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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154 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Cassidy

    Wow so fast your response!! I have a meeting at 2 today with the manager regarding this so again thank you again. A bomb was offered but the bug guy said wouldn’t help my unit not the source is that correct? Thank U!!!!

  • Shalonda

    Good Morning,
    I purchased a condo last year and didn’t start seeing roaches until all if the paper was signed. I saw 2-3. In the process of doing my cleaning before we moved in I started seeing signs that there was a previous infestation. We caulked and cabinets and had the exterminator come out that that is part if HOA agreement. We didn’t see any at all. Recently we have started seeing multiple roaches in every room and lots of babies. I purchased 99% boric acid from Amazon and silicone caulk and spray foam. What else can we do. I’m discouraged and upset because this is my home that I purchased and we just can’t get up and move. Im also upset because the previous owners didn’t disclose. Please help!!! Thanks

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Shalonda

      Sorry to hear about that! If I were in your shoes, I would have the exterminator come out again and continue to treat until they are gone. Sometimes it takes many weeks for the roach cycles to get cut off.

  • Kat

    Hi Lucas,

    We moved into our ground floor apartment about 4 weeks ago and today found 5 roaches on their backs in our living room
    and 2 roaches on their backs in our bedroom. Most were dead.

    When we moved in we didn’t see any roaches and we clean our home regularly so we know these are recent. I told the landlord about it and he said they had the building treated about a 1 1/2 month ago but can have it treated again if we would like. He also said they might be coming from the adjacent patio/garden.

    I am concerned that more will show up as it is startling to see all these roaches popping up recently a month after moving in. What other precautions should we take besides having it treated again?

    Thank you!!!

  • Neesha

    I just moved into an apartment close to my university. There were 4 previous tenants, 3 moved out the other 1 stay alone for the summer. She stated she went home for a month. Then while she was away for the month 2 of the current residents moved in. She returned and i was the final 4th resident to move in. we instantly started seeing roaches in the kitchen only. Bought raid ant and roach spray, contacted the property manager who stated every Tuesday the pest control is to come until we report we havent seen anymore roaches. The exterminator only treated the kitchen and now we see roaches in our living room. What should we do to prevent them from spreading to our bedrooms and bathrooms.
    Thank you.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Neesha,

      Continue to treat the areas. Roach treatments do not work instantly – sometimes they can take a few weeks to kill off all the roaches in their life cycle.

      Try laying more traps and baits too.

  • Harlowe

    I have lived in an upper floor apartment for four years without incident. My apartment is clean and food is never left out. I travel often for work and don’t keep many groceries. A few months ago new tenants move below. I have just recently started seeing roaches in my kitchen! They are coming from a gap between thebstove and counter. An exterminator was ordered by landlord and baits put out. I asked the lower apartment be treated but it was not. I am so embarrassed and no longer cook or have meals at home. My lease has another 6 months! I spread boric acid and advion gel but still see 4-5,per week in the same spot. They are dead or dying when I see them but still very disturbing knowing they are here. I’m afraid and disgusted. Any advice?

    • Lucas Hall


      If the roaches are dead or dying then it seems like the treatment is working. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, so hang in there. Good luck!

      • Harlowe

        I thank you so much for your response. I am still having trouble. After boric acid and baits and my landlord sending an exterminator (who I think just left bait as well), I am still having an issue. I have not gone a full week yet without seeing a roach. They are now fuy grown and alive, not dying. I don’t known what else to do. I hate being here and am miserable. I can’t sleep at night and keep the lights on . I cry on my way home because I dread being here now. After 4 years of being an exemplary tenant I would think my landlord would be eager to prevent an infestation as this clearly not coming from my uni . They seem reluctant to do anything other than lay baits. I asked to move to a different unit and they also refused. Any suggestions

        • Lucas Hall

          Hi Harlowe,

          In my experience, it’s usually 2-3 weeks before I see any sort of result. It’s difficult to kill off every roach in their full lifecycle.

          Killing roaches and all their offspring takes time, so just keep with the program and you will eventually see a decline. If not, then perhaps the exterminator needs to try a different bait.

