How To Deal With The Most Common Pests In Rental Housing

How To Deal With The Most Common Pests In Rental Housing

Pests in rental housing can be a real headache for property managers so here is a guide to the common pests and how to deal with them.

When you start thinking about pest control as a management philosophy instead of just triage in an emergency, it is good to give a little thought about what your policy is going to be as a property manager in dealing with the common pests in rental housing.

Giving some thought to integrated pest management and how you are going to communicate that to your owners, your tenants and your employees. Pests in rental housing was the topic during a recent webinar by Darcy Jacobsen, director of content for has put together a guide called Infestation 101: A property manager’s guide and shared several things from the guide on the webinar covering pests in rental housing.

Pest control prevention in rental housing for property managers

“Using Integrated pest management as a preventive is a key. There really is never one magic bullet. There is no one site that has the same treatment solution, so using integrated pest management allows you to work up a plan,” said Kari Warberg-Block, CEO and pest prevention expert at

Property managers may want to consider a philosophy gaining ground these days called integrated pest management to deal with pests in rental housing. It is an environmentally friendly common-sense approach to:

    • Identify pests and monitor infestations
    • Set thresholds for interventions
    • Prevent new infestation
    • Control current outbreaks

What is the biggest pest problem in rental housing?

“Rodents is where we started and about 28% of the population has that issue, and more so in urban areas around dumpsters and on farms. They are a public health risk. So they need to be taken seriously,” Block said.

9 most common pests in rental properties

During the webinar, Jacobson and Block took a poll of property managers and asked them to identify the top pest issues they see in their properties.

Pests om rental housing

Then they broke out the nine most common pests in rental properties.

No. 1 – Pests In Rental Housing – Rodents

Pests in rental housing


“You will see little brown droppings that look like rice. Sounds in the walls and ceilings will freak your tenants out. You will find shredded paper,” Jacobsen said. Traditional options such as traps and poisons can end up with a dead animal in your walls, she said. No one wants dead animals in their walls.

“Repellents are the best option because poisons alone are rarely effective,” said Block. “The rodents die and they keep coming back. Repellents can be effective – it is how I got my start – if they are put in a place where rodents go to nest or where they are going to go and chew on wiring. It is good preventative maintenance because they won’t move in in the first place,” Block said. Also rodents can get in through very small openings, so even the smallest holes are worth sealing up.

No. 2 – Ants

Pests in rental housing

Ants are more of a nuisance than a hazard, but they can ruin food stores. “The gross-out factor is high with these pests for residents. They take a psychological toll. This might be one you get called on frequently,” Jacobsen said. There are certain conditions that make ants come out of the ground after heavy rains, and anywhere there is going to be food. If you can find the path in, then that is a huge step in controlling them,” Block said. In terms of maintenance for pests in rental housing keep ants away look first at windowsills, seal cracks and crevices, in walls and foundations, trimming the trees and shrubs back from the exterior walls and minimizing water around your foundation.“Ants are drawn to water, and so are many of these bugs. If you take away water sources they are less likely to come around – leaks, air conditioners dripping, etc.” Jacobsen said.

No. 3 – Fleas

Fleas How To Deal With The Most Common Pests In Rental Housing

Obviously fleas pose a health risk to animals, dogs and cats especially. A lot of people also have allergies. What do we look for? “So look for pets scratching themselves that’s a sure sign, or fast moving black/brown insects in fur especially near the eyes. In some cases you may see black dirt or dried blood where pets sleep. “Prevention options include treating the pets with spot applications. Avoid feeding or taking in stray animals,” Block said. Anywhere also where animals are coming into contact with each other you want to be vigilant, especially if you have a multifamily pet area. Fleas, Jacobsen said, are really one of those things that it’s up to your residents more to keep up with as the tenant behavior in taking care of the pet is important so you want to educate them if you have a known problem and if fleas are common in the area. Traditional treatments are a residual insecticide around baseboards, lawns, flea collars, baths and bombs. Biologically safe treatments include frequent vacuuming and emptying the bag immediately – one of those common sense things that makes a huge difference. You want to get the eggs out of the carpet and sleeping areas and bedding. There are growth regulator pesticides with an active ingredient and using flea combs on pet fur.

