BEVERLY — Rats hanging from pear trees. Rats eating through trash cans. Rats getting inside houses.
Residents who attended a public hearing Monday night at City Hall about — you guessed it, rats — did not paint a pretty picture of what they say is a growing problem in the city.
"I spent all last summer battling these things," Hillcrest Avenue resident Steven Miller said. "It's just so intense. You create a solution and they work right around it."
The meeting was requested by Ward 4 City Councilor Scott Houseman, who said councilors have received many complaints from residents for a number of years about "rodent infestation issues" and the city's approach to addressing them.
"Despite many private and public conversations with and amongst city officials and the public on the subject, the city has made no apparent progress or changes in approach, or budgetary allocations, to deal with the issue," Houseman wrote in a letter to the City Council.
About 30 people attended the meeting, including 10 residents who told of their own battles with rats. Chase Street resident Christine DePalma showed up with a poster board that included seven pictures of rats that she said have been taken in her neighborhood over the last few weeks.
"In a week's time I see more rats in my neighborhood than I do my human neighbors," DePalma told councilors. "I can no longer garden or use my yard. I feel like it's a war on rodents."
Lothrop Street resident Jenna Mayer said she and her husband were so excited to buy their first home last year only to be greeted by rats on the first day.
"I'm literally in fear of my own yard and my own basement," she said. "I moved out of the city to enjoy the space and I can't even use half of it."
Some residents said construction projects are the cause of some of the rat problems. Others pointed to businesses with overflowing dumpsters. Many of the residents live in the neighborhoods in the downtown area between Cabot and Rantoul streets.
"I have received more emails and calls and probably worked harder on this issue than any others," said Ward 3 Councilor Stacy Ames, who represents the area. "I can just imagine how difficult it is for everyone to have to reach out to the city and talk about the issue. It's not all that comfortable. I give you all kudos for being here tonight."
But Ames added that the rat problem is a "communitywide issue."
Houseman said he requested the public hearing as a "fact finding" meeting to start the process of examining what role the city should play in addressing the problem. He said he is working with the city solicitor's office to craft an ordinance to control rats in the city.
"What I've been hearing from my constituents is that they've been left to their own devices in dealing with the issue," Houseman said. "I think this is a public health issue and I think city government can and should take a more active role in it."
Mayor Mike Cahill said he welcomed more discussion on what steps the city can take. He said the city requires a pest management plan whenever a building project goes before the Planning Board. There are also requirements to bait and trap rats when National Grid installs new underground lines, he said.
Cahill said the city stepped in to fix rat problems at two houses recently due to unusual circumstances, but cannot do that every time.
"We've been wrestling with this for years in terms of what is the right approach," Cahill said.
Michael Becker, an exterminator from Waltham Pest Services who was invited to the meeting by city officials, said there is no "one size fits all" solution to rat problems. He recommended that residents make sure their trash cans are tightly sealed and that businesses do not have overflowing dumpsters.
"Rats, mice, they've been here forever," Becker said. "I hate to break the bad news to you but they're not going anywhere."
Putnam Street resident Heidi Roberts, who is president of the Friends of Beverly Animals, said she had a rat problem at her house last spring, but said she does not want to use poison to get rid of them.
"We need to be very humane about this," Roberts said. "Rats have a right to live too."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.