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Question: How can I tell if an apartment building might have a rodent problem?

— Squeamish in Sunset Park

Dear Squeamish:

I take it you’re not talking about squirrels or bunnies.

So start here. If you don’t get the willies from this city-wide, building-by-building map of rat inspection reports, you’re a stronger person than me.

Full disclosure: My building shows up with “active rat signs” as recently as October. To quote Michael Corleone: “In my home! Where my wife sleeps, and my children play with their toys!”

OK, I’m calm now.

So what should you — we — be looking for? According to the city’s Rat Information Portal (yes, there really is such a thing):

Rats come out at night, so walk around outside with a flashlight after dark. This will help you see where rats are going, so you can check for burrows when it gets light.

  • Look for places where rats live. Most rats live in nests or burrows. Burrows are holes in dirt or concrete from one to four inches wide, with smooth edges. Burrows can be found under bushes and plants. They will often have an entrance and exit hole.
  • Look for droppings. Droppings are often found close to garbage. If they’re moist and dark, it’s a sign that rats are in the area.
  • Look for holes and gnaw marks on wood and plastic garbage cans.
  • Check walls and grass for signs of runways. Rats run along the same path many times a day, leaving dark greasy track marks along walls and worn down paths in grass.

If all of that is more intrusive than you care to be at a building you’re only considering moving into, you might look for what humans do to make rats feel at home. How does the building handle garbage? Where is it? In a common hallway, the basement, outside? Is it put in metal containers with tight-fitting tops? Is there a lot of clutter in the basement or halls? Is the landscaping neatly trimmed and away from the building? Do you see cracks or holes in the foundation or surrounding areas?

Remember, rats live where they do because that’s where the food, water and shelter are. Pretty much the same reason you live here. And, hard as it may be to take, rats are just as much a part of the city as you and me. Ugh.

There are more than 8 million people in New York and about 2 million rats. Most rats weigh about a half pound, but New York can boast some really big 1.5 pounders.

Still, if it’s any consolation to you, for once we come in second — to Chicago.

David Crook is a veteran journalist and author of The Complete Wall Street Journal Real-Estate Investing and Homeowner’s Guidebooks. Do you have a question about anything real estate-related in NYC? Write him at For verification purposes, please include your name and a phone number; neither will be published. Note: Nothing in this column should be considered professional legal advice. If you have a legal issue, consult an attorney.