“Rodents in the Alley – Help!!”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Jennifer

“Dear PoPville,

I live in Columbia Heights and I’m dealing with a rodent problem in the alley behind my house. I even saw one enter my car’s engine which could mean they are nesting in there and that could cause not only damage to my car, but affect my health.

My upstairs neighbors have reported it to 311 and the rat abatement guy came out however he said they can’t get rid of the nests that are on private property without the owner’s permission and our neighbors are denying them entry.

What can I do?? Help!!”

38 Comment

  • You can’t do anything about your neighbors. If you want you car to be rat-free, you could park it on the street, or at DC USA. In Columbia Heights, that’s pretty much the sum total of your options.

  • brookland_rez

    Time to start up the car and fry some rats! With any luck they will be caught in the fan area.

    • jim_ed

      As someone who has had small rodents die in my engine bay, the resulting smell is not something you would ever hope to achieve.

    • Lots of animals hang out under car hoods, especially during the winter. Your best bet is to bang on the hood a few times to scare them out before starting.

    • A rat or some other furry creature was living in my roommate’s car engine too. It created some belt issues that required some $$$ (that she didn’t have at the time; she was between jobs). So yeah, rats suck.

      • When I lived in Adams Morgan, I twice had to have work done on my car because rats had chewed cables. (And I wasn’t even parking directly in the alley — just in a gated lot with alley access.) I think it was about $150 each time.

    • Emmaleigh504

      ack the smell!

    • maxwell smart

      My AC once pulverized a mouse. The smell took months of cleaning and airing out to get rid of.

  • I’ve seen the rodent guy going into properties without permission – when the gate is open. He didn’t go deep into the property, just where the trash cans are kept.

    My trash can has teeth marks at the top with a hole the size of a fist.

  • What can you do? Move. Seriously, though, you can minimize rats even if you will never eliminate them completely. Rats basically want two things. Food and shelter. Get rid of both. Make sure your garbage cans are always closed and that there is never, ever any garbage or food on your property that they can get to. Cut back any low, dense plants that provide safe nesting places. If there is access for them to get under a patio or parking slab, seal it. If you have nothing on your property that they want, they will go somewhere else. Try to get your neighbors to do likewise. I lived in Columbia Heights for 13 years. There were lots of rats in our alley, but I managed to get them away from my house. Good luck.

  • DC1

    Hmm.. call a condo association meeting? Not sure if you’re talking about the neighbors in your same building or adjacent houses. If it’s the latter, just start dumping food items in your neighbors yard/property to send the rats their way… I’m pretty sure they’ll end up calling 311 for mercy.

  • Talk to your neighbors perhaps?

  • I have heard/been told by mechanics that ammonia keeps them away and that you can pour some around the area of your car and maybe even in the engine area.

    • Never had to deal with it, but I’ve heard that keeping an ammonia soaked rag in a coffee can or similar under your car will help. Whatever you do, don’t pour or spray ammonia on any part of the car or under the hood as it’s corrosive.

  • Any chance the “Alley cat allies” are coming by? this happened in out alley behind fairmont. These nuts (yes I said it) would leave plates of kibble in the alley. I could sit on my balcony and watch the rats have thanksgiving dinner. The rats are not scared of the cats. My neighbors used to yell at the old ladies to stop doing this but they ignored them. Most of them drove up in their cars, left food and drove off so it wasn’t their problem to deal with.
    Call 311. Sometime the City can trap rats or at least identify problem areas even on private proptery. Make sure any oversize dumpsters from apt buildings are fully closed. I used to complain non stop about the apt complex next to mine because they had these small dumpsters and would overflow with trash so people just stopped trying and would throw the trash bags on the ground.

    • And why wouldn’t you just go out to the alley 3 minutes later and throw away the food? Annoying, for sure, but at least you wouldn’t have a rat buffet next to your home.

  • Help address the problem by making sure you aren’t feeding the rats. Trash placed in an alley can days before the garbage is picked up provides food for rats and encourages the population to grow. Avoid this by keeping garbage in a rat proof container (metal can, for instance) and put the trash out the night before or morning of pickup. If everyone did this alley rat populations would collapse.

    The city’s rat abatement plan doesn’t address the problem – it just kills rats with poison while allowing ideal rat-festering conditions to otherwise continue. The poison is bad not just for rats, but also feral cats and other animals, including birds of prey, that can and do come into contact with it. I have no idea why the neighbors turned away the rat squad, but I would turn them away for the reasons stated above.

  • Put a cat in the engine. Simple and cheap solution.

  • Ditto KenyonDwellers comments.
    FYI, if you have a big giant hole in your trash can, PLEASE get a new one or patch the hole up. I know it probably wasn’t your fault that the trash can was destroyed by rats, but allowing them free/easy access to more food is just making the problem worse.
    The only other piece of advice I’ll give is that if you have a nest/burrow on your property, you should fill it in. Dirt will not work, flooding it with water will not work. The way to do it is to cover the hole with thick wire mesh, and then take a mixture of broken glass and concrete and place inside and on top of the burrow entrance. The broken glass may sound like overkill, but it’s about the only thing that I’ve tried that has worked well.

  • nothing to add other than our alley just off 14th between monroe/newton is literally *infested* with rats.

