Sep 29, 2023 - News

Charlotte’s rising rat population a sign of big city problems


Photo: Alexandria Sands/Axios

Charlotte may not have a waterfront, a champion NFL team or an entirely reliable public transit system. But there is one thing that assures us we are a big city: rats.

There’s been an uptick in rat sightings on the light rail tracks, around businesses and near dumpsters recently.

What they’re saying: Mecklenburg County Public Health is responding to more complaints about rats than years previously, director Dr. Raynard Washington tells Axios. “It’s not dramatically more at this point,” he cautions, “but we are seeing an uptick.”

Why it matters: Rats are health hazards that carry rabies and other diseases. They’re also a threat to expensive taxpayer-funded infrastructure, like pipes and wires.

  • Rat issues ramp up around this time of the year as we head into the winter months, says Andrew Rogers, vice president of business development at Matthews sustainable pest company Killingsworth Environmental.
  • “We’re getting more work and more clientele,” Rogers says. “So yes, we are seeing more issues.”

By the numbers: Charlotte was ranked the 38th “rattiest” city in America in 2022, according to national pest control company Orkin. It moved up four slots from 2021. The ranking is based on the new rodent treatments the company performed between September 2021 and August 2022.

  • Of the 20 or so rabid animals the health department identifies per year, about 10% are rats. Most are raccoons.

What’s happening: Rodents are finding shelter along the light rail tracks and in our growing metro areas, where there are plenty of restaurants with outdoor dining for rat munching.

  • Mecklenburg County initiated a new $100-a-day fine earlier this year for property owners who let their rat population get out of control.
  • The Public Health Department works with property owners to find solutions, but if they’re inactive or unresponsive to recommendations, they will face a penalty, Washington says.
  • Boulevard 98, an apartment building in University City, is the only property that’s received the penalty so far. It was fined for 32 days this past June and July.
  •  “In case anyone was wondering if Charlotte is a big city, a rat just ran across my feet at a coffee shop!” Axios’ Bri Crane wrote in our team’s Slack channel.

Be smart: It’s best to call an exterminator to deal with rats as soon as possible. An infestation can get out of hand fast. “They’re only ever going to get worse,” Rogers says. “Rats reproduce so quickly.”

  • To avoid attracting rats, garbage should be properly disposed of and sealed with lids.
  • Don’t engage with unfamiliar animals. That includes cats, Washington says. “If you feel like an animal needs help, our advice is to call 311 and get in touch with Animal Care and Control,” he adds. “Let the experts handle the animal.”

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