How to Kill Roaches in a Rental Property

Written on January 20, 2013 by , updated on June 8, 2014

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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221 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Trina

    Like everyone else I have never had roach problems before. I live in a unit with three floors. I’m on the 2nd floor. Storage is underneath me and new tenants that moved in this summer are above me. This is when I stated experiencing these small roaches coming from my tub drain. Almost everyday I see a roach if I don’t plug the tub and sometimes I see one even when I plug the tub. The apartment advertise as luxury living. But it’s been two months and still no solution. I went to the hardware store and bought spray and boric acid. Since my apartment owned my Lincoln Properties won’t do anything , what can I do? I can’t afford to move right now because my finances.

  • John

    I’ve been in my rowhome for 5 years and no roaches. Next door was bought and now rented, the new tenants brought roaches so now i have them. I own my home is the landlord next door responsible.

  • Lynn Vanderkamp

    My son & daughter in law brought roaches into my house & do nothing to keep it clean, so they aren’t trying to eradicate the problem. They are VERY sloppy/Messy & don’t pickup after themselves. They have 3 dogs & a parrot that leave messes everywhere & they don’t care to clean any of it. They refuse to leave the home for at least 3-4 hours, so I can bomb & get rid of the problem. WHAT can I do ?

    • Gia Casale

      Hi Lynn, sorry to hear about your problem. All of the pets could make them stay because of the constant food source especially the parrot being that they don’t eat all of their feed like most dogs do. Seek organic pest control that is animal friendly.

      • Lynn Vanderkamp

        I am doing that now, but not working well. They also avoid paying rent at times, {I charge $400.00 a month for 3 adults & they have use of all utilities & appliances, plus 2 bedrooms} But they do not spend wisely & are always scrambling to even pay their phone bill, $100.00 a month. I have asked where all their money goes & they have a million excuses. As of right now, they are in arrears of $2000.00. When they moved in, it was to be temporary, 6 months at most. These were the terms agreed upon, including food for the house with their food stamps. I do all the cooking, but they use their stamps for junk, i.e. pastries, pop, frozen food, fast food, etc. Nothing healthy or usable by me. So, I am spending out of pocket for pretty much everythi

    • Kayce

      What can you do? The answer seems glaringly obvious. The great thing is, you have two choices: 1) Have a backbone and tell your child and spouse to clean up after themselves and pay for extermination visits until the problem is resolved, period; 2) Kick them out and pay to have the problem resolved yourself. Your problem isn’t roaches; it’s your child’s lack of respect and your lack of assertiveness. I’m sorry that you’re in this position in the first place, but you have ability to fix this problem.

      • Lynn Vanderkamp

        You know nothing of my situation. The state where I live doesn’t allow me to just get a backbone about it all. Also, WHAT makes you think I have no spine? I didn’t add drama in my request, but I will give you a taste. I HAVE asked many times about all of it & very LOUDLY at times, but to no avail. You cannot get blood from a rock. The laws here are, that if they are using the address, the only way then is housing court for an eviction, which I don’t have the funds for the court costs, as I am on disability & all my monies go to pay for food, insurance, utilities, etc. You are a little insulting with your answer & I suggest you not respond to others in the same manner,without all the facts.

  • Angie

    I’ve been for five years.Due to renting from relative to help out..I have mold and roaches..I’ve spent my owe money trying to prevent it…Last year an exterminator came and he was looking under my bed and I asked him why..The next thing I knew we had bed bugs…I paid to get rid of them..The apartment is infected with bugs..You may ask why I’m still here the truth of the matter is..Rent is cheap and we are on a budget but I’m trying to find something now..We never experience anything like this

  • Lisa

    I am a landlord and my previous tenants brang roaches into my rental. I made them get a professional exterminator 8 months ago, in which they have treated every month since. Well the tenants moved out of rental early and I have had to do a complete redo of house. While doing all this work I have seen a few roaches. I call orkin everytime and they have been at house to treat 4 times in last month. My question is, do i have to disclose the posibilitie of roaches to perspective tenants

    • Boric

      I believe the landlord should tell prospective tenants—but they NEVER do. The tenant has to do dishes every night, NEVER leave food out, which us difficult — after all, what do you do with unripened bananas. Buy boric acid and use it correctly.

      At least my landlord tries. They’re not like this one who wrote the article. They send an exterminator in quarterly.

  • donna

    I dreamt I was a roach and that I needed food and water so desperately bc I hadnt eaten nor drank water for days
    so the human was out of sight and it was my opportunity to crawl out of my tiny home, but…all of a sudden the human was in front of me, looking at me…then I ran and ran , I could not hide and…I was between the wall and her shoe…then I felt a horrible pain all over my body and then …nothing… —- I wonder ,if we humans were roaches , would we consider this killings fair? or would we consider it a genocide? a violation of our rights? when we kill a life no matter the size or the shape, we are killing ., because that thing was alive, so we are murderers, — but we have killed and will pay back dearly here and in hell.

  • Kassandra

    I just moved into a condo a couple weeks ago. When we were signing the lease, we were made aware of the roach infestation and they were going to poison thru out. The day we were moving in, the property manager showed up and squirted some kind of gel in the cabinets and cupboards in the kitchen and bathrooms. I also placed “roach motels” in every cupboard, cabinet and closet. We still have roaches! And not only in the bathrooms and kitchen, but now in my boxes and stuff!!!! This was clearly a situation before we moved in due to dead roaches smeared on the walls and crunchy roaches all over the floor!!

    My question is… since the infestation existed before we moved in, how long is the landlord responsible for the extermination?

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