You win, roaches
August 8, 2010 8:13 PM   Subscribe

I just moved into an apartment which I now think had an existing roach problem. Should/can I break my lease now and recover my money, or should I try to fight the roaches? I'm in PA.

I've been in this apartment for about 5 days now. On the first day I was cleaning out the cupboards and found 2 live cockroaches (German cockroaches, I think). I called my landlord, he said the exterminators were here 2 weeks before I moved, and that he would have his maintenance guy spray my cabinets the next day. Tonight I came home and had a roach nearly fall on my head when I came inside and turned on the light. I've never had a roach problem before, not even when living in Philly (I'm now in downtown Lancaster) - so this is freaking me out a bit.

Since I've only been here a few days, should I just try to break my lease while I can and try to get my rent back? Is this grounds for breaking a lease? I'm really not in love with the apartment, and I was really not pleased with the condition it was handed over in - so I would not be devastated if I had to find another place.

Or am I being unreasonable? Should I just stick it out, tell my landlord I had another sighting, put out some traps and hope for the best?

posted by pilibeen to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My entire life experience says: you can fight, but you will never beat roaches. And be advised - unless you're fast and very careful, you will transport them to your next place as well.
posted by Miko at 8:16 PM on August 8, 2010

Oh lordie.

I was actually talking to an entomologist last night about our roach problem. He said that industrial-strength baits are actually the best way to go. A lot of pest control places do the spraying because customers like to "see" things working - but you need the baits to kill them all.
posted by radioamy at 8:17 PM on August 8, 2010

You can beat roaches, but it's hard and kind of a pain. It might not be a bad idea to cut your losses and find a new place. If you want to try and combat the scourge, I found roach gel and borax useful in my fight.

PA is also kind of tenant-unfriendly, so this might not be an issue you can break your lease over. I'd call a legal clinic or tenants union (Lancaster County does not appear to have any but I'm sure Philly does) and find out what your options are.
posted by calistasm at 8:27 PM on August 8, 2010

OK, I have to ask this.

What is the real reason you want to break the lease and move out?

Is it that you saw a couple of bugs in your apartment? Or is it that you don't like it after all and regret the decision to take this place?

It's funny, my entire experience says that, with certain caveats, roaches can be beat. Use traps. Spray regularly (it's a good sign that your landlord has a relationship with an exterminator and will send them over free of charge). Keep the place scrupulously clean. Keep papers and dirty laundry organized, and don't hoard things like plastic bags or scrap paper in dark cupboards. Pay special attention to any place in the apartment where water, heat, and dark converge.

Are they big roaches, or little ones? Big ones, in my experience, usually are not inhabiting your home*. They're just guests trying to escape the heat or the rain. It's the little ones you have to worry about. But even the little ones can be eradicated.

The only people I've known to be able to get out of a lease due to pest control problems had subway rats.

*Unless you live above a restaurant. In which case you're fucked and probably should look into getting out of there.
posted by Sara C. at 8:30 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Even if the exterminator comes, you're likely always going to have a roach problem in this location, because certain factors are always going to be outside your control, such as the cleanliness of other tenants in your building.

However, you can definitely make life hard for roaches in your apartment - you can manage the problem so that it won't be too icky.

First, you need to make sure there is no food for them to eat. This means throwing out the trash daily, no exceptions. You need to wash your dishes and make sure your sink is clean. You need to plug up your sink so they can't crawl up. You need to make absolutely sure there is no clutter anywhere - roaches love piles of papers and dirty clothes, and dust.

But what they want most is food, and after that, water. Make sure there are no leaks anywhere, or any rotten cardboard or drips and leaks under sinks.

The second part of your strategy should be glue traps. Roaches are going to continue to make their way into your apartment, especially if you leave the windows open - that's how they usually get in. They may also be able travel into your apartment through cracks in the walls.

However, this shouldn't be an issue *if* you wash your dishes and take out your trash. There will be other apartments that will be much more inviting.

