A Gnawing Problem - Mice but Tenants Refuse Exterminator

16 Replies

I own and manage a duplex built in 1900, old house, tons of holes. The upper unit (floors 2 & 3) is occupied by tenants with a 12-month lease and the lower unit is short term rentals (Airbnb). The upper unit has mice - the tenants contacted me because they've had to throw out food that has been chewed into and they noticed droppings along their kitchen window sills. They requested an exterminator so I reached out to one with excellent reviews and had them there 36 hours later. The tenants requested that the company be kid and pet friendly so when I booked I asked and was told that they only put traps and poisons in discrete places inaccessible to people and pets. The tenants were there when the exterminator came and one freaked out when she started Googling the poison he was using - so much so that she refused to let him treat the unit. I had him fully and aggressively treat the lower unit and to a lesser extent the basement but he noticed that there was no activity on the first floor and no recent activity in the basement so the exterminator suspects the mice are coming in from the roof or a higher access point since they don't skip levels. There is an unfinished attic space on the 3rd floor and I'm going to insist that the exterminator get access to that area and do whatever is necessary to secure it and resolve the issue. It is accessible through a tiny panel door in a bathroom but there is no reason to have to get in there and if the tenants fear their child or dogs being exposed to the poison it seems like an easy request to not go into that space. Is that a reasonable request?

My main question today though - I'm willing to supply glue traps or other traps that the tenants view as less of a threat to their family and pets but is it my responsibility to empty and/or dispose of the traps? I'd say they don't have to use exterminator but are responsible for disposing of traps. This is in Minnesota and it's cold. I don't want to have to add a trap check to my daily responsibilities when I know there are more effective options. Thanks for your input!

I hate glue traps- the mice lay there for days on end until they starve to earth  . Horribly cruel!

As an alternative, I've found that mice hate the smell of peppermint. 

I buy the peppermint oil and pour drops in cotton ball to place in every room. Must repeat every 3 weeks . They will run like hell ! 

 Never had a problem since . 

You're being too kind if you're offering free exterminator costs to the tenants! Now, if its not in your lease regarding who is responsible for exterminator fees then you may have to eat that cost. Hopefully, you can manage the issue with just simple glue traps and such. If all the exterminator is going to do is set traps then I wouldn't waste the money and I'd just do it myself.

IMO, this is an annoying inconvenience for you. Go in, do some snooping around and looks for where all the poops are coming from. Set up traps all over the place (likely the attic is best because its away from others). Require that the tenants check the traps that are actually in their unit and have them also properly store foods in containers and clean. This should be covered under the general upkeep of the unit so they should comply. If you really want to drive home the point of how annoying the whole issue is spend a few hours in the attic setting traps, making noise, clomping around, all while they are home to remind them that this is more of a personal annoying problem from them than it is you.

Do the attic treatment, this may resolve the problem, and if the mice problem persists you serve the tenant  with a order to comply and allow them out of their lease if they refuse.

The tenant is interfering with the proper maintenance of the property and needs to comply or leave. Use whatever method you choose but do not agree to empty traps.

I agree. Send a letter to comply. If they refuse document and give notice. Most the time the notice will get them in the right mind set.

Thank you all for your feedback. I let the tenants know that the exterminator will be back to treat the attic space and that I'll give them traps but they are responsible for disposing of them. I really appreciate the clarity that they need to comply with maintenance efforts. And grateful for confirmation that it's not my duty to dispose of the traps. Happy New Year!

This is your property correct?As landlord you are required to provide a safe living environment, correct? “The failure of a landlord to provide such conditions can lead to violation of the law and impose civil and, at times, even criminal liability upon the landlord”.Please read up on your local laws as relates to landlord obligations for habitable premises.

This to me is a no brainer and am sorry am not trying to be mean to you.You inform tenant of your duty which his really to their advantage and then you go in and address.If tenants want to prevent you from treating, then suggest that they provide you with suggestions for pet friendly/kid friendly pest control to use and suggest that you will attempt that for a short period of time to see if it works but in the end, if it does not you will need to come in with a different approach, different product to address the situation.If said tenant continues to fight you on the issue, I suggest moving to contacting an attorney about providing a notice to comply or quit possession.You are running a business here.The unaddressed rodent activity is only going to get worse because you have a tenant that is difficult.Document your approach to resolve and try to have them chime in with their own suggestions on the agreement that if it does not work you will have no choice but to use an alternative.I would then start working on rethinking that lease term as that there sounds like a tenant that will bring you trouble.You have a legal duty and if a tenant is keeping you from completing it, that there is a problem as the same tenant will turn around and make false allegations and/or accuse you of not addressing the issue when all along you have been trying to do just that.Be the boss here, it is your property.This is like a grown kid that wants to test your limits, I suggest you put an end to that nonsense as life is too short and you have too much else to do than allow your time to be wasted by stubborn tenants.

