Rats have infested an entire block of terraced houses in north Belfast in the space of just a few weeks, a councillor has said.
Dale Pankhurst said what started off as rats invading one end house soon turned into eight infestations as the rodents burrowed their way through an entire street in the Ballysillan area.
The Belfast Telegraph revealed last month that the rat population in the city increased by 25% in just 12 months - prompting fears infestations could spiral out of control this year.
Latest figures show that, in 2019, the rat population in the Belfast area was around 505,000. This increased to an estimated 632,000 last year.
There have also been warnings that potential council cuts to subsidised pest control services will hit the poorest areas hardest. Belfast City Council (BCC) has been operating a limited pest control service due to the pandemic and said that there are no plans to reduce the service it provides.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) also helps facilitate pest control services for tenants in its properties, either through councils or expert services, which has continued during the pandemic.
Mr Pankhurst told a meeting of the council's People and Communities Committee this week that he has received a "rapid increase" in reports of rat infestations that are "plaguing" his constituents.
"I've heard from a resident with multiple disabilities and the rats have actually managed to get into his house, they're in the [wall] cavities, they're out the back, they're in the kitchen - they're everywhere," he said.
"In one particular incident on one of the streets in my patch, a number of rats managed to make their way into one house, it was a terrace block, and they then ate through the entire structure of the houses and made their way through every property. It started of with one infestation and within a couple of weeks there were eight. These are real issues and it's a problem that's increasing."
Mr Pankhurst requested that BCC officials compile a report examining the rat problem, which will be brought back to the committee for further discussion. The British Pest Control Association (BCPA) has said that lockdown and other factors has seen rat populations in many UK cities increase.
"If we take Belfast for instance, there will be pockets of rats spread scattered about and generally they live around their food source, whether that be at the back of a restaurant or landfill site," BPCA technical officer Natalie Bungay said.
"With lockdown, a lot of the places that would generate food waste are closed, and those rats need food so they will expand their feeding territory. So that's why we may see them more often now."
A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive said they have received no reports of rats in its properties in the Ballysillan area.
"In the last three months, we've received three requests for pest control services from tenants in this area. None of these reports concerned rats," a spokesperson said.w
"All three requests were dealt with promptly and we have no further reports of any issues.
"Where a tenant is in need of pest control services, we will help facilitate this, either through contact with the local council or through the engagement of expert pest control services. These activities have continued throughout Covid-19."