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Fraser, Clinton Township

September 26, 2012

Residents can take precautions to curtail rat problem, officials say

By Nico Rubello
C & G Staff Writer

FRASER/CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Jeff Celani always viewed Fraser as a respectable community, so he became quite furious after spotting at least a dozen rats near his home this summer.

“One day we had, in daylight, four rats running past our sliding glass door,” he said, adding that he maintains his lawn regularly and believes the rats are coming from other properties. “I do have grandchildren who come over and play in the yard, and the last thing I need is for them to find a dead rat.”

But Fraser is far from the only city to have experienced a spike in rat complaints this year. Communities like Warren and Sterling Heights have also reportedly taken up the fight against rats.

Gary Budchuk has been addressing rat complaints since he started as Fraser’s code enforcement official six years ago. But lately, he said, he rarely goes without a day without receiving some complaint about rats from a resident.

“The typical complaint would be that they’ve seen rats, (but) they don’t know where they’re coming from,” he said. “(People) are frustrated in that they know that they saw one, but where is it living?”

Budchuk said the absence of cold temperatures this past winter, which normally curb rat populations, as well as the lack of snow, which covers up their food sources, may well have contributed to the problem.

“We had what most people consider a beautiful winter — so did the rats,” he said.

Rats commonly take refuge under such things as concrete slabs, wood piles and sheds, which offer them a source of shelter under which they can build nests. Small holes — nests always have more than one — are telltale signs of a rat lair. The resourceful rodents can squeeze through holes as small as a half-inch wide.

“A lot of people think they’re snake holes when they first see them on their property,” Budchuk said.

As a rule, rats are looking for food, water and shelter, said Clinton Township Building Superintendent Mike Gentry.

While there may be no way to completely eliminate rats, take any of those away and they’ll have to leave. That’s where basic property maintenance, which is usually enforced anyway by municipal ordinances, comes in.

In Clinton Township, most of the rat complaints have come from the south end, from properties that aren’t maintained, Gentry added.

Officials say keeping grass cut, making sure wood piles are at least 1 foot off the ground and keeping tight-fitting lids on garbage cans can help.

Garbage left on the ground or in plastic bags also may attract rats. Metal trash containers are better than plastic ones, which they can chew through.

Pet waste also should be picked up as often as possible, and compost piles should be turned regularly. Both serve as a food source.

Also, local officials recommend removing stagnant water, pet food and debris — such as  junk cars, car parts and tires, which may offer harborage — from outside. Bird feeders may attract rats, even if they are off the ground, since birds often drop seed.

Rat walls, which are required under all permitted sheds, help curb the population, as well. Rat walls are underground walls — often 24 to 42 inches deep — that keep rats from burrowing underneath.

Local officials say cooperative residents who want to help address a rat problem on their property probably won’t receive a citation should an unpermitted structure be found.

If you see what you think is a rat hole, call for help, because the problem isn’t going to go away on its own, Budchuk said. Filling the holes won’t help, because the rats will likely just dig others, he added.

Fraser officials also have been recommending rat boxes, which hold poison within, but have small openings to keep pets and children out.

In the meantime, residents like Celani hope the problem will subside as residents “step it up” and take basic precautions.

“Everybody needs to chip in and clean their yards up,” he said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Nico Rubello at nrubello@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1118.