Pest control -- Ants -- Rental Apartment -- WTF should I do?
February 9, 2023 11:17 AM   Subscribe

There's a long history below the fold to explain some details but the bottom line is: I rent an apartment, been here for 28 years, ants have always been a minor issue but now they are becoming intolerable. I have cats and I'm not the property owner and the stuff about providing them with food that they take back to the nest and the entire nest dies is not nearly sufficient. What do I do that will kill the ants dead and yet will not endanger my relationship with my landlord (an individual, not a property mgmt company)?

There is an underground spring in the area in which I live. Just before I moved here in 1995, the spring caused a sink hole that was repaired and, apparently, at the time of repair, the water source that feed these huge trees outside my building was cut off causing them to die and fall over about 10 years ago. In addition, this apparently cut off the water source to an ant nest (which was old back then and is of course much older now) and over the course of the last 28 years, the ants have encroached more and more, going from being an issue maybe one month out of the year to being a constant problem. All food is in sealed containers or in sealed containers that are inside ziploc bags (or in the refrigerator). Cat food is in bowls that rest in saucers filled with water to prevent the ants from reaching the food. I spray peppermint oil in my trash can and recycling bin every time I put something in either one that had food in it (I also wash out anything like this with soap and hot water before placing in a bin). I take composting out every day. When I find a place of ingress, I patch it with caulk or sealant and the ants then move to a different spot. They recently found a way in that seems to live behind the aftermarket Ikea shelving but the peppermint oil, sprayed liberally, seems to stop those incursions for a period of time. I mop my floors with peppermint oil.

Ants have now begun to appear in the bathroom. Until yesterday they seemed to appear out of nowhere, here and there, with no visible point of ingress. Last night they moved in. Hundreds of ants in my bathtub. It could have been worse, of course. But it freaked me the fuck out. I spent 20 minutes last night spraying down the bathtub and then following up with peppermint oil. And another half hour this morning doing the same thing. Still don't know where they're accessing the bathroom.

Have you seen the movie Hereditary? This is what I expect to wake up to some day soon. I used to use Terro -- the size for outside use because even in the best of times, the indoor traps were too small to make any difference whatsoever. But this is a nest that is at least 35 or 40 years old and is probably the size of the Cu Chi tunnels at this point.

My landlord has been approached by each resident individually (there are 4 apartments and one small commercial space in the building). He has Reasons that there's nothing he can do. Sometimes he says it's because two of us have cats in our apartments.

I am considering finding a pest control service, pricing it out, and then either offering to pay for it myself or to split the cost with the landlord. I'm rent controlled so there is a pretty significant reason not to move since I like my apartment and the cost is low. At the same time, I'm careful not to ask for much of anything from my landlord since I know that I'm paying about half of what a new tenant would pay, possibly less, and I don't want to create any tension or any reason he would want to create incentives for me to move out --- certainly refusing to do anything about the vermin and not granting me permission to do anything on my own would provide incentives for me to burn down the building no not really but certainly to move out.

I am about to lose my mind. What should I do? What would an exterminator do? Someone said that an exterminator would tent the building, but the nest is under the building. Is there a service that would eliminate the ants for real?

Sorry, I am literally having nightmares about this and I'm just so sick and tired of the bullshit. Any thoughts are more than welcome.
posted by janey47 to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
are they the small little sugar ants? I had a situation like yours in Indiana where they had actively made a nest in the walls of our bathroom and were coming out from the woodwork. If that's the case you're either looking at a full tenting or having to tear out walls to access the nest proper both of which are beyond what you could do on your own.
posted by Ferreous at 11:36 AM on February 9

Peppermint oil or whatever only annoys ants and they can acclimate to it pretty quickly, same with cinnamon.
Diatomaceous earth is harmless but it's a huge mess and will destroy vacuum filters, again the ants will find a way around it.

If you can reliably place bait in a place that your cats will absolutely 100% not get to, use a product called Extinguish. A half a teaspoon placed near the point of ingress will kill a colony in a couple days. It is a yellow powder that contains a hormone that interfears with the ants ability to molt their skin. Extinguish Plus is a similar product that also contains a neurological agent. Wear gloves for that one.

If you want a poison that will not harm cats* then pick up terro gel. The gel is sugar and borax. The borax accumulates in the ants system, crystalizes and ruptures organs, the same reaction would not occur in a cat or person unless they really chugged a ton of the stuff. It takes about a week for the gel to kill a colony. You can get it as a thick gel that can be squeezed into place or in little plastic containers you place along the trail. I put tape over it so it won't move and my cats seemingly have no interest in it beyond wanting to bat around a little plastic thing.