No. 4 – Wasps

wasps How To Deal With The Most Common Pests In Rental Housing

“Wasps, fleas and mosquitoes are three of the top things searched on the internet because people are so freaked out about them. There is a heightened sensitivity to them. So when you hear about it from a tenant take it seriously because there is also an emotional component – whether real or perceived. So some of the signs to look for are nests in eaves, light fixtures and even underground. Wasps will congregate around picnic tables and trash bins. If you get complaints from your tenants, you need to look in the lights, in the eaves, and around the trash and if you are seeing a lot there you may have an infestation,” Jacobsen said. Block suggested taking a flashlight with red cellophane over the cover to look for nests so the wasps are not attracted to bright light of a regular flashlight.  Also trash areas with old sweet, soft drinks can be a magnet for wasps as well as other pests in rental housing.

No. 4 – Bedbugs

bed bugs How To Deal With The Most Common Pests In Rental Housing

“This can be a terrifying infestation – not because they do a lot of damage – but because of the stigma. Plus the loss of property in having to replace your mattress, plus they do bite,” Jacobsen said. “Bed bugs feed on human blood,” Block said, “so look for dark spots the size of a pinhead or red stains on sheets or mattresses. If your tenants suspect they might have bedbugs, how do you treat that when they arise? “The best prevention is not to take on used mattresses or used furniture,” Jacobsen said. Exterminators are recommended. “You have to rely on your tenants. Your tenants are bringing this in, so you need to be sure they are not staying somewhere they will bring these in. It is good to educate your tenants and used mattresses seem to be the number one culprit,” Jacobsen said. “Do you have to disclose to the next tenant that you had bedbugs? Yes some jurisdictions require that. So show the steps you have taken and document your pest protocol.”

No. 5 – Cockroaches

cockroaches and How To Deal With The Most Common Pests In Rental Housing


“Another bug that is really gross, and terrifies residents,” Jacobson said. Roaches are more active at night. A lot of people confuse roaches with other bugs. Roaches have a moist, musty smell like a basement. “Cockroaches seem particularly drawn to appliances, especially microwaves because of food droppings. A really great habitat for them,” Block said. Inspect any used appliances. “If you have one cockroach in a multifamily unit, you should really consider a plan for your whole building. Because with cockroaches, if you have them in one unit chances are they are in others as well.”

No. 6 – Beetles and other invaders

beetles and How To Deal With The Most Common Pests In Rental Housing

“We have lumped several types in here, including stinkbugs, which are horrible. Then there are carpet beetles that like wool, hair and feathers and they will destroy clothing and carpet. They can get up inside furniture and upholstery was well. How do we know they are there? Knowing where to look is most of it. They tend to lurk in dark areas. A good prevention option is frequent vacuuming and empty the bag immediately and fixing holes in screens. “You may have to talk to residents about replacing their furniture. It is good to have communication around where the responsibility lies for these types of issues, as bugs are rarely covered even in renters insurance. It is good to have policies set out in your leases. So if you get bedbugs whose responsibility is it to replace the mattress? “Jacobsen said.

No. 7 – Moths

moths and How To Deal With The Most Common Pests In Rental Housing

“Of all these bugs, this is the one that dogs me the most. I used to live in Seattle, and I bought some beautiful wool rugs. I don’t know if they (moths) came in the rugs or were in the very old apartment in Seattle I was living in. But when I came back to Boston I brought the rugs with me and put them underneath my bed. And about three months later my apartment was filled with moths! I could not figure out what was going on and then finally I dragged those rugs out from underneath the bed and they were infested with moth larva. All of my clothes had holes in them and it was just awful,” Jacobsen said. Moths can hide in the food pantry, dense closet spaces that are tight and dark. They will chew holes in carpets, natural fiber clothing. How do you find them? “They prefer dark,” Block said. “And unused areas like basements and attics. One red flag is seeing tiny moths. Also look around near food sources such as birdseed and dog food. Cardboard boxes can be a common area where they are found. Sometimes people will move in and leave things in boxes, and moths can get in between the layers of cardboard. They really like natural fibers.”