But you'll need glue traps ("roach motels") to catch the occasional stray roach. Put roach motels behind your couch, in your kitchen drawers, behind your fridge, under the kitchen sink, in the bathroom behind the toilet - anywhere that it's dark and warm and that is hard to get too... Roaches typically hang out along the baseboard.

By using glue traps, you can also prove to your landlord that you have a roach problem.

The roaches falling on your head (I can sympathize, but let me tell you: in Japan, the fucking things are big, black, oily, spiky, and motherfucking *fly* straight at your face when surprised, and they make a particular, ragged *whirring* sound when flying that will haunt me until I die)... the roaches falling on your head indicate that your previous tenant was none too clean, and there are probably eggs in your apartment. You will experience a population boom for about a month, but if there is absolutely no food for them to eat they will go away.

While it is in the realm of possibility, it's unlikely that you will take cockroaches with you when you move. They need food. If they do not have food, they will stop showing up.

Why am I so certain? I lived in cockroach country for ten years in a number of different houses and apartments. At first, I had no idea about them, so I left the window open, never took out the trash, and lived like a bachelor. We had them from time to time.

Next, I lived above a bar with my wife, who is quite clean. We would get cockroaches maybe once a month, from the bar, but that was it.

Then I lived with my in-laws. They ran a coffee shop. It was very dirty, and had not been renovated since about 1975. The place was infested with roaches. They liked to come out at night, and I have seen just about every stage of the life-cycle of at least four different species. It was fucking terrible, and my in-laws had little cans of roach spray everywhere (perched on top of stacks of old newspapers, behind old dirty rags, under the sink where the empties where stored, in a pool of water from the leaking tap...)

It was roach heaven.

We moved out into our own place, a nice house with a garden. We never had a roach problem, except when I left the door to the garden open.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:44 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

What is the real reason you want to break the lease and move out?

I don't think we need to cast doubt on the OP's reasoning. Encountering a visible roach problem within the first week of taking a new rental would be enough for me to break a lease, and I know I'm not alone.

You are perhaps right that roaches can be beat, but not everyone is interested in pursuing the project and changes of habit and exposure to chemicals that entails. "Big ones" certainly can be inhabiting your home and can be incredibly difficult to oust, especially in cities in places like PA where winter freezes are neither consistent, long or deep. \

Let's assume there's no ulterior motive. The questions then are - (a) how successful would this tenant be in arguing this is cause for lease breaking? and (b) is it unreasonable to either put up with the roaches, or to think that they can be totally eradicated through changing habits and introducing chemical controls?
posted by Miko at 8:44 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

my entire experience says that, with certain caveats, roaches can be beat

Yeah, no. If you have neighbors who aren't nasty, then sure, you have a good shot of keeping it down to a manageable level. Otherwise? Forget it, they will ruin everything you own, including (and especially) the electronics.

A bad infestation will not be beaten by *anything*.

It's a good sign that your landlord is willing to spray and a bad sign that he has had it sprayed and they're still around. I have no experience with breaking leases, but I'd sure as hell try if I were you.

I still have nightmares about an ex-boyfriend's place. Put your shorts down and pick them up again and they'd be running down your fucking legs. They destroyed a vacuum and a stereo. No amount of borax, baits, or spray held them back, even for a day. But this was the cheapest apartment building in town, shunned by even college students. The inhabitants were all beaten down and didn't give a shit, so even though we didn't even keep food in the refrigerator, there was no way to stem the tide of brown hell.
posted by tejolote at 9:01 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had big, ugly skeezy roaches in my apt. in Russia, and I found it pretty unsettling. Even the presence of teenage cats intent on hunting anything that moved did nothing to deter them. I figured that since I lived in a typical soviet-style apartment block where the central garbage chute frequently overflowed with all manner of heinous refuse when the garbage collectors would go on strike every other week in the summer (& the damn thing would freeze solid like a rotten-food-cicle in the winter), cockroaches were just going to be part of the scenery. Fortunately, a friend with good U.S. connections passed along a box of raid bait traps (the standard black doo-hickies you stash in the corners & under the fridge) that also had a couple of extra-special traps that I liked to refer to as 'baby killers'. They were specifically meant to attract females & killed the eggs she might be carrying.

