Tenant asking for bug treatment

73 Replies

I received this text this morning from one of my tenants...

"Good Morning, Mike! We have been seeing a TON of spiders and bugs in the house, and were wondering if it would be possible to get it sprayed. Please let me know what you think"

A couple of background facts...

1. I did an inspection on the house 2 weeks ago and found the place very clean and well maintained. I specifically asked if they were seeing any black ants in the house, which sometimes come in during the early spring. (We lived in this house for 15 years). They mentioned nothing. Now, this text only 2 weeks later.

2.  This couple is a little persnickety, they tend to text more than I would expect for what I consider small issues, but the house is a nice house in a great suburb and they are paying a high rent.

3. When we lived in the house it was not uncommon to see spiders and some bugs in the early spring/summer. It wasn't a TON as she says, but like most houses, there were some for sure. I don't know what a "TON" is, but I suspect she is blowing this out of proportion since I didn't see any issues when I inspected.

I would just like some advice on how I should respond and/or handle this. I am not really in favor of sending a pest crew over there for a lot of money when I don't think there is a real infestation here of any kind and what they are experiencing is normal from the time we lived there. However, I also don't want them to think I am simply ignoring them either. I would love some advice on this. Thanks!

@Michael Temple , I'd just pay for an exterminator. $200 tops for a one time treatment. It's spring so insects are going to be more present than in winter months. Two weeks ago in Ohio it was cold. Now it's warmer. That's not a surprise that spiders and ants are showing up.

Some people may say "in my lease it says tenants are responsible for pest control," but it it came down to an infestation, the owner is going to be cited by the city, not the tenant. If you happen to have Section 8 properties, they will abate your rent until you provide proof of a pest control plan.

Also, a TON of insects, from a tenant perspective, is more than 2 in a lifetime! LOL!

@Michael Temple Do you have anything in your lease that addresses this?

My lease says that if they find any pests in the first 30 days after they move in I will treat the house. Beyond the first 30 days it is their responsibility.  The reason being you can't control how clean they keep they house and if they leave out food that attracts pests. 

If you don't have this covered in your lease you may want to pay for this and update your lease so you don't get stuck with this bill in the future.

Most of my lease edits are due to learning from the school of hard knocks and making updates to keep problems for me from happening in the future.

You may need to implement some tenant training if you’re getting to many texts.

I am one of those landlords who have the “this unit is delivered pest free if any appear after 10 days it’s the tenants responsibility” clauses in my lease. In my opinion that applies more to mice and such than ants and spiders. It also gives me an option to withhold the security deposit if I find a mouse infestation after the move out. You need to follow what your lease says and if it says nothing it’s probably your responsibility. Having a terminator spray is fairly cheap and I would be willing to do it nine times out of ten. With your particular case though you may have a needy tenant who will never stop with little issues until you stop it. You need to do that at some point or you will become their butler.

This sounds like a live and learn moments here. I don't have anything in my lease that addresses this specifically. It will definitely be in there the next time for sure. I am updating the lease today.

I will check with a pest company and see what they say.

@Jonathan Holmes

Do you have some recommendations of how to "de-needify" a tenant? I am still a relatively new landlord (3 years) so I am still learning my way through this process.

If you're going to pay for pest services for this one time, I would make it very clear (perhaps even in writing via email or something) that this is a courtesy and it is up to them to handle pest control from here on out.

You know your house well since you lived in it for a long time. Do you think that just spraying the perimeter and around window/door frames with your own bug spray would do the job just as well as spending hundreds on a professional?

As for needy tenants, you might need to "ignore" them here and there. Or at the very least, do not answer quickly for "needy" things. When you answer quickly, they tend to just contact you more. Adjust their expectations. When you respond, let them know in a friendly, professional way that it simply is not going to be done now or for things like pests, they can handle themselves.

I had a tenant who complained about anything from a slightly lopsided mailbox to a tiny scratch in the side of the fridge. I had to inform him that there is no way I'm spending money on "fixing" those types of items and I do not want nor expect him to touch them either.

I'm guessing you can get a one-time quick hit for $100 or less. I know I can get that where I am, and you're not in NYC. So I might consider that. 

In the future, never suggest potential problems to your tenants. If you mention ants, they're going to see ants. If you mention spiders, they're going to see spiders. 

On rodents: we will generally cover points of entry. There shouldn't be any reasonable points of entry for rodents into the house, certainly none that the tenant usually has any control over. Even if a person is a slob, a mouse has to be able to penetrate the structure first (unless the tenants let them loose). 