          Good luck!

  • amanda b

    I started living on my own for the first time I rented an apartment at 4 months pregnant 2 months into it I started seeing roaches I saw two baby ones then as time when on I’d see the adults all over the floor it was a good thing I had tile so I could see when they were on it and pick them up to flush them but I stopped eating in my place because I was so frightened they’d enter my food I finally ended the lease got a new apartment And the first day I saw a baby roach I knew it was one by the atenneas and the one atennea in the back I’ve been here a weeks and seen 6! 3 babies inside and 3 in the hall that were adults I opened the door and they went diving in the crack to hide I can’t escape this lease I just moved in I am SO stressed :(

  • allison

    Hi, I currently live in an apartment complex with 150 units. In my 20 years of renting I’ve never had roach problems until now. In the second month of living here we had a spray treatment -unsuccessful, since then approx. 10 gel layers in kitchen and bathrooms. This month we had a spray treatment, another gel layer and kitchen outlets dusted with poison. The problem has decreased but I’m still finding a few. I bleach the floors so they crawl on the walls. I’m a very clean tenant, doing dishes regularly, throwing out trash at least daily or more. I now have trash in zip lock bags. my food is in zip lock bags. Our neighbors have roach problems too. Landlord says they are in the walls. Advise please, thank you.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Allison,

      Sorry to hear about the roaches. As you’ve probably guessed, it’s difficult to get rid of roaches in a large building, because when you treat one unit, they just migrate to another unit, and then come back later. The best approach is to treat the entire complex at once, but that is also very cost prohibitive. Try removing all forms of grease from your unit – such as scrubbing the walls behind the stove, and replacing the range hood filter. If you get rid of their food supply, they will go somewhere else.

      Good luck.

  • Heather

    I just moved to Chicago. The apartment I moved to has about 100 units. I have NEVER seen a live cockroach in my life. Last week while in bed I saw movement on the wall. I started screaming and made my husband kill it. It was about two inches long. No lie!!! He told me it looked like a wood roach. I tried not to worry. Then tonight I got up to get a drink of water and I killed a smaller bug that was scurrying across the kitchen floor. I googled roaches and sure enough this was a roach. My apartment is so clean. I keep it spotless. I’m so scared now because we’ve only lived here a few weeks. What should my first step be? and what do I do to keep them from coming I to our apartment from other apartments????
    I can’t sleep stressing over it.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Heather,

      As you’ve probably figured, it doesn’t really matter how clean you are if there are neighbors that have roaches. Roaches can invade any type of property, no matter how clean you keep it, as long as they have a food source. They like to eat grease and water.

      I suggest letting your management company know, and they will likely (hopefully) schedule an exterminator to come out and treat the unit. If you’d like to try something immediately, you could try to solutions mentioned in this article.

      Don’t stress to much about it. Every pest control company on the planet knows how to deal with roaches.

  • mary

    We appreciate that you have taken the time to address every person’s problem even though it has been almost three years since the original post.

  • Alexa

    I think it’s interesting that you put all the onus on the renters when there are so many dishonest landlords who knowingly rent homes already infested to unsuspecting people. Messy tenets aren’t the only cause of roaches. Damp basements and plumbing problems are at least as likely to cause pests. Such issues are YOUR responsibility, not ours. It is shocking how many legal protections there are for slumlords and how few for renters.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Alexa,

      You’re absolutely right. If the roaches are present when a tenant moves in, or they are the result of something the landlord has done, then the landlord should absolutely pay for it.

      The catch here is that roaches follow the food. They rarely stick around unless there is a food supply. You don’t see a lot of vacant new construction houses with roaches (even if they have a damp basement).

      In multifamily buildings, the cost of exterminator should almost always be on the landlord since it’s near impossible to figure out where they came from. But in Single family homes, if the house was pest free on move-in, and the only thing that changed was that tenants moved in, it stands to reasons the roaches are attracted to something the tenants are doing. No?

