Rats are coming out of the woodwork in Brookline — sometimes, quite literally.
It’s a problem the town is working on, but some residents say it’s not doing enough and have taken matters into their own hands.
Brookline resident Lisa Coady said she has spent thousands of dollars to keep the rats out, after seeing them scurrying across her backyard and driveway and worrying that they would find a way into her home.
She fenced off her porches, and when that wasn’t enough, she took her efforts a step further.
“I hired these guys to come to do the front porch because it was just too big a job,” she said. The workers got under the porch, filled all of the potential entry holes with concrete, and rewired the area.
As an extra precaution, she says the workers dug a two-foot deep ditch and filled it with stones, building what she hoped would be an effective “rat moat.” She’s also paying a company for ongoing pest control.
Coady is not alone. The rat population in Brookline exploded during the pandemic, a phenomenon which occurred in many cities as sanitation practices changed and the rodents moved to new areas seeking food. According to the town, this led to a 300%-400% increase in complaints last year.
“My neighbor next door had a little five year old and during Covid, she couldn’t play in her own backyard because there was so much rat poop and urine,” said Fran Perler, a Brookline resident who filed a petition in January to increase funding for rodent control. “All of us had rat poop all over our driveways, our front walks. My 89-year-old neighbor had a rat come up to their first-floor toilet.”
Marilyn Rosenbaum joined forces with Perler to petition the town. While they were collecting signatures at a local laundromat, she said people were lining up to sign.
“People just were like, where can I sign? Tell me, tell me.”
Town tries to fight back against rats
In response to growing public frustration and the increase in complaints, Brookline adopted a Rodent Control Action Plan in October.
The town now uses its central complaint system BrookONline to track reports of rats. It also bought new rat-proof waste receptacles, and has contracted with a pest management company. The company, Modern Pest, set up 45 above-ground traps that lure and kill rodents, as well as five sewer pipe systems. Since their installation in 2022, 345 rats have been caught, with 273 caught this year, according to town data.
Director of Public Health and Human Services Sigalle Reiss said in January 2023 there were 154 reported rat sightings. In February there were only 17, and there were 51 in March. (April’s data has yet to be released.) But she cautions that complaints are not a perfect measure of the rat population because they are dependent on human reporting.
“We don’t know what the baseline rodent population is out there, and we can’t measure whether we’re actually reducing it,” she said.
While complaints might come in for a particular location in town, she explains, “the actual problem is bigger, it’s just under the street.” The town is also noticing an increase in rodent activity in sewers.
Rats know no borders
Town Administrator Charles Carey says the current number of rats is at “an unacceptable level” and he warns with peak rat season approaching, it’s imperative that the town work diligently to bring the population down.
However, he cautions it will “be a marathon, not a sprint,” adding that the rodent explosion is not unique to Brookline.
New York City and Somerville have hired “rat czars” to control the rodent populations in their cities, and Boston is currently considering introducing a similar role.
Trying to control Brookline’s rat population is costly and time-consuming, and the town is still working to implement its long-term goals. Carey said the town’s rodent plan calls for around $700,000 in funding. Last October, the town shifted $200,000 of federal funds targeted for Covid-19 testing to start putting the rat plan into action.
For fiscal year 2024, the town is budgeting $500,000 for the plan, of which $226,000 will come from the override passed by voters on May 2. The override funds will help pay for an enforcement specialist at the Department of Public Health, and pest control and food safety consultants, according to the town’s financial plan.
Businesses asked to do their part
Still, community members, like Coady, Perler, and Rosenbaum, say they want to see more from the town. Rosenbaum calls it a “quality of life” issue.
“Families around here really have been traumatized — many of them — by having rats in the park where kids play. It’s unfortunate,” she said.
Town officials say businesses also need to help solve the growing rat problem.
Austin Radbill, owner of the Coolidge Corner ice cream shop Far Out, says that for him, hiring an outside pest control company was a no-brainer.
“We knew that this was going to be something we’d have to spend money on,” he said, adding that they had been warned of rats in the area before selecting the location.
At the upcoming Town Meeting, members will vote on a proposal to increase fines on businesses that do not comply with waste removal regulations.
In the meantime, Carey said the town, residents and businesses all need to do their part to try to keep the rats at bay.
“We’re all in this together,” he said.
For more information about the rat situation in Brookline, visit the town’s rodent resources page.