@Nicole A. So I just exchanged some texts with her asking why she didn't inform me last week when I was there for the inspection that this was an issue. I got the response I expected of "it wasn't a problem then". I also got a whiff of some attitude in those texts so that is irritating me a bit. She did say they would pay for it themselves if I wouldn't do it. I am half tempted to let them.

One issue is they have a mountain of very old firewood in the garage that needs to go. I suspect that combined with the warming weather is driving a lot of the issue here, so I told them to get that out of there, ASAP. She promptly texted back that there was some in the garage when they moved in (January) but the cold weather was probably keeping them dormant. Now the weather is warming and there is A LOT more in there.

I checked with Orkin and they quoted me a price of $249 for a one-time treatment or $638 for one year with a money back guarantee. Either one seems a bit high for me to deal with some common pests that I think are in every house. 

I told them my first response is first, move all the wood out. Then I will come by and put some stuff around the perimeter. 

If that doesn't solve the problem to their satisfaction I am thinking maybe I will do the one-time treatment as "a courtesy" like you suggested and tell them it is up to them after that.

Since it sounds like you live in the area, I would do a little research on a good product to use and then visit the house and spray the perimeter (or whatever is recommended).  Leave a can for the tenant and just let them know that this is par for the course for this time of year and the problem will resolve itself.

We recently had a tenant call us because she had too many flies.  Both in the yard and in the house.  My husband went over to see if there was any obvious issue.  He didn't see anything...he actually only saw a couple flies anyway...and told her it was just that time of year.  And that we have more flies than usual in our backyard also (different area of town).

She's seemed to be happy that we at least came to look if there was something that could be done to curb the problem.  She's a great tenant who never calls us for anything petty, so I wish there'd been an "aha" moment.  But sometimes it just is what it is.  We can't control nature.  

Disclaimer: I do not even own a property yet (currently in negotiation on my first one) but I would go to Home Depot and get a jug of that DIY bug spray and go apply it around the property (about $20). I would leave the rest of the jug with them and tell them they need to re-apply every 3-6 months or as needed. If that is not sufficient, they can hire an exterminator and pay for it themselves. I would then make sure to put something about pest control in future leases.

Since I am so new to this, do you experienced guys have any issues with that approach?

@Jennifer T. I told them to move the wood and I will go put some perimeter stuff down once the wood is moved. I didn't think about leaving the spray behind for them to deal with it. That is a good idea. These tenants are pretty good on paying (they aren't late, but push it to the last day before it is) and take care of the place, but they seem to text a lot for issues I don't consider that urgent. I seem to get at least 2-3 per month. I am thinking when their lease is up next year they are going to have to go if this keeps up.

@John Underwood , I knew people would respond with "In my lease it says..." but when the city comes and sees that you have a pest or rodent infestation, they are not going to cite the tenant. They are going to cite YOU, regardless of what your lease states. pests/rodents is an issue that impacts habitability, and habitability is the responsibility of the owner. It's not fair, but that's how it works.

It's just like owners are cited for smoke detectors when the inspector comes and the tenants have failed to keep up batteries (even though it's in the lease), or have pulled them down because they cook smokey foods. New property owners, don't rely on the language of your lease to protect you from liability. It may guide tenant behaviors, but the ultimate responsibility is yours.

just get a gallon of the bug spray from home depot that comes with a sprayer handle or advise them to buy it and spray around the baseboards and doorways.

@Max Tanenbaum I agree that is what I am going to try first. Since, like others have said already, I don't think this is an "infestation" by any measure. I think this is some needy tenants blowing a common issue a bit out of proportion. That combined with a giant pile of old firewood in the garage and warming weather is probably making the problem a little worse than normal, but still not an infestation.

If my treatments and moving the wood don't seem to solve the issue I will do a one-time "courtesy" treatment from Orkin. However, I can tell you for sure that this becoming the tenant's responsibility is going into my lease immediately. Can't do anything about that this time, but it won't happen again.

Originally posted by @Ray Harrell :

@John Underwood, I knew people would respond with "In my lease it says..." but when the city comes and sees that you have a pest or rodent infestation, they are not going to cite the tenant. They are going to cite YOU, regardless of what your lease states. pests/rodents is an issue that impacts habitability, and habitability is the responsibility of the owner. It's not fair, but that's how it works.

It's just like owners are cited for smoke detectors when the inspector comes and the tenants have failed to keep up batteries (even though it's in the lease), or have pulled them down because they cook smokey foods. New property owners, don't rely on the language of your lease to protect you from liability. It may guide tenant behaviors, but the ultimate responsibility is yours.

