'Rat city': Is Seattle's rodent problem getting worse?

SEATTLE -- Rats. They’re every city’s dirty little secret, and Seattle is no exception.

“There’s a lot more than people would like to think,” said Don Pace, an inspector for Seattle & King County Public Health’s Rodent Prevention Program.

Exactly how many live in the region? Pace said there’s no way to count, but “it’s a lot.”

“I’d say we’re outnumbered,” said Chris Pape, a Seattle & King County Public Health inspector in-training who previously worked for a local pest control company.

According to Orkin’s annual survey, Seattle is the ninth rattiest city in the country, and some say it’s getting worse.

“I’m extremely busy,” said Eric Oland, better known as “the rodent guy.”

Oland owns Puget Sound Rodent Exclusion Specialist and has been ridding homes of rats for 20 years. These days, he has more business than he can handle. “It's pretty much constantly ringing off the hook.”

The question is: Is the rodent population growing along with the city?

“I think certainly people are being more vocal,” said Oland.

“It's being reported more here,” said Pace. “I'm pretty sure there's rats everywhere.”

Pest control specialists and King County health inspectors agree: There aren’t more rats, just more sightings and more people calling to complain. Two things that may be contributing to the issue are demolition and new construction.

“Anytime you disturb the environment, they're going to scatter,” said Pace.

Pace added that sometimes tearing down an old home can push not only the human residents out but the rat residents as well. That’s why ever since January 2017, the city of Seattle no longer issues demolition permits unless the applicant includes a plan for rat eradication.

The King County Health Department is also doing its part to contain the rodent problem by baiting the sewers, but they admit they are not trying to kill all the rats.

“They’ve been here longer than we’ve been here --  to expect to get rid of them is impossible,” said Pace.

Bill Levin had rats in his Ravenna home in the '90s.

“It was very alarming,” said Levin. “It's disgusting.”

Recently his daughter, who lives nearby, found she had rats in her garage.

According to Oland, Ravenna is just one of many neighborhoods with a plethora of rats.

“There aren’t worse areas, there are less bad,” said Oland.

Oland said he gets the most calls from residents living in Seattle neighborhoods north of the cut. That includes Ballard, Fremont, the U-district, Wallingford and north Seattle. Oland goes as far as to say that at some point, every home in Seattle will have a rat problem.

“They all have rats,” said Oland. “They think as long as they don’t see them, then they’re not in the living space, but they’ll be thriving in the attic space or in the crawlspace.”

A covered home and consistent food supply are the keys to keeping rats around older homes; those that have holes, rock walls and greenery are a rats’ paradise.

There are a few things you can do to keep the rats out: don’t leave bird or pet food out, keep your trash neat, tend to your compost but most of all, don’t ignore the problem. If you think you have rats, call someone because the problem can only get worse.

“It doesn’t take long to have them get seriously out of control,” said Oland.