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
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photo credit: steve_lodefink via cc
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95 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.

  • Stacey

    I have been in my apartment complex for 5 1/2 years & never seen ANY roaches up until a month ago. Keeping my place clean is never a problem. Get a new neighbour a few months ago & here they are…you see one & the next thing you know there’s MORE. They are mostly in my kitchen & bathroom every once in awhile in my bedroom, although I haven’t seen any in my bedroom recently. Believe or not I have tried some home remedies (ammonia) sprayed that in my kitchen cabinets & haven’t seen any in over a week (wood roaches) I believe they were. Brought it to the management attention, she will call for the exterminator to come, but the first time i started noticing roaches was when the exterminator came the first time to spray (sigh). I ha e boric acid down, combat traps, & ammonia diluted with water. I’m trying to move aswell

  • Sara

    Hi Lucas,

    I just renewed my lease. A year ago I saw 2 roaches. The buildings exterminator sprayed, but also told me there was an infestation in the garbage chute, which is directly across from my door.

    A couple of months ago I saw a few. The exterminator sprayed. I saw a few dead ones near kitchen. Then a few lives ones. Exterminator sprayed again a couple of months ago. Yesterday I saw babies.

    I bought Borax to put everywhere. when I opened under kitchen sink to put the powder there I saw a huge roach. I took out all of my cleaning supplies only to find tons of dead babies, droppings skin shells…and a nest on the wall by the kitchen sink plumbing.

    There is an infestation. When I opened my pantry tonight to clea , more. Exterminator will come one Monday. I am a lawyer, not LL tenant and will obviously be writing letters to my evil LL to try to move. do you think they can get them out with treatments? Trying to break lease will take time and I cannot live like this!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Sara

      Roaches can be scary and your situation does sound bad. I just had a roach problem in one of my properties and I was able to get rid of them with professional treatments every 14 days for a month and a half. Since the poison/bait kills them in cycles, it might take 4 weeks for them to go away completely. The fact that you found dead roaches is a really good sign. It means the treatment is working.

      In situations like this, the tenant typically has to give a “XX day notice to remedy or quit” but since the landlord has already been treating the unit, his actions have shown a good and faithful attempt to remedy. Now, it’s just a game of being consistent until the roaches are gone.

      If you really want to get out of your lease, my suggestion would be to avoid trying to blame the roaches. You might be able to negotiate your way out of it simply by asking, and then helping him find a replacement tenant to move-in. Generally speaking, landlords don’t want tenants who don’t want to live in the unit. If you can make it easy and convenient for a landlord to let you out if the lease, they usually say yes – at least I know I would. I hope that helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer (unlike you :) nor is this legal advice.

  • Sara

    Thanks, Lucas.

    I was looking for a landlord’s advice and understand this is not legal advice. My co-workers are just as freaked out as me so I am getting help with lawyers who do this type of work.

    I’m 31 years old, have lived all over country and traveled and have never seen a roach until I moved to NY (I know they are everywhere). I just never expected to be in this situation because I am your type A personality neat freak, and I live in the suburbs.

    I just hope the treatment helps. I cannot bank on my landlord. I have only had 1 decent landlord since moving here, and since I’m not in the city where the laws are more tenant friendly.

    You seem like a good landlord. I hope you have good tenants because I can only imagine how disrespectful some tenants are.

    Thanks again!

  • Lia

    We moved into an apartment on the 1st of June. We noticed roaches and right away bought store treatments. However, thr neighbors to my left ate flithy. Their back patio is full of dirty clothes, blankets, and other crap. I’m sure the problem is coming from next door. Can I make a complaint about them pr what xan I do.?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Lia,

      Of course you can make a complaint. But unless you have the same landlord/manager as the neighbors, your complaint might not carry a lot of weight.

  • Marisa

    My boyfriend and I moved into a house 3 weeks ago. There’s roach feces on the walls & I see at least 5 roaches every night. We have no written lease with our landlord. It’s a month to month oral lease. Do we have the right to either break the lease & get our deposit back or make our landlord pay for extermination & a thorough cleaning?

  • Lucas Hall

    Hi Marisa,

    Though disgusting, the presence of roaches doesn’t not always make a unit uninhabitable. But the landlord should pay to get them treated as soon as possible since the roaches were present when you moved-in.

