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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239 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.

    • Jean

      Found out about roaches after moving in. Who should I contact? Help me please.

    • LARRY

      Your biggest mistake was not to say anything after only seeing a few after moving in. If there is one or more they usually have family… what worked for me was to first get raid bug spray ( RAID BUG BARRIER ) this will last after the spray dries. It get absorbed and seems to kill the little bastards when they come in contact with an area that has been treated. Another weapon I use is the Roach Motels. I place them anywhere there darkness including your hall and bedroom closets and linen cabinets. When i placed the motels in my kitchen and bathroom they got smart and moved into my home office and bedroom. Also place them anywhere is there is moisture like all living things they love water. I hope this helps and good luck!

    • Bob

      I live in the Regency Apts in El Cajon, Ca. It is a Roach infested shit hole. management does NOTHING!

  • 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!)

            • Paul

              Building is old, have fought roaches for a year; had nose cancer surgery and repair so had to wait until exterminated two weeks ago. I am being treated for an unidentified infection; doctor thinks maybe sinuses, but no drips, just headaches. Is it possible that the whole apartment air can be contaminated?

            • B

              The county records have the owner of the property’s name and address

          • Stacy

            Please help. Tell me what I can do. How can I contact the Texas health department ? What are my rights? I moved into my apt a month ago, and yes I’ve complained of the roach infestation that has been present since I moved in. They offer pest control here but it’s a joke and does not help at all. They make me pay $5 a month for these services yet I’ve seen roaches every day since moving in. I’m 9 months pregnant about to have my baby and I’m not even sure where to keep the baby bottles without roaches crawling all over them. They’re in the building and they come in the apt thru light fixtures, drains, and air vents. Please tell me is there anything I can do to get out of the lease? And yes I have roach motels, gel, etc etc etc etc.

  • Donna Lewis

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

  • Matt

    This guy sounds like a slum lord. Two weeks and its the tenants responsibility. Just enough time for those roaches to come back. They never leave

    • Lucas Hall

      Thanks matt. Why would assume the worst? If you read any of the articles, you’ll know that I’m not.

      It’s important to be honest. If there were roaches from the last tenants, and they come back 2 weeks later, I think ever landlord should own up to that, and not try to cover it up. I’ve certainly paid for a professional to treat for roaches after 2 weeks from move-in because I knew it wasn’t the tenant’s fault.

      best of luck to you. I hope you find a good landlord.

      • Ali

        Yea, I’ve gotta agree — I think that’s a terrible clause. It is totally understandable to make the tenant pay for it, if the infestation is his or her fault. However, as many other people in these comments have alluded, it is impossible to keep your apartment roach-free, if your surrounding neighbors are filthy and the source of the pests. I’m an absolute neat freak — I NEVER leave food/dishes in the sink, I take out all trash right before I go to sleep, all food is kept in air tight containers, and I wipe down my counters and eating areas every night. I have STILL dealt with a roach problem because of my neighbors. I would be furious if my landlord had made me pay for the exterminator that came out.

      • jason bladzinski

        You should know, cleanliness has nothing to do with roach infestation. Ask any exterminator, you could be a clean freak as still get roaches. As a landlord, you should be liable for at least a month if not more. If you had to bring in the exterminator and they return after a time, it’s because you didn’t actually eliminate them and they rebound.

  • R. Anderson

    We have had our pest control man out to spray for roaches in a duplex apt. The tenant was notified. Pest control man sprayed as best he could, however, her apt is a “pigsty” and he could not do a good job. He also took pictures of the mess. He came back within the 10 day period to spray again.Tenant was notified two days prior and again the evening before. Didn’t make any difference. Apt was still in a mess. We are trying to evict her and we believe she is using this as her reason for not paying the rent. This is in Florida. We have an appt. with a lawyer Monday to find out what can be done to get her to comply with this problem. As long as she keeps living as she does, she will always have roaches. Any ideas?

  • Jade Lynn

    I would never want this guy as my landlord, assuming ALL tenants are dirty and bringroaches. We are having issues in our new apt. Moved in March, and saw roaches in the first week, we went to the landlord, and told her, she said they were water bugs, but would get an exterminator out the following week. Never saw the guy, so don’t think he even came, cause the roaches are still here, and they are bringing the whole damn family. Now we have babies running around, and nothing we do works.we bought barrier spray, traps, borax tablets and they still keep coming. Dishes are always down, trash is taken out half full. No food left out for the pets at night. What can we do. We have mentioned it a total of fives times so far and no improvement

    • brenda McDermott

      I’m having same issue. But first i absolutely do not like the fact that Lucas assumes it’s the tenant!! I moved in here and the second note small bugs were crawing down my head as I was reading in bed!;found 2 in my waterglass at night. Finnally when I saw a giant roach I realized they were babies!!! Met my neighbors 1st thing they asked is did u meet my bugs yet? U still gonna say it’s me? Office will only send a pest guy. The whole building is infected.what do u do when management won’t do thier part???