Side note:Glue traps – so cruel and gross.Peppermint has worked well for me too as @Marci Stein suggests.  I use it as a determent and have never seen mice, snakes and/or an other such unwelcomes and I do have a property that has a crawlspace, the one place you have the potential to find these little fellas.  The Glue traps means, I have to go back and pick em' up, Uhhhhmmm no thanks, plus it would break my heart, best to just deter them and have them stay away from my properties. 

@Deanna Boss @Anna M. 's reply was spot on.  MN law requires you pay for pest exterminations.  @Steven J. 's response that you are being too kind is not correct.  MN law has a habitable premises clause as Deanna states and does allow for tenants to pay but only in very rare and extreme cases but those cases would apply to bugs and never apply to mice, since one of the criteria would be the tenants brought them from a previous residence and that is clearly not the case with mice.  It sounds like you have it handled, I just wanted to make sure you knew you are doing the right thing.  

wow, i wouldnt have guessed that but i dealt with tenants in nd. Thanks for sharing.

As mentioned by others, I would send an email or letter to tenant explaining that you will take care of it and cover the cost, but they need to comply.  If they refuse to comply, you will let them out of their lease.

In most cases, if you are charging a competitive rent rate, they won't like the idea of leaving.

Some good advice here. I'd suggest another option- you've sent an exterminator over there and the tenant refused the service because of their methods. Give them 72 hours to get an exterminator over there (at their expense, since they refused yours) or tell them you have to send your exterminator back. You can use the ordinance listed above and let them know that you are required to comply with that law, but want to work WITH them instead of against them.

@Tim Swierczek actually it is possible for the tenants to bring mice in with them. I once emptied a storage unit full of clothes and such and brought the contents into my home only to quickly discover that I’d also brought a mouse in with the stuff.

@Deanna Boss I think that the tenant has as much right to be concerned about what is being used if there are pets and small children involved. I do agree that you have a responsibility to maintain the premises in a safe condition but I would also caution you to try natural/safer solutions first such as the peppermint oil or glue traps (no matter how cruel or disgusting you may think them to be). There are non-glue traps that are self contained traps as well.

I would only use the more toxic chemicals as a last resort and only with special precautions such as a padlock on the attic access to prevent accidental access by the small children or pets. I would imagine that knowingly placing those harmful chemicals without such precautions could lead to an even bigger liability if accidental ingestion were to occur. If they refuse to comply with your efforts and all options have been exhausted, then serve NOV and 3-day comply or quit notice or other state appropriate notices.

Thank you all for your continued comments. This morning I received a pic of poison chunks that were found in their laundry basket that was left on the floor in the basement, so clearly the issue is not resolved for me yet. I'll be heading over there later today to drop off peppermint oil (I'm a big essential oil user so embarrassed this wasn't my first idea!) and traps. I searched for an organic exterminator in the Minneapolis area and I only found ones that deal with bugs. If any of you locals have a referral please share! My sis (landlord in Brooklyn, NY) dealt with a massive rodent problem (rat's nest in backyard) that ended with a $4,000 exterminator bill and she said basically we're all mammals - if it kills them it kills us. Along those lines it's us vs. them (rodents) but sadly I feel like it's us (my husband and me as landlords) vs. them (tenants). I'm still new (closed on this property May 2017) so really, really appreciate all of the insight you have shared so far. I am looking forward to supporting other future newbies with all the wisdom I'm gaining from this experience. ;-)

What about the plastic poison containers that protect the poison while allowing the mice to access. The pets and kids can’t get at the poison. They sell them at most box box hardware stores. I think they are triangle shaped.

The local boards of health may have (strict) regulations on the type of poison bait that can be used and its placement. We dealt with an infestation of bigger than mice creatures in a 15 unit building and were surprised at the extent of the protocol involved. This was MA so your mileage WILL vary. Mice really aren't a big deal to deal with (they are very stupid) but worth knowing the refs especially with children involved.

FWIW the parents concerns seem very reasonable to me--even supervised kids get everywhere and the poison is nasty stuff. Don't go in looking for a fight.

I do not mean to be insensitive but this your property.  Mice cause other problems.  

The tenant would either permit exterminator to do his job or they would be evicted.  I really have a problem with tenants being concerned with rodents over my property.  

I understand the safety of their children, but if a reputable exterminator is doing the job, he will make it as safe as possible for children and pets.  

Before they move in, I make sure tenant knows what I expect.  What few times I have had the issue, I let them know to either let them do their job or move.  (it was an electrician).  With the upper floor being the only unit having mice problems, they need to keep their unit cleaner.

We dropped off peppermint oil and traps and chatted. Decided we won't use poison anywhere in their unit so we will focus on closing holes in the attic space. I did say they need to keep their kid and dogs out of the basement because we are going to be aggressive treating the lower unit and basement. I said they could hire their own exterminator to treat their unit at their expense just let me know who and what they will be doing. I got a note yesterday that it was the first time in many weeks that they didn't wake up and find any droppings in their kitchen. (Um, so gross I would have taken poison over that any day but that's me!) Thank you all again for each of your comments and advice. It all helped.

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