Reports came in to the Inspectional Services Department over a couple of weeks: Packs of rats were scurrying in and out of an alley behind a block of Hemenway Street row houses.
Wednesday night, John Meaney went to investigate.
Foot-long rats — hordes of them, at least 100 — scampered in and out of burrows, crawling into garbage cans, brawling, squealing, and scuttering over Meaney’s loafers.
“A rat playground,” Meaney, the city’s director of environmental services, said, shaking his head. “It was pretty horrific.”
After numerous complaints from residents in the Fenway area, the city’s Inspectional Services Department discovered more than 100 rats and 50 rat burrows around two row house apartment buildings in the heart of the Fenway popular with students, officials said Thursday.
The Inspectional Services Department’s Environmental Sanitation Division served abatements to the owners of the two properties at fault: 26 Hemenway St. and 24 Haviland St..
Nate Hanmer, 25, lives on the second floor at 26 Hemenway St., above the spot where the rats emerge at night. He hears them fighting and screeching and said he can count as many as 40 or 50 at a time.
Hanmer said he has taken to kicking the back door of his apartment open with a bang to scare away any rodents in the vicinity. On occasions that he has taken out trash at night, he said, he has seen as many as 15 of them pouring out of the trash can. Some, he said, are almost a foot long, not including their tails.
“Luckily, I’m moving out at the end of the month, so I can say they’ve been pretty negligent,” he said. “It’s just so gross.”
The rats are concentrated in a wide alley behind the two abutting properties that includes grassy patches, along with a large cage for holding garbage cans. The rats have chewed holes into the plastic cans, and their burrows leading into the ground can be seen dotting the base of the properties and the patches of dirt surrounding the garbage can cage.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who visited the buildings Thursday, called the infestation “the worst conditions we’ve seen in many years.”
The rats are not just repulsive, Menino said, but they also pose health risks by spreading germs and disease. He brushed aside the notion that perhaps rats are a nuisance inherent to urban living.
“Every city in America has rats . . . but this is a very serious situation,” Menino said. “We don’t tolerate that in the city of Boston.”
Meaney said the city became aware of the problem when inspectors noticed rats scurrying in and out of both ends of the alley. The Inspection Department also received complaints from residents. City officials traced those traveling rats back to their source in the alley.
The Inspectional Services Department had been aware of a rat infestation problem in June, Meaney said, and served abatements demanding that the two property owners hire a pest control company. The property owners initially followed those orders, Meaney said, but do not appear to have kept the exterminators coming.
“They’ve got control of these two pieces of property like you wouldn’t believe,” Meaney said.
Meaney said inspectors have not determined if the rats have compromised the building’s foundation. If the owners do not act to rid the area of rats, Meaney said, they may be fined as much as $350 per day.
The building at 26 Hemenway St. is managed by Fenway Residential Property; the one at 24 Haviland St., is owned by Boston Union Realty.
A woman who answered the phone at Fenway Residential Property Thursday afternoon said the company had no comment. Messages left Thursday night seeking comment from Boston Union Reality were not returned.
Evan Brown, 25, who lives at 26 Hemenway St. also employs the method of kicking the back door of his apartment open with a bang to scare away nearby rats if he takes trash out at night.
He and his roommates called the building manager last fall to complain, he said, and the manager told them that they would hire an exterminator, but things did not improve.
Nicole Wright, 25, who has lived in 26 Hemenway St. for years, said she just stopped taking her trash to the back after dark.
“Once the sun goes down, they’re always there,” said Wright. “It’s really gross.”Globe correspondents Sarah N. Mattero and Melanie Dostis contributed to this report.
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