How to Kill Roaches in a Rental Property

Written by on January 20, 2013

Guide to Roaches

Ring, Ring,… We have Roaches!

“Roaches are evil spawns from the pits of hell” (tweetable?).

From time to time, they choose to rear their ugly heads and cause major issues for landlords and tenants.  For a landlord, roaches are like the sleazy con artist 2nd-removed uncle that stops by (uninvited) to sleep on your couch indefinitely when your wife is 9.2 months pregnant.  In my opinion, the best way to get rid of them both is to poison them.

Okay, sorry uncle Ernie.  But in all seriousness, roaches can be a big problem for landlords. In my experience, they tend to show up a few months after my new tenants move-in (especially the group houses, with tenants under 30 years old). There seems to be a direct correlation between sub-par cleanliness, and the presence of roaches – go figure.

My theory on how roaches happen:

  1. After lease signing, I deliver a rental property that is super clean and bug-free
  2. Tenants move-in
  3. Tenants buy food to stock the fridge and pantry
  4. 2-3 months go by of inadequate cleaning habits such as: food spoiling, piles of dishes in the sink at all times, and bags of garbage left inside the house
  5. Roaches move-in to help eliminate the left-over food (how nice of them)
  6. Roaches make babies and flourish
  7. Tenants call me to complain about a mysterious roach problem. Tenants are genuinely confused as to why there would be bugs in the house.

I politely remind them that the lease clearly states that they are responsible for all pest control after the first 2 weeks following move-in.  However, I realize that I am vested in making sure that the roach problem doesn’t become a full-blown infestation – so I try to help solve the problem as quickly as possible.

If I don’t get involved, and the tenants do nothing, then the roaches take over.  If that happens, tenants often leave suddenly, and I could potentially get slapped with a health code violation.

How to Get Rid of Roaches

  1. Boric Acid (my favorite):

    Roach Killer Powder, 16 ozIt comes in two forms: Tablets and Powder. Roaches will eat boric acid and die. The powder also acts like a sandpaper on the roach’s exoskeleton – causing them to die.

    You can blow the powder into hard to reach places which helps increase your coverage. One easy trick is to mix the powder with sweetened condensed milk until it becomes a sticky paste.  The paste is an edible poison that the roaches cannot resist. Remember, keep this poison out of reach of any pets or children.

  2. Bait Stations:

    Combat 766694/519 Quick Kill Formula Large Roach Bait StationsThese bait stations are the “cleanest” of all the methods since you don’t actually touch any chemicals.  The bait stations use a special type of mold that is toxic to roaches but not harmful to people or pets. Though cleaner, I don’t believe they work as well as Boric acid.

  3. Roach Gel:

    Combat Source Kill Max Roach Killing Gel, 60 Grams The roach gel contains food, water, and poison.  It works very well, but I usually end up buying 3-5 tubes of it to treat a whole house.  The gel is sticky and therefore can be placed on the underside of cabinets or on vertical walls.

  4. Petroleum Jelly/Vaseline:

    Vaseline 100% Pure Petroleum Jelly, 13Ounce Jars (Pack of 3)Using petroleum jelly or Vaseline you can create a live trap from which the roaches cannot escape.  Simply rub jelly on the inside wall of a tall non-transparent glass. Place a water-soaked paper at the bottom of the glass, and place some rotting food on top of that. The roaches will climb into the glass for the food and water, but can’t climb out because of the jelly.  It will work but they jelly can be messy, and I don’t like having rotting food in my house, nor live roaches.

  5. Exterminator:

    Pest Control Companies are usually effective, but sometimes only after 2-3 consecutive treatments.  Therefore, I only sign contracts with pest control companies that offer a “guarantee” that they will eliminate the pests – which means they will continue to come back for follow-up treatments until the pesky invaders are gone.

Be a good Landlord: help solve the roach problem

If I live nearby, I try to help solve the problem quickly.  I will buy some Boric Acid from the hardware store, and spend 10 minutes putting it all around the house – anywhere that I think roaches might be hiding.  The powder product (or in paste form mixed with sweetened condensed milk) lets you lay a line of poison that the roaches will have cross, so I usually do that around the trash area.

If I don’t live near the rental property, I will tell my tenants to go buy it and treat the house themselves. I offer to pay for the supplies if they send me a receipt. It only costs about $10-15, so offering to pay for it is my way to make sure they actually do it.

If there’s only a few roaches

Harris Roach Killer Powder is my favorite because it’s cheap and IT WORKS! The tablets also come in handy for throwing into walls and attic spaces.  Depending on how many roaches are in your property, it usually only takes about 1-3 days to get rid of them all with Boric Acid.

If there are dozens of roaches

If an infestation is already well underway, I just call an exterminator (who has a guarantee) and make my tenants pay for it (per the lease, of course). For major infestations, the exterminator will have to come back multiple times to fully eradicate the pests.  I make my tenants schedule and be present for the appointments with the Pest Control Company.

Applicable Lease Clause

I use the following clause in my leases to help with pest control at my rental properties.

Share Your Story

We’ve all dealt with roaches at one point in our lives.  Describe your experience in the Comments below. Did you defeat this nemesis, or did you learn to live in a symbiotic relationship?

photo credit: Gideon Tsang via cc
photo credit: Furryscaly via cc
photo credit: steve_lodefink via cc
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73 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Tiffany Patterson

    I do not know what to do anymore!