  • We had this problem in Columbia Heights a few years ago. several of our neighbors went door to door around the block surrounding our alley and got the DOH rat abatement form signed, then arranged with DOH to come on one particular day to do rat abatement on the whole alley. Everyone either left their gates open, left someone home to let DOH in, or left keys with a neighbor. With the entire alley treated, the rat problem was MUCH better. We also set up a block-wide google list to communicate about such things in the future. It has been pretty successful so far.

    • Shaw_Girl

      +1. I used to live in Columbia Heights and we also had a really bad rat problem in the alley for a while: dead rats smushed into the pavement from people running over them with their tires, jumping out of garbage cans when you walked by, making little nest homes under the hoods of cars, etc.

      It got so bad that eventually a group of neighbors organized a cleanup, which definitely helped. Our neighborhood commissioner, Patrick Flynn, also ran on a platform of rat removal (you bet he got my vote!) and it looks like he is still at it: https://www.facebook.com/VotePatFlynn/posts/818676251534869

      So that might be another venue, working with your neighborhood commissioner.

      Hope it gets better, I know how awful it is!

  • I had rats living in my car for about 5 months when I lived in Adams Morgan and parked behind the Reef. I tired everything, literally everything (cayenne pepper, ammonia, wolf pee, etc), and the only thing I found that worked was popping the hood of my car when it was parked and holding it up with an old two liter bottle or something about 10 inches high. Rats like tight warm spaces so the top of your engine is where they will start to build a nest and then chew all the stuff under your car hood. Creating space and air under hood keeps them away.

    • Couldn’t that help someone steal your battery, though I suppose a new battery would cost less than repairs for rat damage?

  • Had the same problem in our alley. I used to clean up the alley and behind neighbors houses to try to reduce the number of rats, but it was no use. When you have neighbors who just don’t care, it is a losing battle.

    I bought two acoustic rat repellant devices a few years ago. They emit frequencies that are apparently painful to rats. They run 24/7

    I plugged one in at the back of my house, facing the alley, and another at the alley (my pooner roll down door had an extra plug I used) to really blanket the area. They alley still has lots of rats but rarely do I see any sign that they’ve been in my back yard area (used to be a lot of rat poop, but no more).

    • “I bought two acoustic rat repellant devices a few years ago. They emit frequencies that are apparently painful to rats.” When I was looking into these (ultrasonic repellents) — and doing a LOT of research on rats and how to deal with them –, I read that there was no real evidence that they actually worked.

      • Some makes are likely different from the rest. All I have to go on is the immediate disappearance of what used to be a lot of rat poop on my back parking pad / patio area.

      • Had a pretty bad problem with some Norwegian rats in basement apartment a few years back. (Note: Those things were so nasty, almost cat-sized.) Tried the acoustic deterrents, absolutely useless!!! For better or worse, the only thing that worked was a massive chemical warfare offensive. No kids or pets at the time, but it still sucked to have to go that route.

    • Can you recall, which product you purchased? (brand/model)

  • I have been told that if you spray some WD-40 under the hood of your car it deters the rodents from nesting under there as they do not like the smell. I wouldn’t use too much or spray it on parts that get too hot, but it is probably worth a try.

    • Might work, but don’t spray too close to the windshield/back of the engine bay. The air inlets are usually located around there, and it would be awful to make the whole car smell like gasoline.

  • We had construction right behind our building occur in Adams Morgan with a new building going up. This meant a lot of rats were unearthed and went looking for shelter in other places, including our condo building’s coutyard (they crawled under the fence). This led to one neighbor accidentally bringing in a rat in her Sunday morning paper! Our condo building management company had pest control come out to put these big black boxes in our courtyard. They are about the size of an XBox and plastic, kind of heavy. Thus far they seem to be working and we are still seeing rats from time to time, but not nearly as often. The boxes apparently have poison of some kind in them that makes the rats sick and they die. Maybe your building can look into those? Put one near your car?

  • Neighbors in my alley got together to have a regular abatement service the alley monthly. Pay to have a bait station placed in the alley and yearly fee of about $60. Get enough people involved and you can accomplish a lot between this and calling in the DOH when things get really bad.

    I had to laugh at this headline though. I don’t think there is an alley in DC without rats.

  • Had lots of rats around the building and cause car damage multiple times in Adams Morgan. We tried every poison, expensive trap and sound machine. The only thing that works are the big live traps.

  • The only thing that I’ve found to work is to buy some cheap ground hamburger at Giant, let it sit in your fridge until it’s well past its expiration date, mix it with a box of rat poison, roll some poison meatballs, and toss them down every rat burrow you can find. The rats will love eating this horrendous concoction and will die about 3 to 4 days later. The biggest risk is neighbor dogs or cats eating these and also getting poisoned.

  • Another infestation extermination method is a garbage can half full of water with a ramp and a few apples floating as bait. The rats run the ramp, jump in for the food, and die. This is the sort of approach to take if you have rats that have reached the “rats in a sewer in a movie” level of infestation. My introduction was industrial grain stores in developing countries. It’s also super effective in the controlled environment of your cellar or basement.
    If you don’t have a rat problem this may just attract a few more rats, it is a serious danger to small children, and you need to add some chlorine to kill off mosquito blooms.
    Incedentally you can use this method without water in the garbage can to live catch an escaped rodent pet.

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