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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171 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • tabitha hallford

    So we moved in our apts over a year ago. When we moved in there was a slight pest problem. Of course I didn’t say anything untill a few months after becouse a few wasent a big deal to me.paid my own big deal. now over a year later this place is infested. I have complained. They offer roach bait once a month. But every time they do it the pests get way worse!! Sometimes the pest control never even shows! Like the request was never even put in even though I walk to the office to request it. And no I’m not a messy person. These things are accumulated on a dry mop for god sakes. Coming in from everywhere walking around day and night. If you put your foot by one it will run twords you! I’m fraustraited. And I want out. Its unsanitary.

  • Mia

    I’ve been living In my apartment for 3 years now pest free, new tenant moves in now all of a sudden 4 units including mine have roaches. I’ve seen them in the hall and in the laundry room. Pest control has been out 3 – 4 times and it doesn’t seem to do anything. They only spray the unit the conplaint is coming from so if no one else is reporting the issue I’m screwed. Also the landlord told me which unit they were coming from and had the nerve to say she’s a nice lady. I don’t care how nice she is this is disgusting and frustrating considering how much rent I pay and have to live with roaches.

    • Pug

      Mia, I’m in a similar situation. I’ve been living in my unit for three years, *absolutely* no pest problems. New tenants moved into the unit above me in August, and now I come home to a roach once a week. Sometimes it’s a lone roach, roughly 0.75″ to 1″ long, some times it’s 4 or 5 baby roaches. This weekend I found them in my microwave. Additionally, these tenants are the loudest humans ever. I think it’s 6 people living in a two bed room apartment and they *never sleep*.

      • Mia

        This is outrageous! Does anyone know if there is a law against this?? Shouldn’t they kick them out by now?

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Mia,

          Each state has their own landlord-tenant laws. We outline them here:

          Also, if a tenant is cause a health risk or there are nuisance complaints against them, the landlord could send them a “X day notice to remedy or quit”, and the lease would get terminated if they fail to fix it or leave. But if that landlord doesn’t care, then you’re on your own. Perhaps you could notify the county health dept, the county housing dept, or get help from a lawyer.

          • Mia

            Thanks for this Lucas, my landlord is either very inexperienced, untrained, or just doesn’t give a crap about her job. I think it’s to the point where they should bug bomb the building to get rid of them as I assume they have a nest somewhere, could I suggest that or would she have to come to that
            conclusion on her own? I wish I knew who her boss was or where I could report her too.
            Also I read the iowa tenant laws, and used the link you sent me, could I with hold my rent until this problem is solved or am I doomed until I move out? (Which seems unfair because I didn’t have roaches when I came here and I certainly don’t want to leave with any!)

  • Donna Lewis

    If I live in a apartment complex of 500 apartments and have roaches will all the apartments have roaches

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