We don't have inspections (except for section 8) Code enforcement may cite someone in this area for not cutting grass or a porch falling in. I have never heard of the city inspecting the inside of a house. Maybe different for your area. I have have been able to point this out in my lease to the tenants and they pay for it once they realize they agreed to this when they signed the lease. Could they possibly argue the point? Maybe but not so far.

Same thing with smoke detectors, no inspection by the city. I buy the ones with the 7 year lithium batteries.

So language in my lease does guide my tenants and no one has ever tried to question the legality of any of it. I believe for my area my lease is 100% enforceable and would hold up in Magistrate court.

I have paid for pest control for people I knew might not handle it due to the cost.

Since I am going to put my own treatments down first, does anyone have any suggestions of stuff they have used and like and is not super lethal crap since they have small children in the house. Again, my pests according to them are spiders and "bugs" not sure what the "bugs" are, but I am guessing ants, stink bugs, etc. general annoying pests.

@Michael Temple I use the same techniques as in my day job working in mental health. 

1. Set limits-you need to know these before hand and set them in the lease as well.

2. State limits-at lease signing and when the tenant attempts to cross them

3. Enforce limits-it is always uncomfortable to say no. No one who is a decent person wants to say no but some people learn how and others get pushed around. I still to this day am uncomfortable telling both my clients and tenants "No" but I do it when I need to. A side note every time I fail to say no when I know I should it makes my life harder than it needs to be.

@Ray Harrell You will find the inspections in Chicago are extremely different than in most places in Ohio. That said your point is excellent we should always be aware of what big brother thinks are responsibilities are and take preemptive action when we can. I don't know Toledo that well but  I would be surprised if the inspection was any more than a walk through and a bill.

@Jonathan Holmes very good points! Thank you.

This house is in a small town outside of Toledo in a very nice suburb. I don' think my town even has an inspection department. So typically it is not too terrible. They are getting a little worse in Toledo proper, but still not horrible.

I'd try a local company; $249 sounds high.

@Michael Temple Oh and one final thought for limit setting. I notice you mentioned the tenants seemed irritated via text, in my opinion these conversations go best in person (not always practical) and a phone call is better that a text. Maybe the texts were snarky or maybe you just interpreted them that way. Maybe yours sounded annoyed to her and so she responded in kind.

If instead you called her and stated "Hey I got your texts about bugs I am so sorry that has happened. How many bugs are we talking have you been seeing a handful at a time? (unless the say the walls are crawling with them your response is) That doesn't seem terrible but I definitely understand your concern. (acknowledges their concern as valid while downplaying the severity)

When I lived in the property I used to do (whatever) to control them. Have you tried that? (subtly shifts the responsibility to your tenant and implies they should have KNOWN to do this stuff first) Remember any dead wood, food or garbage left out can attracted these insects. (again implies they bare responsibility) 

Why don't you give (whatever) a shot, make sure there is no wood or anything around that could be attracting them and let me know how it goes. (they now have an assignment they must complete prior to contacting you again) 

If that doesn't work feel free to text me again, I have been pretty busy lately so I make not get right back to you (you never should) but when I am free I will call back. (many people are uncomfortable on the phone so they are less likely to text again to avoid another phone call)

The goal of this is to manipulate their behavior but you never should use this to avoid your ACTUAL duties as a landlord. Those you should handle asap.

@John Underwood , maybe I should buy property in Ohio. I was cited by the city department of buildings as a building code violation for the smoke detector not being in the right place!!! The code actually says how many inches below the ceiling (but not on the ceiling) and how far from bedrooms detectors need to be. They also cited me for a damage to drywall (Section 8 [Chicago Housing Authority] cites landlords for repaired drywall that hasn't been painted).

Originally posted by @Ray Harrell :

@John Underwood, maybe I should buy property in Ohio. I was cited by the city department of buildings as a building code violation for the smoke detector not being in the right place!!! The code actually says how many inches below the ceiling (but not on the ceiling) and how far from bedrooms detectors need to be. They also cited me for a damage to drywall (Section 8 [Chicago Housing Authority] cites landlords for repaired drywall that hasn't been painted).

 Wow that is crazy!

$249 is really high for a one treatment.  I just had Orkin spray my 5-flex for spiders and other creepy crawlies that had came up this spring and were getting in.  They did the exterior and the inner halls/stairways/laundry room for a total of $95, $10 of that for placing some new catch boxes outside.   

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