January 7, 2008 11:35 PM   Subscribe

Rats!? Found some droppings at home, freaked out. Now what?

We've lived in an apartment for 2 years without any prior evidence of vermin. We just had a run of rain here and this morning found rat droppings around the floor boards of the kitchen and dining room. No actual rat siting, no open or tampered food containers anywhere, no obvious holes in the walls. We cleaned up the place and basically bleached the apartment.

Do I now nuke the place (or make my landlord), give the landlord notice and move, or hope it's an isolated incident and take a wait-and-see approach? Is there another option I'm missing?

Thanks guys.
posted by drpynchon to Home & Garden (17 answers total)
Rodent wars can't be won easily. Block off open holes where you can: steel wool, spray foam, whatever it takes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:46 PM on January 7, 2008

Are you sure they're rats and not mice? Sometimes, at this time of the year, a field mouse will make its way inside.

The obvious answer: keep things neat and clean and get a cat.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:49 PM on January 7, 2008

Are you certain they're rats? A rat turd is the size of a grain of wet rice; a mouse turd is the size of a grain of wheat. At any rate--and I hate to be the one to break the news--if you've got rats, the unfortunate reality is that for every one rat you see, you have ten more hiding elsewhere.

You need to contact your landlord immediately and ask him or her to get an exterminator up to your place, pronto. You might also consider buying a few rat traps--here's my earlier comment about how to use them. You should know that rats are some of the wiliest beasts on earth and under no circumstances should you underestimate their intelligence. It's disgusting, I know. Good luck.
posted by fandango_matt at 11:51 PM on January 7, 2008

Place traps along the common trails they use. You can buy traps that capture them alive for about $20. Poison will be eaten by the rats and they will die inside the walls, causing a funk to permeate the are for a couple of months
posted by P.o.B. at 11:53 PM on January 7, 2008

In our long-running battle with rattus rattus, here's what we found:

Spring traps work only on young, stupid rats. Older rats are generally too smart and steal the bait or trip the trap with impunity. If you are going to try traps, bait them with peanut butter, not cheese.

(This article, which is full of interesting information about rat deterrence, suggests baiting the trap but leaving it unset until rats are "feeding well" to increase effectiveness.)

Glue boards are apparently effective, but we thought them just too horrible.

Electronic deterrents (the Pesticator and the like) worked for a while but eventually seemed to wear off.

Poison bait blocks ultimately worked the best. Yes, there's a chance they'll die in the walls, but our rat casualties either went outside or picked a fairly conspicuous location in which to shuffle off this mortal coil.

Ew, yes, but believe me, you do not want to ignore a rat problem. Deal with it now, or demand that the landlord do so, before they settle in and get comfortable.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:56 PM on January 7, 2008

Link to the article on rat deterrence.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:58 PM on January 7, 2008

Oh, and blocking off their runs by nailing sheet metal over all visible holes helped a lot.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:59 PM on January 7, 2008

Spring traps work only on young, stupid rats.

Heh. Or, evidently, on L.A. rats: both times I've had a problem here, the spring traps got 'em within the first 24 hours. Sealing up all possible entrance routes kept them all at bay from that point forward.
posted by scody at 12:09 AM on January 8, 2008

The few times I've had to deal with them, I've found the old spring traps to be effective. Yes, use peanut butter. That's what professional exterminators use.
posted by wsg at 2:57 AM on January 8, 2008

borrow a cat for a few weeks
posted by FidelDonson at 4:01 AM on January 8, 2008

Not many cats will take on a full-grown rat. Borrow a terrier.
posted by bricoleur at 4:31 AM on January 8, 2008

bricoleur: "Not many cats will take on a full-grown rat. Borrow a terrier."

Yea, you're not borrowing my cats to go up against a rat. Rats are mean and don't give up. Poison is probably the best way to go.
posted by octothorpe at 5:01 AM on January 8, 2008

Here's how the LAPD deals with rats. From the article: "The cats don't generally solve the rodent problem by killing rats and mice -- although the cats are game for doing so if they catch them. Rather, the cats simply leave their scent. Once rodents get a whiff of feline presence, like gangsters under a gang injunction, they move on."
posted by beagle at 5:05 AM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do everything you can to stop the rats. Rat turds, in my experience, are much larger than mouse turds. A grain of rice (mouse) vs. a squished mini-tootsie roll. I work in warehouses and have encountered both. First off, contact your landlord. Tell him that this requires immediate action. Second, seal any openings that lead to the exterior of the apartment or toward any interior spaces (between walls where pipes run). You want to put glue boards near those openings after you have sealed them. These can be disgusting to use but are way more effective than spring traps. Place them at the intersection of wall and floor. Rodents have poor vision (specifically when they look straight in front of themselves) so they use their whiskers to follow the walls. For this reason, move any items that you have next to the wall (as these provide "hiding" spots for rodents. Make sure that you don't have a water source or a food source anywhere. If you have open packaging or items that are in ziplock bags you need to consider something stronger (rubbermade bins, aluminum trays and aluminum foil. There are exterior bait stations that can be utilized as well.

Rats are very, very smart. I was at a warehouse where it took them about 100 days to catch one mature rat. This rat would mainly come out at night and sleep during the day. Rats will nest in wall insulation which is a big problem because either you can take down parts of the wall to get to the nest or you can poison them and hope that they don't die inside the walls (which will stink pretty badly for a while).

If your landlord will not act quickly, I would go buy steel wool, silicone, plaster and glue boards and start at it. You may be able to deduct it from your rent (based on what your state guidelines say).

Good luck. Drop me a mefi mail if I can assist you further.
posted by zerobyproxy at 5:29 AM on January 8, 2008

If you do go the trap route, and spring traps don't work for you, get a Rat Zapper. They are $40. They are huge. When a housemate first ordered it I was incredibly skeptical, thinking it an expensive gimmick like those gadgets that claim to emit a high-pitched sound that scares away pests. How wrong I was! They took care of the rodent problem in my house and the house of a friend who borrowed our trap in 24 hours. 12 mice in 24 hours at our house, 11 mice in 24 hours at the friend's. A couple more as it went on. Mice are probably still there, but we don't have to deal with their droppings and we've seen no evidence of them. If you truly do have rats, then get the larger-size version and give it a go. It is worth it, absolutely.
posted by schroedinger at 6:32 AM on January 8, 2008

The only rat droppings I've seen were grey due to age, but believe me, you'll know 'em when you see 'em, because rat droppings are huge. This article on recognizing rat presence mirrors my experience.

If they really are rats, I'd be pretty damn concerned. Immediate landlord action required (immediate landlord action isn't the same as immediate action, of course.. When the hot water tank in my building burst, I had to talk for ten minutes to convince them that it was a problem :P). Otherwise (if it is just mice) go with the seal every crevice using steel wool approach, and maybe tell the landlord at some point, and see how things go.
posted by Chuckles at 10:50 AM on January 8, 2008

Seconding the Rat Zapper. My mother in Manhattan swears by hers and though I've only used mine to get rid of mice it worked like a charm.
posted by pammo at 12:03 PM on January 8, 2008

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