Meet DC’s rat rat, recording record rodent reports

WASHINGTON (AP) — When Matt Kownacki bought his two-story home in May 2017, he noticed his yard was littered with burrows, crawling with unwanted, nocturnal neighbors.

Kownacki and his wife, Alexandra, sought to eradicate the problem, so they filed a rodent complaint with the city.

The exterminator sent by the District already was familiar with their Columbia Road home in the Park View neighborhood.

“He knew exactly where and what the problem was,” Matt Kownacki said.

During the exterminator’s first visit, he treated and baited eight rat burrows in the front yard with rodenticide.

When the burrows were filled, the newlyweds thought that was the end — until their next call three months later. And then another about one month later.

Then another in December.

Since 2017, Kownacki has called the District’s 311 nonemergency number at least 15 times — more than any other resident of the District, excluding apartment-dwellers and businesses. He contacted 311 at least eight times this year.

Matthew Kownacki and his multitude of rat burrows, in Washington, DC.
Matthew Kownacki and his multitude of rat burrows, in Washington, DC. (AP/Bill O’Leary)

The Washington Post determined Kownacki lodged the most rat complaints after examining about 15,000 rodent-related calls over more than five years.

The Petworth area had the most complaints last year, followed by Columbia Heights, Capitol Hill, Near Northeast, 16th Street Heights, Logan Circle, Park View, U Street and Shaw. The analysis shows the number of complaints this year could surpass those made in 2017.

“I’m not surprised,” Kownacki said of his distinction as the most frequent rat complainer. “We’ve been dealing with rats since the start.”

District exterminators have baited more than 86 burrows in the couple’s yard, he said.

Kownacki said he thinks the problem stems from his home sharing an alley with a restaurant, which tosses waste in large trash receptacles in the alley.

The restaurant did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The stench of tossed food and trash attracts the rats, he said. Then they climb over the fence or dig under it, making a home in the couple’s yard.

“It’s out of control. Our growth is just feeding them,” Kownacki said. “I’ve lived in Columbia Heights since 2011, and I’ve never seen it like this.”

He said he is appreciative of the District’s 311 service and he will continue to use it, but wished the city did more to fix the problem.

“What they are doing aren’t really solutions,” he said. “It’s a Band-Aid.”

To decrease the rodent population, Gerard Brown, the District’s program manager for rodent control, said the city needs help from residents and businesses.

“We all have to work together,” he said.

City officials say the rodent population has risen in recent years as a result of warmer winters and an explosion of new bars and restaurants.

Under the current setup, the health department treats rat burrows, then can follow up with a report to the city’s code enforcement office. Code enforcement officials are able to issue citations to homes and businesses that violate codes.

In October, Brown said, the District’s health department will assume responsibilities of issuing such citations.

Brown said he hopes the change will lead businesses and residents to reduce activities that allow the rat population to flourish.

Despite the rats outside, the Kownackis have never spotted a rat inside their home.

The rodents are a nuisance, they said, but yard visits from unwanted guests would not have changed their decision to purchase the home in the District.

“It wouldn’t have deterred me from buying my house,” he said. “If you’ve lived here for the last few years, you know rats come with the territory.”


Information from: The Washington Post,

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