      • Diana

        We have the same problem in Sacramento. Although the LL is a nice guy, he’s a slumlord. He also rents to scumbag tweakers and they dumpster dive & bring the roaches inside. I even had one of my company assaulted in the parking lot! And this is only 9 single level units here. So all it takes is ONE p.o.s. tweaker scumbag, which West Sacramento has a lot of, to ruin and infest a complex, however small. Since I grew up with my parents owning rental properties, (now deceased ) I’m very familiar with the law. So hopefully this won’t turn into a clusterf**k for me. I’m in college full time and disabled, so hopefully in the near future I can move to a better place.

      • Lucas Hall

        Hi Brenda,

        If the whole building (or even if more than 1 unit) is affected, the landlord or building owner should really take this issue on and get the problem fixed – at their own expense. When the problem extends past 1 unit, it’s clear that it’s probably a building issue, and not just 1 tenant.

      • STACY

        leave. if you can’t leave right away, go to a chem pro store or other store that lets you buy demon wp or other commercial pesticide and spray your apartment yourself. i spray mine every month with demon wp. my complex doesn’t spray the inside of the units on a regular basis. the buildings are full of oriental roaches. well the ones that come into my apartment are dead oriental roaches. i’m moving out in april when my lease is up and i’m not looking back !

  • Gracie

    We have been putting up with the rental house next door for years. Roaches moved in 10 years ago, and the problem was never adequately dealt with. Over the years, I have had exterminators, but mostly I have used the roach motels, bug bombs, boric acid, and even emptied all the cabinets and sprayed the house myself. And the landlord collects rent from section 8 housing. He doesn’t care as long as the money is rolling in. Evidently one couple who lived there for five years thought having roaches was normal, everyday existence. They’d just turn the toaster upside down and smack it a few times before they used it. We never had roach problems until that house became a rental. I’d like to sue that landlord myself for all the aggravation.

  • victoria logan

    really helpful ! My brother was down in our basement the other day when he found some cockroaches near our water heater. There were only about three but we aren’t sure if that is all. I want to make sure that they don’t grow in numbers and that we take care of the problem as soon as possible.

  • Jeannette Johnigan

    I am disabled, 60 years old, and have lived in the same place for 24 years. In September, 2015, Management gave all tenants notice that the Pest Control Guy was coming and was going to service all apartments, with our permission of course. Management added that if we did not agree to the service we would surely get invaded by pests. What the management neglected to tell us is that the Pest Guy would not be spraying a repellant, he would be spraying an attractant. Not knowing this at the time service was done (and not in all units)I was rather perplexed when the roaches started coming into my apartment in droves through the electrical outlets, from behind the bathroom mirrors, the hole in the wall behind the stove, etc.

  • Candace

    Hi my spouse & I moved in June of this yr…..we started seeing a few pest the second night in our apt. Bought bug spray and boric acid that was ok for two days. The roaches start getting really bad! We went to the leasing office with our rent(end of the month) & list of things that was never finished in the apt including spray of bugs. The secretary told us she’ll put in the order and we okayed it. It is now coming around for rent again and the same list we sent to her nothing has been done. It’s gotten worse so we are going down to the lease office to tell her if we get this handled ourselves and it Will come out of our Rent.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Candace,

      Good luck. Just as a word of caution, most states have laws on how you have to handle any rent withholdings. If you do it improperly, you might find yourselves receiving a termination notice – regardless of your roach problem.

  • Brenda

    I just moved in with my fiance who has lived in this building for two years. I saw one or two, but now they are working on remodeling the whole building, and putting in new pipes. Now we see them, and they are HUGE!! I have seen two already in one week, and it freaks me out. We are moving by the end of October, and we don’t want to bring them with us. There is, sporadically, a sign up sheet in the lobby if you want your unit treated. They have only come TWICE in two years, despite my fiance putting his name on the list. I came from a place where pest control was taken very seriously. Really irritating.

  • Jodi

    I actually have OCD & my cupboards, closets & drawers are all meticulously clean & in order. However, I live in an apartment complex with 12 other units and about year after we moved in we got a letter from the landlord saying there were bedbugs in a unit & if any tenant gets bedbugs the tenants are responsible for paying for a landlord approved exterminator. My problem with this is that all 12 units share ONE washer & dryer, so spreading the bedbugs from unit to unit could easily happen. Thankfully I never got bed bugs…BUT the other day I saw a cockroach when I opened a cupboard. It makes no sense for me to have to pay for an exterminator when the roaches are coming from other units, I shouldn’t have to pay for their filth. I’m moving

  • Erica

    I can’t believe you would make tenants pay for their own pest control after only 2 weeks. I have a roach infestation from the people downstairs who don’t seem to mind the roaches, but I can’t get rid of them even with an exterminator (who doesn’t seem to know what he is doing). I have never had roaches before, but obviously this apartment has a problem and I am at a loss for what to do. I am going to try bombing tomorrow and then I don’t know what else to do but perhaps call the Board of Health since I am a single mother with limited funds and I can’t live like this. It has ruined my life.

  • Evan Kimple

    Hey, what an interesting and wonderful post. Helped me a lot with my problem. Appreciate the details you have mentioned. Absolutely true!

