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Rats! Pushback Begins Over Changes in Garbage Set-Out Times

Bill Morris in Building Operations on March 2, 2023

New York City

Rat infestations, garbage set-out times, private garbage haulers, building staffs, co-ops and condos.
March 2, 2023

New York City is going to the rats. Complaints to 311 about rat sightings are now 60% higher than they were before the pandemic — and they’re at an all-time high since records were first kept in 2010. New Yorkers report seeing rats in subways, in parks, in restaurant sheds, in their apartment buildings, under the hoods of their cars. Even Mayor Eric Adams, who claims to hate rats, was recently fined $300 for not doing enough to keep the rodents at bay at a Brooklyn townhouse he owns.

“The rats are the size of cats,” says one property manager who’s fighting an infestation at a co-op he manages in Harlem.

Help is on the way. A new rule goes into effect April 1 that will require building owners, including co-op and condo boards, to set out their garbage after 8 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. (one of the earliest set-out times in any major city in the country). Garbage in secure bins — a rarity in the city — can be set out after 6 p.m. All garbage and recyclables must be set out by 12:01 a.m. on collection days — except for buildings of nine units or more units that have signed up to set out their garbage between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. on collection days. The new rules have won the approval of Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, which represents doormen, porters, supers and other building staffers.

By moving the garbage set-out time back four hours (or to early-morning hours) and increasing nighttime pickups, the city's Department of Sanitation is hoping to reduce the time unsightly mountains of garbage bags sit on sidewalks — and in doing so reduce the hours these all-you-can-eat smorgasbords are available to the city's large and growing population of rats. It’s hard to argue with the logic, but already there is pushback.

“I’m sure the Department of Sanitation means well, but this is going to turn daytime jobs into nighttime jobs,” says Peter von Simson, chief executive at New Bedford Management, which handles about 150 properties, mostly co-ops and condos with non-union staffs. “In smaller buildings where the super doesn’t live in the building, it’s really going to affect that guy’s quality of life. If you’re cleaning two or three buildings, you’re not going to get home before midnight. The Department of Sanitation hasn’t taken the little guy in a little building into account. It’s a pretty rotten situation for the people who are doing the work.” 

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He’s thinking of people like Esteban Vergara, who owns a company called Verson Building Services, which provides porters and handymen to 40 buildings, including a handful of co-ops and condos. “With these changes,” Vergara says, “we’ll need to move the shifts around or hire more people. That’s going to cost more, and the workers and our clients are not happy. Right now we’re trying to see which workers are willing to change shifts.”

Ira Meister, president of Matthew Adam Properties, which manages about 100 co-ops and condos, reports that he has received queries from a dozen clients who want to switch to private garbage haulers rather than comply with the city’s new rules. Two clients — one co-op and one condo — have already made the switch.

“At some buildings, switching staff schedules is very difficult,” Meister says. “Boards don’t want to pay overtime to have people put the garbage out.”

While many cost-conscious boards balk at paying a private hauler, Meister thinks that might change. “If we can get more buildings involved and get prices down,” he says, “I think it will catch on.”

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