Neighbors worry rat infested house could pose health hazard to kids, family pets

Jeffco Health says other wildlife poses more risk
Posted at 10:42 PM, Jun 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-18 00:57:54-04

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LAKEWOOD, Colo. -- The story about a rat-infested house in Lakewood is generating a lot of comment online.

Some people are asking if the home, and the vermin inside, pose a health risk to humans or pets.

"Look at that thing stumbling around," said Kelly Houghton, while pointing to a mangy rat on the property adjacent to hers.

When Houghton purchased her new home, one and a half months ago, she had no idea the house next door was infested with rats.

It was only after she moved in that she noticed a putrid odor and then noticed the vermin.  Rats on the rain spout, rats on the roof and rats on the rocks. 

"It's a concern for our health," she said.

Health Dept. Response

Denver7 asked Jefferson County Public Health if the infestation poses a danger to neighbors and their pets.

"In Colorado, rats don't tend to be a public health issue," said Craig Sanders, JCPH's Environmental Program Manager.

He noted that rats were the carrier of bubonic plague in Europe during the middle ages, but said in modern day Colorado, they are generally treated as a nuisance.

"A pretty disgusting nuisance," he said, "but they're not really implicated in a lot of diseases that are spread around."

Sanders said other wildlife poses a much greater risk to health, namely bats and skunks, because they both carry rabies.

He also said that rats live in places where there is food, shelter and water.

"If you're in an area backed up by a reservoir, greenbelt, or something like that, there are plenty of places they can live," he said. "They're pretty good at finding food, so sometimes it takes a coordinated neighborhood effort to really rid an area of rats."

Houghton's home, and the rat-infested house next door, are adjacent to Smith Reservoir.

Sanders said there are steps homeowners can take to lessen the likelihood that rats will move in.

"When you feed your dog, don't leave the food outside, bring it back in," he said. "If you've got a wood pike, spread it out, so the rats can't lie in there."

Gnawing Wires

Sanders told Denver7 that while rats may not be a big health threat, they can do things that end up posing a safety hazard.

"They like to gnaw things," he said, "they're gnawing animals.  Sometimes they will gnaw on the wires under the hood of your car."

Last year, rats chewed up insulation on the wiring of several cars at the Breakers apartment complex, in East Denver.

An attorney, representing tenants in a class action lawsuit, said one of his clients was told by management to wrap the frayed wires with electrical tape.

He said the airbag in that client's vehicle deployed, "while he was driving down the road," shattering the windshield and leaving the client's face bruised.

City Response

A city spokeswoman said Lakewood has known about the rat issue on South Lee Street for some time, but didn't believe it rose to the level where they could legally enter the house, until now.

She said after a code enforcement officer saw what Denver7 saw, on Friday, they now believe they can seek a court order granting them access to the house.

When asked if Lakewood might hire an exterminator to deal with the problem, and then charge the owners, or perhaps condemn the property, she said it's too early to know how this might play out, or how long it will take.

Dealing with an Infestation

When asked how an infestation should be dealt with, Sanders said, "You can go to any big box store and buy rat traps, which are like mouse traps on steroids.  They're huge and you can put those out to trap the rats, but we generally recommend that poison and things like that be left to the professionals.