the curb," said Matthew Duemesi, who lives in a second-floor apartment on the street near First Avenue.
"Sizeable rats just take control of the street. They made their way into our planters. They have underground tunnels. I watch them come across the street. They'll fight and come across. One of them came into the lobby. The problem persists."
The vermin seem to be especially concentrated on the northwest corner of East 88th Street and First Avenue, according to residents. And while the rats normally retreat by day break, each morning they leave behind a scattering of rat feces on the sidewalk, and holes in the tree pits from their tunneling.
A maintenance worker at 339 E. 88th St., who did not want to be named for fear of retribution, said that the rats aren't in his building, but confirmed that the area was infested with them. He's tried putting down wire mesh around the tree pit outside his building to deter the rats and has put out traps, but nothing has worked.
"The rats eat through the wire mesh we put down," the worker said, pointing out the holes in the tree pits and a hole in the gutter that he's seen the rats also use.
"They're huge...and if you want to kill 1,000 rats tonight, you'll see 10,000 more tomorrow morning. [The city tries] to blame the buildings, but it's the city that needs to fix the problem," he added.
Residents believe the rise in rat numbers seen on the street started about two years ago when construction of a new condo tower Citizen360 began at 1660 First Ave., and they've multiplied and grown in size ever since, they said.
The problem has gotten so bad that the city's Department of Health has assigned case managers who oversee the rat extermination at 339 E. 88th St. and 355 E. 88th St., both of which were slapped with a total of over a dozen violations for rats.
The health department has sent exterminators to the 335 address six times last year, and to the 339 building at least 10 times in 2016, according to DOH spokeswoman Carolina Rodriguez.
"In addition to intense baiting and ongoing monitoring, our staff will work with the property owners of these buildings to help them in their pest control efforts," Rodriguez said.
Those living in the apartments did not answer a reporter's doorbell, and both companies that own the buildings did not return calls for comment.
But the scourge of rats extends past this particular block. A whole swath of the Upper East Side has been identified by Mayor Bill de Blasio's $2.9 million "Rat Reservoir Program" as a chronic problem.
The area — between East 96th and East 80th streets, from Park to First avenues, and some points farther east — falls under the reservoir program, which means that it's had a history of high numbers of properties with failed rat inspections, according to the DOH.
"[The rats] they stand up on their hind legs and wave to me and they're getting bigger and fatter, which means food is not being disposed of properly. Plus, whenever there is major construction, it wakes up the rat nests so we tend to see a lot more of them during and after new construction," said Jim Clynes, an Upper East resident and chairman of Community Board 8.
A spokeswoman for Anbau Enterprises, the developer behind the Citizen360 project, said the company is working "hand-in-hand" with a third-party professional exterminator to make sure that monthly checks are being done and necessary bait and traps have been set.
"We will continue to utilize their services until construction of the project is complete at which point building management will take over these responsibilities," said spokeswoman Kathryn Pleiss.
Clynes said CB8 is planning a "rat academy" event in the spring to teach residents and business owners how to prevent rodent infestations, but on Jan. 31, the board will discuss this specific infestation with the Department of Health.
Here is a map of the area identified by the city under the reservoir program as having chronic rat issues:
CB8 will discuss the 88th Street rat infestation with the Department of Health on Jan. 31 at 6:30 p.m., in Lenox Hill Hospital at 131 E. 76th St.