      • Alexa

        No. Roaches don’t limit their diet to scraps of human food. You see, cockroaches are so abundant because they will eat almost anything, including rotting sewage and wet, rotting wood. So even the cleanest tenent doesn’t have a chance if they have the misfortune of living in a home where the landlord allows the foundation and the plumbing to fall into disrepair. The pipes leak, the basement floods. Wood throughout the house rots, the roaches feast, the mold flourishes, and the toddlers end up in the hospital with asthma attacks. And still the slumlord won’t let the family out of their lease.

  • Jenn

    @Alexa: “No. Roaches don’t limit their diet to scraps of human food.” Exactly right! We’re not looking at bare hospital-quality clean stainless steel and lacquered cinder blocks, we’re looking at organic wood etc. My landlord/property managers keep tuning me out about the need to do house-wide treatments. I NEVER had bugs (beyond summer fruit flies) until I moved here and they’re *not going to get to the 3rd floor without coming up from the bottom through the walls and pipes!

  • Katelynne

    Hello Lucas,
    My family just moved into an older rental house where the previous tenant was an absolute slob and left you guessed it roaches. We’ve had the orkin man come out and he has done one treatment so far at our cost. I offered to pay for it since otherwise my landlord could only afford to give me bombs that clearly didn’t work the first three times. Do you have any experience with orkin services and how soon can I expect to see results? Never leave dishes over night, trash out every night all food sealed sink and tub dried at the end of each night ect. We’re taking all the steps but I saw one scurrying around my fridge tonight and now I’m terrified to sleep!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Katelynne

      I’ve used Orkin once, and they seemed to be just as good as the other big companies. “How long will it take?” is probably a better question for Orkin. In my experience, I usually don’t see results for 10-14 days, and then there are usually a few remaining roaches that are still dying out after 2 months. It takes a while to hit all the roaches in their lifecycle.

  • Nikki

    My roommate recently found roaches in our apartment, so our landlord is bug bombing the place. I’ve never had to deal with this before, so I was wondering what to do with some of the things in the apartment. Is it enough that my pots and pans are in cabinets, or should I wash them all after the bug bombing (I own A LOT of cookware). I also have some potatoes, onions, etc. in my cabinets; should I seal those away in Tupperware? Will I have to wash all of my bedding afterwards? What should I wipe down afterwards? Are things like books, papers, and electronics okay to leave out? Anything else I should know about? Thank you in advance for any advice.

  • Alexandria

    Hi Lucas,

    I moved into my apartment in June 2015. The apartment was messy and hadn’t been properly cleaned by the landlord. I clearly saw signs of a previous roach and mouse infestation. Since moving in all food has been kept in plastic storage containers. I’ve been able to irradicate the mouse problem and roaches were at bay until now when it’s getting colder out. I emailed photos of the mess that I found to my landlord back in June, including the disgusting stove. Under the hood of the stove is caked on grease with mouse and roach droppings. It is now October and I still can’t bring myself to clean it. Am I able to require my landlord to have the stove cleaned since it should have been done when I moved in and I showed her documentation?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Alexandria,

      It’s important that you distinguish between “clean” and “habitable”. Yes, I believe all units should be clean and free of pests upon move-in, and the landlord should provide that unconditionally. So, why would you only ask for them to clean the stove when there was so much more that needed done? Why not ask to be compensated for your past cleaning efforts.

      If the unit is fairly clean now, then I don’t see how you could terminate your lease (even if the stove is dirty), but you potentially could file a claim in small claims court to sue the landlord for some reimbursement. However, keep in mind, this will likely burn any relationship you have with the landlord, and could potentially get your lease terminated if you only have a month-to-month agreement.

      Perhaps the easiest solution would be to ask the landlord if you could hire a maid service to do a few hours of cleaning, and then withhold it from the rent. but don’t do so without permission.

