CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago’s issues with rats are no secret to anyone, but just how bad is the city’s rodent problem?

CBS 2’s Tara Molina dug into the numbers Wednesday, focusing on the community area we found has more rat complaints than any other – West Town.

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The West Town community area includes the neighborhoods of Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village, East Village, Noble Square, River West, parts of Bucktown, and the West Town neighborhood itself – as well as the park of Humboldt Park.

We found, through a public records request, that people in West Town have already filed more than 1,000 rat complaints this year. They have filed multiple thousands in the past three.

The people we talked to in the area on Wednesday were not surprised to hear that.

Quiet streets, family homes, and alleys that look pretty tidy can be found in West Town – and there’s no sign of a problem when the sun is out. But things change at night, when the West Town rats come out.

“Well, I’ll talk to you about rats,” said Matthew Mertz, who lives with his family on one of the streets we checked out Thursday.

Mertz’s street is among those that have some of the most rat complaints to 311. He and his family saw the same well-fed, cat-sized rat so many times here that they named it.

“Chubby,” Mertz said. “Chubby was a well-fed snacking machine.”

Mertz said Chubby is gone now, thanks to the city – and call after call to 311, trap after trap.

“Goodbye, Chubby,” Mertz said. “Adios.”

With more than 1,200 rat complaints filed in the West Town community area just this year, we looked at the same time frame in years past and found consistently high numbers there. They doubled the past two years.

This is a month-by-month breakdown of rodent complaints in West Town by month since February 2019.

Date # of Complaints
Total 6,365
2019 2,099
Feb 6
Mar 104
Apr 132
May 175
Jun 251
Jul 300
Aug 319
Sep 318
Oct 231
Nov 134
Dec 129
2020 3,064
Jan 145
Feb 121
Mar 130
Apr 203
May 342
Jun 297
Jul 347
Aug 370
Sep 380
Oct 308
Nov 231
Dec 190
2021 1,202
Jan 145
Feb 76
Mar 222
Apr 266
May 355
Jun 138

And while West Town has the highest number of complaints in the city, they are followed closely by the community areas of Portage Park, Logan Square, and Lakeview. This is a citywide breakdown of rat complaints by quarter:

Date # of Complaints
2019

41,086

Qtr1

2,492

Qtr2

11,000

Qtr3

18,014

Qtr4

9,580

2020

54,068

Qtr1

7,805

Qtr2

13,958

Qtr3

20,171

Qtr4

12,134

2021

22,625

Qtr1

9,260

Qtr2

13,365

Grand Total

117,779

This is a breakdown of rat complaints in the top five community areas for the first two quarters of 2019, 2020, and 2021 to date:

 

Community Area # of Complaints
24 (West Town)

3,108

2019

668

Qtr1

110

Qtr2

558

2020

1,238

Qtr1

396

Qtr2

842

2021

1,202

Qtr1

443

Qtr2

759

22 (Logan Square)

2,482

2019

623

Qtr1

125

Qtr2

498

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2020

986

Qtr1

345

Qtr2

641

2021

873

Qtr1

319

Qtr2

554

15 (Portage Park)

2,377

2019

475

Qtr1

95

Qtr2

380

2020

931

Qtr1

301

Qtr2

630

2021

971

Qtr1

376

Qtr2

595

6 (Lake View)

2,292

2019

619

Qtr1

128

Qtr2

491

2020

806

Qtr1

309

Qtr2

497

2021

867

Qtr1

346

Qtr2

521

64 (Clearing)

2,005

2019

456

Qtr1

80

Qtr2

376

2020

791

Qtr1

282

Qtr2

509

2021

758

Qtr1

310

Qtr2

448

We asked Chicago’s Streets and Sanitation Department about the success Mertz told us they had on his block – and what is being done about the rat problem across Chicago, complaints or not. Streets and San released this statement:

“The Department of Streets and Sanitation (DSS) is dedicated to keeping Chicago clean and healthy, which includes continuing rodent baiting year-round. We recommend residents continue to clean up after their dogs, maintain their gardens and birdfeeders, and contain their garbage to help support our baiting efforts.”

A spokesperson didn’t give us specific info on the city’s efforts, but did say the department is meeting its target of responding to rodent complaints within five days.

In West Town, residents said they’ve seen that effort working.

“Call the city,” Mertz said. “They do help, and they do bait, and they do put poisons down – and it worked.”

The Streets and San spokesperson went on to say everyone has a part in solving the rat problem. They’re asking that you clean up after pets and bird feeders, and keep garbage contained to help.

Meanwhile, the Tree House Humane Society is using feral cats to fight the problem across the city. They are placing 10 to 15 cats in neighborhoods every month.

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We checked in with the Tree House to see how many have been placed in West Town. Information was not immediately available.

Tara Molina