    A tenant is entitled to a unit, free of pests, upon move-in.

    As with any month-to-month lease, a tenant can terminate it with proper notice. Each state has different laws for the amount of time required. Check out your state’s laws:

    Good luck to you. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

    • Jenn

      Disagree. ANY sort of bug issue makes the unit uninhabitable. The only exception to that *might be fruit flies since they are seasonal and actually do respond to there being no trash in the house.

      • Lucas Hall

        Hi Jenn

        Personally, I completely agree with you. But each county has their own set definition of “habitability”. Some are more lenient than others. Further, there have been lots of cases where the property was clean on move-in but because of the tenant’s living pattens, they’ve attracted pests. If the tenant is the cause of the infestation, why should the landlord be penalized?

  • Jane Belluchi

    I live in a building where there is an ongoing problem with roaches… Exterminator does come regularly. 9 days ago I had to clean out my cupboards so exterminator could do a more thorough job of spraying. I also put out traps. Now I’m seeing more bugs than before. Only saw dead ones the day they sprayed… Now no dead ones just live timy & small ones…. What else can I do?? What else can I ask the owner to do??

    • Jenn

      Tiny ones mean an egg sac or two hatched out. Another visit, pronto. Is any sort of poison bait being used? That helps kill those back in the nest.

      • Jane Belluchi

        Exterminator put out something that looks like peanut butter, I put out Combat Roach killer stations… Plus sprayed around my doors & windows with Ortho Home Defense Max… I do have a bottle of boric acid but have not used it yet… But I know I need too now!! Just not sure where all to put it!! I don’t have pets or small children around.

      • Jane Belluchi

        Bait is Combat & something that looks like peanut butter put out by the exterminator

        • Jenn

          That’s no good, the exterminator has some stuff they should be applying with what looks like a small caulk gun. They put it in high traffic roach areas, the roaches eat it, bring it back to the nest, and when they die the other roaches eat them and get poisoned themselves. I think it may be something of a desiccant, you know a roach is on its last legs because the wings are ‘sprung’ up from the thorax. It’s one of the few effective ways to get to nests in the walls etc.

  • Christine

    How long does it take for roaches to vacate a home once tenants move out? The home was vacant from tenants for 2-3 weeks before anyone moving into the home.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Christine

      In my experience, the roaches won’t leave until their food source goes away. Roaches feed on grease and standing water among other things. They are survivors. If there is grease in your stove vent or cabinetry, they will stay there for months or years. The only real way to get rid of them is to treat the property. At least that’s been my experience.

  • Jane Belluchi

    This place has plenty of grease on the cabinets & pemiated in them too.. I spent a month washing floors, door frames, appliances & vacuuming everything. Tops of cabinets, cupboard & every crevice & crack. I scrubbed all surfaces I the kitchen & bathroom. And I painted all the walls except the closets. I kind of a clean freak after taking care of sick parents & having food allergies that I have to carefully moniter for cross contamination… But as I said since exterminator was here last I have been killing 3 or 4 bugs a day… Except today…

  • Victoria

    I just woke up from my second infestation nightmare after killing the usual 3-4 daily roaches. My roommate and I are in the military and just moved into a cute little house on a nice little cul-de-sac on June 5th.
    While I was moving in, the previous tenant stopped by and told me “The house is great, but there’s waterbugs in the garage.”
    I had seen a few dead ones and the bait traps he had left behind, but it’s an older place, built in 1968, in a wooded area so I wasn’t terribly concerned.
    The first night a HUGE roach crawled up next to me while I was laying in bed at 4 AM. Closer inspection of the garage revealed what appeared to be the remains of a recent nest behind the water heater.
    I talked to the Property manager who sent out two exterminators at the previous tenant expense. No change and now she’s not answering the phone.
    We’ve been treating the place ourselves with foggers, sprays, caulk, steel wool and anything else you can think of but they keep coming. Not sure what to do.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Victoria,

      In my experiences, it take a few weeks (or sometimes months) for roach treatments to work. My suggestion would be to keep at it, and wait for it to work. Since you just moved in, the cost of remediation should fall on the landlord – in my opinion. Perhaps if you continue to try and contact them, and suggest that you’ll handle the repair, can you withhold the cost from rent? Sometimes, they will say yes just because you made it easy to.

      I hope that helps!

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