When the Portland Bureau of Environmental Services repaired a sewer break in the alley behind Cordelia Shea’s house in Ladd’s Addition, they didn’t tell her that she had a problem with water damage as a result of the break. Nor did they tell her that her pipes had to be replaced. And there wasn’t any permanent damage caused by the sinkhole the sewer break caused. What they told her had nothing to do with water.

They said she had a rat hole in her yard.

Later, she saw a rat scurry across her lawn. She also frequently sees rats when she walks her dog in the alleyways of Ladd’s Addition. “They’re definitely around,” she says.

The apparent rash of rats in Southeast Portland was a topic of discussion during Hosford-Abernethy’s board meeting on July 19. Linda Nettekoven, the board’s vice-chair, describes a presence of rats in the area as a “perennial problem.”

“It goes underground for periods of time, then it resurfaces,” she says.

The board took the first steps that night toward an awareness campaign to inform residents about rats and how to keep rats away from their homes.

“We were just trying to do a heads up,” Nettekoven says. “At least in some people’s perception, it seems like the problem may be growing worse or getting a little more out of control than usual.”

A fact of urban living, rats can pose numerous livability and health issues, including transmitting diseases to pets and other animals, danger to small children, contamination of food, and damage to homes and belongings.

“It’s better to try to manage them, rather than ignore them and let them flourish,” Shea says.

Sewer projects in the southeast may be pushing rats from underground to above ground.
Sewer projects in SE may be pushing rats above ground.

Nettekoven attributes numerous construction projects involving sewer lines, such as the Tabor to the River project, to driving more rats than usual out of the netherworld and into the open air.

“There seems to be a linkage between collapsing sewer lines and things like that,” Nettekoven says. “We’re all learning as we go.”

Shea is currently speaking with the Multnomah County Health Department’s Pest Prevention and Control about ways to prevent rats from getting close to people.

Improperly stored garbage, open compost piles, and accessible bird and pet food can attract rats. They can enter homes through small crawl spaces and unsealed gaps such as areas where pipes go through walls.

“We’re vulnerable to those kinds of situations because we’re such an old neighborhood with old infrastructure,” Nettekoven says.

Shea, for one, no longer composts because of rats. “Even though we were following the directions… there were still rats coming around the compost bin,” she says.

Shea plans to distribute information to residents during the summer. The Hosford-Abernethy Neighborhood Association, which does not meet in August, may take further action this fall.

If you want more information about rats, learn how to keep them out of your home, and so on, go to the Multnomah County Health Department’s rat webpage.

Correction 7/28/11: The article initially stated that the repair of a sewer break in the alley behind Cordelia Shea’s house in Ladd’s Addition was done by Portland Water Bureau. We have corrected it to Portland Bureau of Environmental Services. PWB only deals with fresh water.