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
Your Rental

14 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • robfab

    forget the “2 week” part, I had a tenant move them in with him. maybe from the grocery store boxes he used for moving, maybe from his last place. another tenant saw a roach crawl out from under his door in the hall i the first week and almost caused the whole place to want to move out. we nipped it with an exterminator right away ad luckily never saw more. I sprinkle boric acid everywhere in kitchens and bathrooms, basements, before every move in. I tell them up front if they cause any infestations, they are responsible for all costs (even imply verbally including others moving) and warn them to be extremely careful about where they get moving boxes and any used furniture or large or small appliances now or later.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hey Rob,

      I hope you charged the exterminator bill to that tenant!

      The only reason I give the tenants 2 weeks before they are responsible is so I can guarantee that the units don’t have bugs at move-in. So, if the units do, then the bugs will be evident within 2 weeks. Everything after that is probably caused by messy tenants. It logically prevents the tenants from saying “the bugs were there when we moved in (6 months later)”.

      • brandy

        what if i have been living in a house duplex over two years never had roaches and then we get next door neighbors and we now are infested with them i have 3 small children and seems since the neighbors have brought the roaches with them me and the kids have been getting sick more often they are all moved out and we still see a ton of them me and my husband have poured boric acid all around the house we have bombed twice we have sprayed we have put the glue boards down the gel baits and we are still stuck with them any suggestions and we have never asked the landlord for anything have tried eliminating the problem on our own but he is aware of the problem and he also had to bomb and buy the neighbors spray for the apartment next door and even after moving out. we now have new neighbors and they are complaining as well because they are seeing them as well

        • Lucas Hall


          Sorry to hear about your roach problem.

          If the problem is severe enough (which is sounds like it is), then I suggest hiring a professional pest extermination company. Make sure to hire one with a “guarantee”, so they will come out as many times as needed until you don’t see any more roaches.

  • Andrea

    Hi I was wondering how else could you get roaches? I am a very clean person who cleans my house everyday from top to bottom. within the last week I’ve seen 3 roaches and getting worried. What should I do that won’t harm my 2 dogs?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Andrea,

      I think the same solutions listed above still apply. Just make sure the boric acid, or bait stations are hidden and out of reach from your dogs. If you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, you could call a professional extermination company. They usually have a lot of experience with treating houses in a way that is safe for pets.

  • Mary

    I live in an apartment complex, which they pay monthly for an exterminator to come out. They have sprayed my apartment even before I moved in (been in my unit for 3 months) and it is believed by the maintenance guy that it’s the woman above me that is not as clean. I am obsessively clean (always take my shoes off inside, taking my trash out every night, launder my sheets and clothing each week) but I am apparently the only tenant that has the largest bug problem. Three times of having an exterminator hasn’t eradicated the problem and I just purchased boric acid. Will this at least help prevent the major roach infestation inside my unit? How do I get a large management company do something about the dirty tenant above me?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Mary,

      You’re between a rock and a hard place. Though you have control over your space, you don’t have any control over your neighbors. Further, in order for the management company to fully get rid of the roaches caused by your neighbor, they have to convince the neighbor to change his/her living behavior – which is almost impossible to do.

      They also can’t terminate her lease or kick her out unless she is so dirty that it is damaging the property, blocking fire escapes, or causing a nuisances. Even then “hoarding” is considered a disability. Further, they have to “prove” that your neighbor is the cause – which is hard to do.

      My suggestion to you would to to spray boric acid powder into all the nooks and crannies that you can find. Spray it in the floorboard, around the outlets, and any area that a roach might live. Since it’s a powder, be sure to wear a mask so you don’t breath it in. Then, try to have a decent conversation with the exterminator and ask him to fight on your behalf, to plead with the management company. If he says “we’ll never get rid of the roaches unless I can treat the neighbors unit” perhaps the management company will perform a mandatory treatment of the unit above you, which will hopefully help.

      Good Luck!

  • Kristin

    I did my friend a favor and managed an apartment complex for her this week while she had surgery. A tenant called me and reported roaches. It’s a REALLY CLEAN complex, and these people were filthy. I nearly gagged going into the apartment. I had an exterminator come spray (surrounding units too) but the person who reported the problem would not comply with the clean up requirements (clean out cupboards, etc.) and the exterminator couldn’t spray. Since I’m not working there next week, I called the exterminator back for when the manager is there. But do tenants have requirements for cleaning if you want to spray? If they keep the kitchen covered with old food and grease, is that cause for them to eventually be evicted? I’m just curious. I’m looking for a rental, and I will honestly consider my neighbors very carefully. Which sounds terrible, but you could smell the apartment from outside of it. The exterminator said the infestation was bad and at least 7 months old. It was never reported until this week.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Kristin,

      I believe it’s a team effort when getting rid of roaches. If they want the roaches to disappear, they have to help with the solution by complying with all instructions. If they want you to pay for the exterminator, the least they could do is help the exterminator perform a thorough job by cleaning out the cabinets. In fact, if their lifestyle (filthiness) attracted the roaches, then you could even make a strong case that they should have to pay for the extermination.

