Comptroller’s Audit reveals “weak and inadequate” response to complaints about rodent infestation

NEW YORK, NY (TIP): At a press conference in Harlem, October 14, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer unveiled findings of a new audit showing widespread deficiencies in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DOHMH) response to citizen complaints about rodents. “This is a rat race we’re all losing and it’s one that affects our quality of life,” Comptroller Stringer said. “When people discover infestations in their homes and on their blocks, they expect a quick and effective response.

Our audit found that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene wasn’t managing its pest control program effectively, even as the number of complaints about pests grew.” The number of pest complaints in New York City jumped from 22,300 in FY 12 to 24,586 in FY 13. Comptroller Stringer’s audit examined whether one of the agencies primarily responsible for pest control, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, adequately followed its procedures for addressing pest control complaints during the period from July 1, 2011 through April 8, 2014. DOHMH receives pest complaints online and through New York City’s 311 complaint call system, which are then assigned to one of five regional offices for inspection and notification, as well as the baiting and cleanup of properties if owners fail to act.

Auditors found DOHMH had weak oversight of its Pest Control Services program and failed to follow its own procedures:

In 24 percent of the cases examined, DOHMH failed to check out citizen complaints in the 10-day target that it has established as the proper time in which to respond;

In 160 cases, there was no field inspection attempt at all and 14 still had an open status in DOHMH’s system as of March 2014;

DOHMH terminated action on some citizen complaints prematurely without conducting the required number of inspection attempts and did not meet its own targets for reviewing inspections performed in the field;

There was no indication that assessments were conducted in 44 percent of 386 instances where inspectors requested clean up services during FY13, a required step before remediation can proceed; and

DOHMH failed to give some property owners notifications of city orders to eliminate rodent conditions – thus increasing the risk that rat infestations may spread through a neighborhood. “Rats are a daily, stomach-turning insult to New Yorkers – whether they’re scurrying over people’s feet on the sidewalks, invading homes where children sleep or swarming through restaurants,” Stringer said. “Without a vigilant and timely response by the City to citizen complaints, this problem will come back to bite us again and again.”

In a series of recommendations, auditors said DOHMH should:

Generate reports to identify complaints that have been pending too long, to ensure citizens get a more timely response.

Improve its controls over pest control processes, to ensure that all requested exterminations and approved clean-ups are conducted.

Modify its procedures to ensure that complaints are not closed after only one failed attempt to gain access to a site.

Make certain that supervisory checks are conducted for inspections at or above the percentage specified in its procedures to ensure that problems in the field have been dealt with efficiently and completely. In response to the Comptroller’s audit, DOHMH generally agreed in principle with all but 1 of the audit’s 12 recommendations. However, DOHMH argued that the audit did not take into account the agency’s other efforts to address pest control problems. “When it comes to rat infestations, New Yorkers expect much more from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene than excuses and denials. I fully expect this audit will help trigger a new, more serious course of action,” Stringer said.

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