No. 8 – Mosquitoes

Pest control and mosquitoes

“This is very much in the news. It is becoming more and more something residents have been concerned about, especially in the southeast. They are the most deadly critter on earth because they spread diseases that kill more than one million people annually,” Jacobsen said.  The Zika virus many are terrified about. They are also just generally a nuisance. There are things you can do on your property to try and minimize the damage. Look for any standing water on property – including water in flower pots –  and check vegetation and keep it trimmed back also cleaning gutters and removing any potential wet breeding grounds and keep screens in good repair. Certain types of plants can also deter mosquitoes such a mint and the citronella plant, she said.

No. 9 –Termites

Pest control and termites

This is one of highest risk critters for damage to structures. Look for the presence of insect wings and mud tubes on foundations and near wood piles. Annual inspection of property is the best way to prevent an infestation of termites. Also remove any wood or wood piles and elevated above the soil and far away from any structures, Jacobsen said.

“Find a pest management pro (PMP) which we used to call an exterminator. State regulatory offices have a lot of information because they regulate the area. Online reviews can be very helpful. And, the national pesticide information center,” she said. Block suggested asking the following questions:

Questions to ask a professional pest management company

    • How many years have you been in business?
    • What is the EPA registration number of the product to be used?
    • Do you charge for an initial inspection?
    • What methods and pesticides do you use?
    • What do you charge and what services do you provide?
    • What is your guarantee?
    • Do you have an entomologist on staff?
    • Do you practice integrated pest management?
    • Do you carry insurance?
    • What are your safety measures and protocols?

“Create a seasonal pest maintenance checklist as part of your regular maintenance program,” Jacobsen said. “It is something you can make a part of your records if you ever find yourself in a lawsuit. It is something you can show incoming residents and show evidence of past pest outbreaks and how they were handled. You want to document what services were performed. Document what pesticides were used, and include all of that in your property management software such as The reports from your vendors should be clear on the extent of the infestation, and the level and extent of tenant cooperation. Include photos wherever you can,” Jacobsen said.

Also follow up with residents afterward to check resident satisfaction with the action taken to make sure there is no recurring problem. Keep staff up to date on how to spot and treat problems.

In the guide is a long section on health risks, ethics, how to contact insurance companies, what types of liability policies you should have in place. Also the dangers of toxins particularly for children and pets. As many residents could be more concerned about those issues than the pests.

Then also how to communicate with owners and tenants.

How to talk to tenants about pests

“Arming your tenants with information to spot pests is highly effective. Tenants are your early-warning sign. And pest information from them can make a huge difference in whether you are able to deter a full-scale pest invasion. Educate them about the signs and common pests when they move in. Managing concerns and expectations during an infestation is key. People can get grossed out and panicky,” Jacobsen said. She suggested the following:

    • Educate yourself and your staff on how to answer questions calmly.
    • Share you plans to get buy-in from your tenants on your methods. If a reluctant tenant undermines your treatment plan, it can backfire.
    • Have a liability plan in place as some infestations destroy personal property and could render the property temporarily inhabitable.
    • Be sure to have a policy where you can direct tenants for reimbursement or alternative lodging
    • In terms of infestations, check local laws, but many jurisdictions require disclosure to new tenants regarding some pests.
    • It is ethical to inform tenants if pest control activity has taken place, especially if toxins were employed.

5 questions for property managers about pests in rental properties

No. 1 – Will you take a toxic and/or non-toxic/ environmentally friendly approach to pest infestation?

No. 2 – How will you educate residents about spotting and preventing pests?

No. 3 – What proactive maintenance, prevention and inspections will you conduct?

No. 4- How will you train staff, and when will you call in vendors and experts?

No. 5- How might you use your comprehensive pest strategy as a marketing and promotional tool?


National Pesticide Information Center at Oregon State University

Infestation 101: a property manager’s guide

How to Rent a Pest-Free Home to Your Tenants

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