Rat complaints jump in city’s densest neighborhoods. Is yours one of them?

Claus Johnsen and Michelle McFall-Johnsen weren’t surprised to hear their Logan Square neighborhood is among the city leaders in rat complaints, though they say the real news is just how ever-present the pests have become since the couple moved into a home on the community’s western edge 12 years ago.

“What I’m used to seeing is a rat maybe darting out in the middle of the night across the street,” said Johnsen, a paramedic. “These days they are brazen. (They’re) like, ‘I’m taking a walk. This is my alley!'”

Rat complaints reported to the city in Logan Square and other communities skyrocketed in 2016, with the city receiving 46,879 rat-related requests for service through the 311 call center and online. The 2016 total was the most of any year since 2011, the first year of data provided by the city, and it dwarfed 2015’s total by more than 13,000 complaints.

Through Sept. 21, the city is on pace to set another record with about 1,500 more rat complaints than it had by the same time last year, a Tribune analysis of city data shows. City officials say the increase was expected as Streets and Sanitation rodent crews and elected officials have ramped up publicity efforts urging residents to report rats.

Johnsen and McFall-Johnsen, who abandoned apartment living to raise their two children in a two-story house on West Shakespeare Avenue, say they’ve waged war to keep the disease-carrying pests out of their home. Over the years, they’ve progressed from basic snap traps, poisons and regular 311 complaints to installing chicken wire fencing in their backyard, letting feral cats play on their property and using sealant foam to close cracks and crevices.

“And then they just tunnel near the hole that you just sealed,” McFall-Johnsen laughed.

“My husband used to put out traps and poisons, and (the problem) seemed to be OK and we controlled it,” McFall-Johnsen said of the early days in her home. “This is the worst it’s ever been.”

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