Roof Rats…They Are Not Just About Citrus Anymore

Contributed by Pam Rotter

We have all heard the horror stories about roof rats; they’re ugly, carry disease, can be larger than a cat, etc. All of these facts are 100% correct but this story explores this hidden horror of roof rats.

Everyone knows that to get rid of roof rats, you have to remove their sources of food and people go to great lengths to do that. They spend hours removing citrus that has fallen to the ground, the devoid their fruit bearing trees of delicious oranges, lemons and grapefruit, all perfectly good, just to keep roof rats from invading their yards and homes.

Until I went through what I am about to tell you, I had no idea that there are many other things roof rats like to eat; such as prickly pear cactus, vegetable gardens, pet food left outside for dogs and cats, oh and electrical and plumbing pipes.

Yes, I said electrical and plumbing pipes. Let me explain.

My personal horror story began when I was a Community Manager charged with managing a 100 unit condominium that had a history of roof rats. We worked with the landscaper to ensure all ornamental fruit was removed from the trees. In addition, we removed all prickly pear cactus, which had gnaw marks evident, in hopes of evicting the roof rats in the community. We contracted for bait traps; two at each building to ensure we were prepared. What we weren’t prepared for was the fact that the roof rats would fight eviction!

A few weeks after all food sources had been removed and the bait traps had been set, I received a call from an owner questioning why only half of her condominium had electricity. The bedrooms and bathrooms had electricity, but the kitchen and living room area did not. As a Community Manager, I had never run across this type of issue. Not knowing whether it was a unit specific issue or one that was affecting more residents in the building, I began leaving voicemail messages and sending emails to the other owners in the building. However, it was my lucky day as there was an electrician scheduled to be on-site later in the day to troubleshoot some non-working light posts. I contacted the electrician, explained the situation and asked if he would take a look when he came out to repair the light posts.

While waiting for the electrician to arrive, I received three calls reporting plumbing leaks in the same building. Was the building cursed? Was it a full moon? I had never experienced a situation like this in my twelve years of managing communities. While onsite to meet with the electrician and plumber, a few of the Board Members and I were discussing the issue when the plumber walked over with two pieces of gnawed poly pipe.

Between the Board and management, we had executed a wonderful plan of eliminating all known food sources for the roof rats with the hope that the population would relocate itself. What we didn’t realize is that the flues and pipes on the roof were easy access points into the internal part of the building. The rats entered through the roof in search of food and began eating the electrical wiring and poly pipe plumbing, along the way.

There is no insurance for this type of situation, as it is considered a maintenance item. Associations have a responsibility to deal with pests and vermin in the common areas and common elements. So we got to work screening off all access points on the roofs of all buildings to ensure the issue would not be repeated. We also fumigated the affected building, repaired the plumbing and electrical issues, then proceeded to screen off all access points. The full cost of repair of the roof rat episode was approximately ten thousand dollars. It was a lesson learned for me and I hope a lesson for all going forward.