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

  • Inastasia Ivy

    I have moved into an apartment in October 1,2015 and I saw that my apartment was not cleaned, there was roach poop under the cabinets, above the dryer, in the corners of the bathroom, and the kitchen. I filed a compliant about it, they sent housekeeper over to reclean, but I still see more roach poop. But the painter just caulk and repaint. But as I look through my apartment more, it is more roach poop. I have the company to spray everyweek, bt now they are having a problem with it. When I got a new dishwasher, there was roaches all dead under the dishware, when they pulled it out to replace the new one. What should I do? I cant leave like this. They are also seen behind the stove.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Inastasia

      The only way to get rid of roach poop is to clean it up. The only way to get rid of roaches is to treat the area in which they live. There are a bunch of suggestions in the article above on how to kill roaches.

  • Liz

    Hi there

    I keep reading “it takes time to hit all the roaches in their life cycles”, but what do you mean by that? Are there certain points in their lives in which spraying is effective and ineffective? We had a professional spray 13 days ago, didn’t see anything until today: two adult roaches and two baby ones.

    I just want them gone! I’m going out of my mind :'( I never want to come home anymore. My landlord says the last tenant was a slob and never told him of her pest problem. My fiancé and I are ready to leave.

    Why aren’t they dead from the spraying? How many times do we have to re-spray? We only see them at night and there aren’t many so it’s not a bad infestation.

    Thank you

  • Jody

    We have been in our apartment for a year and a half. We had our apartment sprayed for bugs in May 2015. Haven’t seen any roaches until recently. Our upstairs neighbors have a roach problem and are being evicted. I just saw 1 in our bathroom recently how can I make sure I don’t see any more and kill them.

  • Joe

    Hello Lucas,

    I visited an apartment building last month and I saw a unit that I liked on the fourth floor. Because it was a little expensive, the landlord proposed a smaller unit on the third floor. He let me take a quick look at it and apologized profusely for the filth the previous tenant left behind (I noticed some dead cockroaches). He said he will redo the floors, repair the cupboards, get new appliances, change the sinks, and redo the counter top. He said he will schedule a visit when the renovations will be done. I passed by two weeks ago and saw filth in the halls of the first floor and some live cockroaches. Can renovations and cleaning the halls get rid of cockroaches? Should I worry about possible infestations?



    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Joe

      Each situation is different. But my experience has shown that simply cleaning a place will not get rid of cockroaches. Once they occupy a building, you have to use any number of treatments (listed above) or hire a professional pest company to fully get rid of them.
      Again, that just my experience.

  • Cynthia James


    My daughter and five year old Grandson moved into a duplex that only shares one wall with the neighbors. Prior to my daughter moving in, the previous tenants had been there close to thirty years and were elderly when they moved out. The duplex was totally remodeled, new hardwood floors, tile in the kitchen, new appliances…. It’s beautiful place. About two weeks after they moved in my daughter starting seeing big roaches in the bathroom. The landlord had the place treated by a pest control company twice but they only treated outside around the house. She has seen a couple dead ones turn up but after two months passed she is now seeing alive ones again. Would you suggest bombing the inside of the house now.?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Cynthia,

      Bombing is certainly one method, but I have no idea if that would be the best option for their unit. I’m not a pest expert, nor have I seen their home. I would suggest working with the landlord because he/she is clearly taking responsibility, and the problem is not solved yet. Perhaps someone could call the pest control company and get their professional opinion. Good luck!

  • Elizabeth

    Hi Lucas,

    We just moved into a new house October 31 and we brought unwanted roommates :-(

    I know they are in our stuff (which is a lot).

    Any ideas before they get a foothold in the new house?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Elizabeth

      Sorry to hear that!

      My first step would be to sort through everything outside (depending on how much stuff you have ).

      But even then, there’s no guarantee. It wouldn’t hurt to be pro-active, and use some of the treatment/traps mentioned in the article above.

  • Ac

    hello I currently live in a roach infested duplex took the landlord to court and got out the lease but what can I do to prevent bringing them to my new roach free house????

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi AC

      I’m glad you were able to get out of the lease. When moving, just be sure to clean all your things really well. For clothes, wash and dry them and then sea them in a plastic bag before moving.

      There’s no guarentee, and if you do see roaches at the new place, just try some of the treatments in this article. Good luck!

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