  • Leslie Cribb

    I am a tenant. I noticed roach nests in the corners of my cabinets just a few days after moving in and signing the lease. The landlord’s go to person lives next door because he lives in New York. They tried to tell me that there were no bugs. My kitchen is infested. It’s so bad that they are in the stove. The only come out at night and rarely during the day. He won’t pay for an exterminator because he says they rip you off. I’m stuck with doing all of the bombing an spraying and whatever other method I can think of. I have children so I’m paranoind all the time that they are not washing out their cup or plate before they eat off of it. The bombing is a huge job from having to move everything. He almost acts like it isn’t a big deal

  • GC

    My boyfriend and I have been living in this condominium complex for about two years now. I’ve seen single roaches every now and then, and I get freaked out. Maybe like a week or so ago, we started seeing them a lot more, not in pairs just by themselves (I know that doesn’t mean anything) last night from the morning until we wen’t to sleep spotted at least 4-5 roaches! I’m home all day long, and never EVER hear either of the neighbors vacuuming, well the one on the right does, but once in a BLUE MOON that’s not cutting it. And talking to either would probably not be good since the left pretend they only speak bangaldesh and the right side is a ghetto fat whore! Sick and tired of this already! I hope to GOD we don’t take any with us!

  • dottie

    I live in public housing. It’s awful here. We just recently got a new property manager, and the old one was simply dreadful. She was crooked and sneaky and would sweep a lot of her dirt under the rug. March 23rd 2017, I learned we had a new property manager. A company named RAD just took over. When I first moved in about 5 years ago I had an infestation of roaches. I used Boric Acid, and tablets, and have been roach free for years. On March 23 they removed my old stove and brought a used stove that was dirty with dead roaches to my unit. They called themselves taking the stove back out of my unit and cleaning it. Since then I have been seeing roaches here and there. I requested a new stove but haven’t heard anything as of yet, some nerve.

  • M Dàwn

    I’m feeling frustrated, I informed my landlord immediately after moving in that there were cockroach sightings. I’m a very clean person, obsessively really, so this is problem for me. After contacting my landlord she replied that she called my neighbors and they had no issues and that there were none when she cleaned the rental. I took pictures there were dead ones in the apartment as well as live sightings. I’ve placed traps etc. But nothing seems to manage the problem and my landlord has been utterly dismissive. Its infuriating and disgusting. What else is there to do besides move out and find a rental that’s clean?

    • Gia

      Hi M Dawn, I’ve had the same problems as well. I’ve taken preventable measures by getting cockroach traps i.e. Combat. As well as vacuuming twice a day as well as mopping. I do however spray the sinks in kitchen and bathroom with ammonia after taking a shower or brushing our teeth. I immediately do my dishes and dry them. Do not leave them to dry in the dish rack as water will accumulate there. I also spray ammonia on the dish rack. Make sure everything is bone dry. Put all of your bread, pasta and cereals in air tight containers or the refrigerator. Hope this helps

  • Ashley

    I just signed lease the 1st of May.. I haven’t moved anything in yet and hadn’t planned till the 13th. Well I pop up in the middle of the night at the apartment and low and behold I find roaches in all stages nymph, etc. I took pictures and emailed to my leasing office.. they are out till Monday so now it’s just a waiting game.. should I stay, and wait for them to do something.. or back out. I am completely disgusted, because they said the apartment had all new appliances and carpet etc. put in.. but I found at least 15 different roaches in totality, from room to room.

  • lisa-may

    i had similar issue. signed lease and saw 2-roaches that day in front of mgnt. they claimed they had someone just spray and that’s the leftovers. i was in a bind and trusted the comment. yet the next morning we move in and roaches crawling up walls,on refrigator and across the floor. i nearly cried.
    we sprayed raid and applied boric acid. they never left. we moved out 5-days later and got our deposit back.

    the new place was down the street and a day later roaches only 1 in the kitchen. we told mgnt and nothing. its been 3-weeks and i still see 1-2 roaches a day. take note-we have not moved our stuff in yet and we eat out.

    any advice ?

  • Ali

    Husband & I found a home to rent for us & our 4 kids. We put down deposit of 1st & last months rent & signed the lease. 1 day before moving in, while we were going over plans of where to put our furniture, we found 2 live roaches crawling in the basement. We then checked the rest of the home & found dead roach bodies, skins, & hatched eggs in the kitchen & bathrooms. We took pictures. We confronted the company that owned the home about not informing us of this issue. They denied knowing but there is no way that they did not see all of this during clean up before we moved in. Husband & I knew nothing about roaches, & the company promised to take care of the issue. We moved in & now 9 months later, they refuse to take care of issue!

  • Allison

    Home owner of a side by side new dwelling duplex just over 10 years old. Has a tenant for 8 years with 2 small children never a problem with rodents. New tenants moved in over a year ago, large family and now we are seeing roaches. How do I address the tenants about the problem that is within legal rights. As we have seen some display of uncleanliness that would cause this problem but want to ensure we are approaching the situation appropriately and legally. We will definitely have the entire place exterminated but I want to let them know this is because of them

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