    I live in an apartment complex, and I am very clean *not that , that means i wont have roaches*
    I got fed up with the apartment Complex Managment and their SORRY exterminator which only came by every two weeks and the problem got worse and worse. . you know.. german roaches and all :P

    I called Orkin over a month ago and they have been out ONCE a week for approx 7 weeks now.. every time they come out there are LIVE roaches (approx i see 3 a day), babies and adults running around the kitchen (and venturing out by walking on the walls and cealings to other places in the home). They spray, more come out, Most of them do not seem effected by the spray or bait. This is even 7 days after the fact and they are still present. I have only paid ORKIN once as they have a “Guarantee” but I just cant live with the roaches anymore.

    Do you have any suggestions as a professional is not doing the job?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Tiffany

      I’m sorry that you’re having to deal with this. I’d suggest asking the Orkin technician to use a stronger spray – and trying to spray it in the walls. I’d also just trying Boric Acid (as mentioned above). You may have to spray it into the cracks in the walls and behind appliances.

      If that doesn’t work, you might have to “bug bomb” the house.

      If that still doesn’t solve it, I suggest contacting a lawyer to help you draft some fairly stern letters that you can send to your landlord. Some of which could give you the ability to terminate your lease.

      Good luck!

  • lashawn turner

    I just moved in to a no lease monthly apartment/hotel room yesterday. As soon as I opened the door and checked the bathroom I was greeted by the true residents of this apartment (roaches). I asked the manager for bug spray and he still hasn’t gave me any. I would really like to get rid of these pests before it gets out of hand. If the manager does not comply with my request by tomorrow it will be 72 hours since I’ve moved in. Do I have a legal position with the complex as far as this problem because I cannot afford to call an exterminator?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Lashawn,

      I know it would be better if the landlord gave you some bug spray, but it might be quicker if you just go to the grocery store and buy some treatments yourself.

      Because the pests were there when you moved-in, the landlord should pay to have them removed. But the most important thing is to take care of them quickly, and then settle up on the money later.

  • Aimee

    I moved into a rental property about 3-4 months ago. When I inspected, there were roaches but it didn’t seem that bad. First night I had the keys I found out the place was crawling with them. I wrote this on the condition report. Have tried everything. Baits, bombs, sprays. They are that bad I have to re-wash everything before I use them.
    Do I have any right to end the lease and receive my bond in full?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Aimee,

      When roaches are that bad, it would affect the inhabitability of the property. You’d have to talk to your landlord about the problem, and remind him/her that if they can’t solve the roach problem, you could terminate the lease. In order to do this properly, I suggest talking to a lawyer. Most likely, for $100, a lawyer could draft and send the letters for you.

      I hope that helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

  • jocelyne

    Hello, I need help, me, my daughter (4) and my partner are getting sick everyday. Our apartment building is infested with cockroaches. I’m looking everywhere I possibly could to find any type of help. So far they came once to clean just our apartment and we have been living here since may of last year, it’s come to the point my daughter is scared to go to bed and walk around. I am always scratching thinking there all over me. we cannot handle this anymore, we can’t afford to move. I have asked over and over and over to fix the problems. and nothing is being done. What can I do now?!

    Thanks in advance.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Jocelyne

      I’m sorry to hear about the roaches. It sounds like it might be time to hire a professional exterminator. Although treating just your unit won’t solve the problem if the whole building is infested.

      If the manager of the building won’t help with this building-wide problem, then you could possibly terminate the lease. Although, please get legal counsel before doing so, to ensure it’s done correctly.

  • Jen

    My friend and I just moved into an apartment less than a week ago. We asked before signing the lease about any pest problems. We were told there were none. Our first night in the apartment we find 4 cockroaches. 3 days later it is clear the building is infested. They crawl up our walls, our BEDS, everywhere. My roommate even found one on her shirt and IN HER HAIR. We told the office about this and they said we brought them in so we have to pay for it and they couldn’t get their exterminator out for another week. Today our manager admitted that they knew about the problem and that he was “sorry” they didn’t tell us about it. This is our first time out on our own and I’m not sure what to do!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Jen

      I’m sorry you had to deal with that!!!

      Since it was a pre-existing condition when you moved-in, your landlord should pay to have the roaches killed/removed.

      If they don’t, you certainly could claim that the roaches are affecting habitability, and you could could attempt to terminate your lease and ask the landlord compensate you for damages. However, before you go that far, I strongly suggest you talk to an attorney before you try to force your landlord into action.

      Hopefully, now that the landlord is admitting to the condition, he/she will just get it taken care of. At least that would be my expectation.

      I hope that helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

  • Melanie

    I really hope this works, moved into a new apt two months ago, never read any reviews on my place having bug problems. Found a large roach on the ceiling watching me while I went poo, needless to say that s*** got scared into me. Tried to spray cleaner on it and it took off, before work I found what I believe to be the same large roach on the wall then fall onto my bed, caught it and killed it. Being a single mom I can’t imagine dealing with this on a regular basis, bought the roach gel (and some roach motels because my mom use to buy them and they worked) and put everything where roaches frequently go. Hope this is the last time I see them.

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