I noticed a sharp decrease in roach biomass within a matter of weeks, and after a bit longer, they were gone for good. General cleanliness & lack of food laying about also contributed, I'm sure, but I can't say that I was super-fastidious or anything.
posted by East Siberian patchbelly wrangler at 9:02 PM on August 8, 2010

When I moved into an apartment several years ago, I found I had every size, shape, and color of roaches, which freaked me right out. I hate vermin. I was moving in over a weekend and found them Friday night, which was convenient, really, in the long run.

Keep all your food sealed. And I mean all. Work with your exterminator. Have good communication with your landlord (They don't want bugs there no matter how lazy they may or may not be.) and the exterminator.

Roaches can be beat. It may take the help of your neighbors. In my case, the roaches were in my place thanks to the former tenants, but not the three neighbors' houses (4 apartments in one building). So, I introduced myself as the new neighbor with an unfortunate problem. They were happy to know and we worked as a team. YMMV.

Roaches, oh how I hate them. Other vermin, similarly.
posted by lilywing13 at 1:49 AM on August 9, 2010

Moving around various apartments over the years, and with helping friends in their disgustingly unkept buildings, I've had great luck with boric acid. It has worked for me every single time.
It's about $3 for a big bottle of it, and you just line the corners of your shelves and cabinets and countertops with it. Within a few weeks, no more roaches.
I had helped a friend with his roach problem. He didn't believe me that this stuff would work, as he had been doing everything, absolutely everything, he could think of/was told. He had a serious problem for well over a year with roaches, literally dozens would scatter when turning on the light.
We cleaned out his kitchen, and put down the boric acid. For his situation he had to do this a couple of times over the course of a few months to completely eradicate them, but the numbers dropped dramatically within a week or so.
This was ten years ago or so, and I think once or twice he has seen the random roach and he did it again, mainly because the building doesn't maintain cleanliness.
While cleaning up all remains of food is a good idea, roaches are actually drawn to water. It's virtually impossible to rid your place of all food particles that are the size that roaches can feed off of, and even harder to eliminate the water sources. This is why, if you have kept your place meticulously free of crumbs and other random bits of food, you will often see them around the drain of the sink. They search for the water source.
I have to agree with the other commenter who mentioned it, though, it kind of sounds like you are looking for a reason after a little bit of buyers remorse. That's fine, you should try to leave if you aren't going to be happy in the place, but ask yourself if you can completely eradicate the roach problem if you would still be happy living there.
posted by newpotato at 5:58 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

not everyone is interested in pursuing the project and changes of habit and exposure to chemicals that entails... how successful would this tenant be in arguing this is cause for lease breaking?

I'm pretty sure that it's going to be difficult to break your lease on the grounds that you saw a couple of bugs. Roaches suck, but a few here and there, with a landlord that is aware of the issue and responsive to it (sending over an exterminator) is going to be a tough case for unreasonable squalor that cannot be lived with, or whatever the criteria is for breaking the lease beyond "I just don't feel like living here, after all."
posted by Sara C. at 7:10 AM on August 9, 2010

A couple of bugs is one thing. A roach infestation is something else. Everyplace I've lived has had a couple of bugs, but I will never ever forget the roach-infested apartment where I lived in college. It was very different than a couple of bugs. It was horrible. Borax and boric acid and roach traps did help, but it was not enough. I would find roaches dead in my shoes. Unghh. *shiver*

I would move out if I were you, even though it's expensive and difficult. I hate hate hate roaches.
posted by aabbbiee at 1:01 PM on August 10, 2010

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