I don't want a mouse pad.
March 17, 2014 5:41 PM   Subscribe

How can I tell if an apartment building has pests (e.g. rodents or roaches)? Am I being unrealistic to hope to find a place that doesn't?

I'm moving to Baltimore to do a one year grad program at Johns Hopkins (yay!). I won't have a car (or a life outside of school) so I'm trying to live as close to Homewood as possible, but university owned housing/dorms/etc are not an option.

I've had a bad experience renting an otherwise amazing apartment for the past few years that turned out to have an unfixable roach problem. I am not a laissez-faire, relaxed person about household pests and it is my #1 priority that my next apartment be pest free.

To that end, I've limited my search to large apartment buildings, particularly places where I can live well above ground floor and that have a significant quantity of reviews online. And what I've found is that literally every building I've looked at, even the ones that have an overwhelmingly majority of positive reviews, has at least one review that claims that the apartment has a serious mouse problem.

Am I being unrealistic to hope to find a pest free apartment building in this area? I've visited these buildings and didn't see any pests or evidence thereof while I was there, but obviously that doesn't mean much. They all say they have an exterminator that visits regularly, but my current apartment building does too, and I still have roaches. Is there any way, say a trick question or a way of approaching the issue sideways, to find out if a building is really pest free?
posted by telegraph to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Large, multi-unit apartments are particularly difficult to keep pest-free. There's always going to be at least one tenant whose apartment is a den of filth and squalor and a haven for vermin, and when the exterminator comes the pests can flee through the walls and take refuge in a different unit. I prefer single-unit apartments for exactly that reason.

I don't know if pests are inevitable up in Baltimore. Here in New Orleans, a certain degree of low-level endemic cockroach infestation is truly unavoidable, but Baltimore is somewhat colder so that may not be the case where you are. That said, even here in the Dirty South there's a difference between having to tolerate seeing the occasional roach in your bathroom and having to go to bed with the lights on so that they don't fall on your face while you're sleeping, and you can usually tell before moving in what the situation is.

What you need to do is look for signs when you're doing the walkthrough of the potential new apartment. Look in places where mice and roaches like to go -- inside cabinets and drawers, behind the fridge and stove, along baseboards, behind picture frames, underneath claw-foot tubs, behind the toilet, etc. Anywhere dark and hidden, especially if it's also a bit damp and collects food particles (skin flakes, soap, and toothpaste count as food to roaches) and is inconvenient to clean.

You are looking for droppings, body parts, and corpses. (Mostly just droppings, with mice.) Roach droppings look like little dark particles of dirt. Mouse droppings are tiny pellets. Roaches will also leave dead bodies and disembodied legs and such lying around. Here in New Orleans there will always be at least a little bit of that sort of thing (droppings, anyway) but if you see a lot of it or if you see it in atypical places (i.e. out in the open) then you should stay away.
posted by Scientist at 6:17 PM on March 17, 2014

Am I being unrealistic to hope to find a pest free apartment building in this area?

Probably. But if you keep your unit clean and store your food in airtight containers, you'll make yourself a much less appealing target for vermin. If the unit down the hall has pizza on the floor, hopefully they will draw the attention of roachy, mousey house guests.

My wife and I generally keep food in tins and those OXO Pop containers after prior mousecapades.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 6:58 PM on March 17, 2014

Best answer: I usually will straight-up ask the landlord whether or not they have had any pest problems. Sometimes they say, "goodness, no!" and if that checks out with my looking around for droppings and finding none, then we're good. Sometimes they say, "Well, it's unavoidable in our city," and I stay away from those places, even if they appear clean.
posted by woodvine at 7:24 PM on March 17, 2014

If you can handle it, there's something to be said for a roommate with a cat.
posted by catalytics at 8:09 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Poop. Seriously. When you're looking at places, bring a flashlight, and get up into the dark corners - crevices of all the kitchen cabinets, near the hinges, under and around the sink disposal - are there black coffee-looking flecks? They've got roaches. Make your decisions accordingly. I could have saved myself so much heartache if I'd known this.

Droppings aside, it also helps to ask about the building's pest control practices - both routine and acute - and if they're willing to admit to any history of pest issues. My building treats regularly, and we still have a horrible little roach civilization in the walls. Maybe if they'd been willing to use the nuclear option like, a decade ago, that would have made a difference. Also, check on their bedbug policy, because lots of places treat bedbugs differently (eg, as YOUR problem and expense) than they do things like roaches and mice.

Good luck! We're moving to a high floor of a new building because we also have been living with an unfixable roach problem in an old, garden-style development and it is THE WORST. I think unfortunately in dense, temperate places it's kind of luck of the draw, although I'm assuming really rich people don't have to deal with this BS.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 5:44 AM on March 18, 2014

We don't have a pest problem where we live now. We have two cats, and since we live on the ground floor, occasionally a bug will make its way into the apartment, but it will die very soon after, either from our pest control treatment, or at the hands of a bored house-cat.

When I lived in Florida, I had a pest control lady who would come and spray my apartment every month. I paid for this out of my own pocket because it was important to me. It was $40 well-spent in my opinion.

So pick a building that's clearly not teeming with vermin to the naked eye, and discuss pest control with the leasing manager. In our building they're on the property every Thursday and if you think you're having a problem, they'll come and spray (you just have to put the cats in the back bedroom for the day.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:10 AM on March 18, 2014

I'm not in a big city, but even so, my building has had bedbugs once since I got here, and I've seen some evidence now of roaches, and the thing is, when I moved in, I would not have dreamed that this was the sort of place that'd have that happen, but--you know, I don't have the same neighbors now that I had then. So even in a smaller building, you can check around and do your best to make sure things are clean to start with, but you really need to plan like it could happen at any time.
posted by Sequence at 5:15 PM on March 18, 2014

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