      If their lifestyle is causing physical damage to the unit, then yes, you can terminate their lease for a lease violation (with proper notice). You should give them a chance to remedy it (cleaning up). This is called a “notice to remedy or quit”, and your state laws will tell you how much notice is needed:

      Then, if they don’t leave, you’d have to file an eviction with the courts – since only the sheriff can physically force them to leave. Keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer, so please don’t consider this legal advice.

  • Bridget

    I have been living in a place that what the maintenance people call a “roach hotel”. I have done my part by being the responsible tenent and following what the rules say about care of your home but I am at my wits end and I need HELP!!! I have spoken to the leasing office SEVERAL times and they have a pest guy but he came in my apartment and sprayed 2 palces by the sliding glass door not realizing that my husband was home and left. My husband watched him spray in the specific spots and leave. Granted he should have said something and made him spray but he didn’t and called me at I immediately called the leasing office. I have a hamster which I keep clean but the roaches are now invading his space. I have an asthmatic child and I am just fed up. This week alone we have killed at least 30 roaches in our apartment of all sizes. I have called and called and tried to get help but it is to no avail. We have sealed every opening we could find, have the boric acid, the roach bait,I bleach EVERYTHING, put things in containers and NOTHING IS HELPING. I am here because my credit is not good and this is the only place we can afford to live. I JUST NEED HELP.PLEASE STEER ME IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION!!!!!


    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Bridget,

      It sounds like you need a professional exterminator to treat the entire building (not just a sliding door). Roaches tend to live in walls. Once they are already in the building, only an idiot would think to spray a sliding door (point of entry).

      If there are other tenants in the building, could you band together, and write a demand letter to the landlording, asking to “bug bomb” the building? Something drastic needs to happen in order for the landlord to take you seriously. It’s gotten this bad because of lack of maintenance. If you still can’t get any help, you should call the county health department. They could send out an inspector, and then force the landlord to take action.

      I suggest documenting every roach that you find, every form of communication that you have with your landlord, and every action that was taken to remedy the problem. If the landlord is not providing a habitable place to live, then he/she is in violation of the lease, and you can terminate your lease with proper notice. Check out: .

      Keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer, so please don’t consider this legal advice. There are plenty of “legal aid services” in your state that could help you real legal advice, and help you fight this situation.

  • Mallory

    My husband and I moved into a new apartment 17 days ago. We came from a very clean apartment that was treated for bugs every single month. I have never had bugs in my life, so I’m certain I didn’t bring them. Meanwhile, our apartment was empty on hold for us over the summer without anyone in it, about a month. We paid for the holding along with our deposit.
    On the tenth day in our new place, we started spotting roaches. It’s been another week and they’re everywhere. We’ve taken the trash out every day, laid traps, sprayed gel into the cracks, bagged all our food, elevated the pet bowls, wiped down the sink after use, you name it, and more keep popping up. We reported it the same day we saw them, which is when the property manager admitted that while our apartment hadn’t complained of roaches since 2002, the building itself has been consistently infested, and the apartment below us had them as recently as last year. We were told a pro would come out and spray our place and inspect the neighboring apartments. We haven’t received a date for when the exterminator will come, and we did contact again three days later.
    As of today I am packing a bag to stay with my in-laws. I’m also looking into boarding our cats. My husband is saying he will stay and wait to meet with the exterminator, but I can’t take it. I’ve started contacting the city to make sure we do everything right.
    At this point, I would like to seriously look into giving notice and moving out. The property manager has been sympathetic, and the second big leasing boom of the season is coming up in 10 weeks. Our lease states we must give 55 days notice before leaving. If I agree to give 55 days notice, eat the cost of the deposit, and move out in time for them to clean for the next leasing boom while also doing my part to maintain the roach problem, do you think it would be worth discussing breaking the lease with our landlord?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Mallory,

      I think it is worth a try. It doesn’t hurt to ask! Perhaps you might wait to see what the manager would propose before showing your hand? Perhaps he/she might let you out with only 30 day notice, or better.

      As long as the manager is actively trying to remove the roaches, you would still be responsible for the lease – unless the situation makes the apartment inhabitable.

      So, trying to negotiate your release is the best approach, in my opinion.

      Keep in mind, I’m not a lawyer so please don’t take this as legal advice.

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Landlordology is a moderated community.
If you want your photo to appear next to your comment, create a Gravatar.

Get Updates by Email

Join Thousands of Landlords