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Rat problem irks S. Hill residents

Barbara and Kenneth Boyd of Summit Hill take pride in their home; keeping it tidy, pulling weeds at the curb, keeping the lawn mowed.

That’s why it came as a shock when a rat ran across their kitchen floor. Next, Barbara moved a chair in her dining room and found a dead rat under it. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a relative went into the basement and spotted a rat running under the washer.

They told their story Tuesday to the Summit Hill borough council. And it turns out, there are others in the borough who also have rodent issues.

The Boyds live in the unit block of East Ludlow Street, next to what was once one of the most patronized restaurants in the Panther Valley area - Miller’s Bar Vel - before it closed nearly a decade ago. The Bar Vel property has been sold twice since and now sits vacant with a “stop work” order on the front door.

The Boyds believe that and other vacant buildings on the block are the source of the rodent problems.

Borough resident Joanie Morana said there is a rodent issue on Walter Street, too, which is several blocks away from Ludlow Street. She said she saw rats that “were so bold and brazen they don’t budge.”

“They’ll look at you,” she said. “I never saw rats out in the day and they just stare at you.”

Susan Lutz of the 100 block of East Walter Street said she texted her neighbors to quit putting bread and food out for birds after spotting a rat. She said she saw a rat climb a tree.

“Are you sure it was a rat?” asked Council President Michael Kokinda, saying he never heard of a rat climbing a tree.

She insisted she got a closer look and it was a rat; not a squirrel or chipmunk.

Council member David Wargo, who lives several blocks away, said last year a rat got into his garage and did extensive damage to the wiring in his car. He said he has since hired an exterminator to be sure the rodents don’t return.

Proposed ordinance

Because of the complaints, the council unanimously agreed to advertise for passage of a vector control ordinance. In addition, the council agreed to look into hiring a code enforcement officer who would have the authority to issue citations or make arrests of violators.

The borough has a part-time code enforcement officer but the police department is in charge of issuing citations.

The council praised the work of the present code enforcement officer Danny Matika. Mayor Jeffrey Szczecina said because of Matika’s efforts, there have been more than 40 citations given for quality-of-life ordinance violations in the past month.

It was Wargo who pressed for the passage of a vector control ordinance, saying, “I’m a victim of them myself.”

He said ultimately it is property owners who have to take action, because “rats don’t belong to the borough. It’s an act of God, although it’s a frustrating act of God.”

Wargo urged that property owners who have rodent problems hire an exterminator to properly get rid of them. “It’s the responsibility of the property owner to maintain the safety and security of their property,” he said.

The borough ordinance doesn’t address the problem, he said. “There is no ordinance ... that requires anyone to deal with pests” such as skunks and rats.

Cracking down

The ordinance that Wargo proposed not only addresses dealing with vectors but requires that anyone doing rehabilitation or demolition to any building provide proof to the borough that it is clear of infestation.

Wargo said one way to help combat the rodent problem is to eliminate all outdoor food sources. He also urged that the sanitation ordinance and quality-of-life ordinance be strictly enforced.

“Take care of your property,” Wargo said, “and if you know where they’re coming from, report it to the borough.”

Barbara Boyd told the borough council there are eight vacant buildings in her block, and several are either condemned or have “stop work” orders.

She said the rats have now found their way into her house. In addition, a cat came to her door with a rat in its mouth.

“Now they’re making nests behind my washer,” she said.

“I’ve lived in this town all my life,” she said. “I’m married 50 years and lived in that same house. Up until that slumlord bought that house, we never had problems.”

She said one of the occupied buildings in the block is infested with bedbugs.

Ken Boyd said when a complaint was filed, Matika responded and saw about 40 bags of garbage on the side of the house, which have since been removed. In addition, while Matika was making the inspection, he stepped on a dead rat.

Mayor Szczecina said that the property owner has been cited.

“I’m afraid to sit on my couch at night,” Barbara Boyd said.

“I was raised here and people took care of their property,” she said. “Now they don’t.”

Kokinda said he will have the borough’s zoning officer, Lehigh Engineering, visit the property and make a recommendation.

Barbara Boyd said there is an issue across the street, too, where a vacant apartment building is occupied with a large amount of pigeons.

Fred Rokasky, who lives a few doors away from the Boyds, said that he is a renter but can’t use his basement because of raw sewage and collapsing basement walls.

He also said there is a pile of tires in a neighboring yard - a vacant building - where he sees skunks and rodents enter and exit. He pointed to one tire that has a large opening in it, saying he has seen vectors go inside that hole.

The council said it will take at least two months before a vector control ordinance can be passed.

Ken Boyd of East Ludlow Street, Summit Hill, stands in front of a vacant former restaurant next to his home. He said there are eight vacant buildings on his block and believes they are contributing to a growing rodent problem. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
A stop work order and water shut-off notices dating back to 2020 are on the window at 32 East Ludlow Street in Summit Hill, one of eight vacant properties in the block. Residents have complained that a rodent problem is occurring in the area.
A condemned property has a for sale sign on it in the unit block of East Ludlow Street, Summit Hill