Residents of Niverville Road aren’t happy with their new neighbors. In the past month, several homeowners in the area have complained of a problem they’ve never before encountered: rats.
“They’re overtaking the neighborhood and it’s just going to get worse,” said resident David Cosentino. “I don’t get riled up over too many things, but this has got me riled up.”
Cosentino has lived in his Johnston home for 23 years, but this is the first time he has ever seen rats on his street. There are holes burrowed under his concrete steps and three weeks ago, he found a dead rat on his property.
He isn’t the only one. Dawn and Richard Smith have seen five rodents in the last five weeks.
“We have a big problem – a huge problem. I’ve been here 29 years. I have never, ever had a problem with rats. This is the first year,” Dawn said. “It’s making me nervous because my grandson comes here a lot.”
“It makes me want to move,” Richard added.
Building and Code Enforcement Official Peter DelPonte visited the street over the weekend with Councilman David Santilli and saw the holes residents are concerned about, and said it isn’t time to panic just yet. Rodents are not an uncommon problem for property owners. Often times, rats take up residence near residential properties but are unknown to the homeowners.
“Rats are there, period. When you start seeing them, it becomes a stronger issue,” he said.
DelPonte visited the neighborhood on the weekend specifically so he could knock on doors and talk to residents about what they’ve experienced. He said the area is a natural fit for rodents because of the nearby water source. During his visit, though, he gave homeowners tips on how to mitigate the problem. He advised residents to make sure their grass is cut to a reasonable length and to cover and secure their trash. If rodents are eating through the plastic, he said there are heavy-duty bins that can avoid that problem.
“Any houses that had the burrows, we instructed them that they had to get a rat abatement plan. Nobody resisted doing it,” DelPonte said.
Cosentino questioned if a nearby vacant home could have anything to do with the apparent influx of rodents. Down the road from him, a house has been vacant for about a year, and there is a section of rotten wood on the back facade, as well as a backyard shed that would be easy for a rat to burrow under.
“The town is going to lose tax dollars; they’re going to have more houses like that one,” he said, pointing to the vacant property. “If the housing market wasn’t like it is, my house would be for sale.”
DelPonte isn’t convinced that the vacant home is the problem. He said there seems to be no conditions that would make it particularly attractive for rodents.
“There’s no more condition there than any other house,” he said. “Anything where you have a cavity, it’s inviting for them to take up residence below the ground.”
DelPonte reviewed the town code of ordinances and said there isn’t a specific stipulation that trash must be covered, but he advised homeowners to do so, as does Mayor Joseph Polisena.
“We rely on the residents to self-police and self-patrol their neighborhoods,” Polisena said.
In cases where yards are not being kept up, DelPonte issues an informal warning, and follows up with a second reminder. Only then does he attempt to take formal action to bring the property up to standard.
Most important, he said, is that homeowners affected by rodents should institute a rat abatement plan with professional assistance.
“It’s up to the property owners. It takes a while, but in about 60 days you can rid yourself of the excess rat population,” he said.
Cosentino believes the town should be doing more.
“This is getting ridiculous. The town just wants to act like nothing’s going on, but every day they don’t spend a dime, it’s going to cost 10 times as much,” he said.
Polisena said the town has never managed a rodent control program. Not only would it be cost prohibitive, but the mayor says it creates a liability for the town. If they intervene in one neighborhood, they will be dealing with claims all over Johnston and potentially putting the town at risk.
Still, residents in the area are uneasy about the situation. Richardo Almeida said he and his father saw a rat on their yard about a month ago. Richardo’s father has lived in the house for seven years.
“They’re around; I’ve seen them,” Almeida said. “That was the first time I’d ever seen anything.”
Elsa Ardito found a live rat in her trash about three weeks ago, which she says “disgusts” her. Neighbor Kerry Westerman too, said she has avoided going into her shed and is nervous both for her children and her dog to be outside.
Cosentino shares those fears and unsettled feeling.
“Every time you see something move in your yard, you think it’s a rat,” he said. “I don’t want to go out there; I don’t want to use the grill ... I want to bail out now if the town’s not going to do anything.”
Most of all, Cosentino says he wants residents to be educated, as rodents can carry disease and reproduce frequently. He may institute a rat abatement plan of his own, but what good will it do if not everyone does the same, he asks?
“People have to be educated on what’s going on,” he said. “We’ve got to eliminate the food source.”