Because it's just a sugar and borax solution it's not dangerous to handle.

You can find both at a home Depot.

* Unless the cat ate a bunch or has kidney issues .
posted by kzin602 at 11:51 AM on February 9 [2 favorites]

I would contact two different exterminator companies to see if they will come out and assess the problem in a "free estimate" way. Expert advice from someone who is actually looking at the space sounds like a great idea.
posted by amtho at 12:04 PM on February 9

There are crystals that you can pour around the outside of a building and they work pretty well. We had to keep doing it every year until finally we found where they were getting in last year - a pipe that goes into the cement foundation. Once we sealed that up, we did not see any last summer. It is worth looking around inside and outside to see if you can find a place they are getting in.
posted by soelo at 12:05 PM on February 9

Best answer: This doesn't sound like a DIY problem, unless you're able to put some study and serious observation time in.
posted by amtho at 12:06 PM on February 9

Best answer: I had an ant problem (small sugar ants) that was getting more and more annoying to deal with until I reached a breaking point. I finally called a pest control place. They sprayed inside my house along the baseboards of each room (it's pet friendly and dry within 15 minutes). For cats, you could lock them in an unaffected room, let them spray all the other rooms, and let the cat out after half hour. They sprayed the perimeter of the house and applied a lawn coating as well. They come back quarterly and just need to spray the perimeter outside the house. It has been AMAZING. From about 3 days after the first spray, I haven't seen a single ant. It is well worth the cost. Moral of my story: Get your landlord to pay for pest control, or do it yourself. I cannot express how much those damn ants were affecting my mental health! You're not in Portland, but this is who I use...
posted by hydra77 at 12:35 PM on February 9

DIY Pest Control will have pet-safe professional products you can deploy for the specific kind of ants you have. See:
posted by slkinsey at 12:56 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Advion: works on ants and roaches.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 1:11 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Please understand that the following is said in the understanding that you _do_ really need to keep these ants out of your house - it sounds extremely awful right now.

Insects are having a hard time in some places right now, and their numbers are noticeably lower. I hope you will be willing to try to find a solution that doesn't involve eradicating all the ants in the area outside -- I mean, I know you have tried many things so far in this vein, but when you bring in professional exterminators or treatments, "treating the lawn" could mean a lot of different things.

I'm dealing with an invasive fire ant situation here. I finally learned how to identify fire ants conclusively; I will probably go out and treat a number of small mounds, but I already have identified one non-fire-ant mound that I will protect. I talked to an exterminator, but they wanted to just broadcast poison everywhere; by treating individual mounds within a certain distance myself, I can avoid the wood ants that a) are aerating the soil and providing food for the little tree frogs and birds, and b) aren't hurting anyone. The fire ants are a threat to them.

Your situation is clearly very different! That many ants in your house clearly calls for decisive action of some kind, and nobody has infinite time for doing things "carefully" when things are this extreme, and you've already put in a lot of time. You also, probably, already know about the various threats faced by the natural world; I'm probably not telling you anything new here.

I just wanted to add that perspective in _case_ you were able to make different choices knowing that and in case you _hadn't_ been aware already. Also, other people may find this thread who didn't already know.
posted by amtho at 1:12 PM on February 9 [5 favorites]

When we bought our house, it had been sitting empty for over a year. What I didn't know was that over that time, a huge colony of ants had taken up residence. I learned about these ants as I was cleaning the kitchen for the first time. I saw one ant running for an electrical outlet. I had a steamer I was using to clean. I chased the ant with the steamer.

Do you know what happens when you agitate a nest of ants? They all come swarming out, covering every surface, like you just tapped directly into HR Gieger's nightmares.

We live in the midwest, so ants are a thing that we have dealt with all our lives. I have tried the consumer traps that give food for the ants that they take back to the nest and it supposedly kills them. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't.

Basically, we called Orkin. They came in, put down food, and a few days later, there were no more ants. Since then, we have maintained a relationship and in the spring, when ants return, finding some new entrance into the house, they come out, put down some new stuff, and the ants go away again for the year.

It was absolutely worth paying the professional pest control people. They're working with different stuff. It has been 100% safe for our cats. It didn't require tenting or anything, even for a huge swarm of ants. I would at least reach out to them and get some quotes.
posted by Darkivel at 1:26 PM on February 9 [6 favorites]

Go get some Ortho Home Defense Spray right now! You should be able to find it at your local hardware store, Target, or Walmart.

This is the only ant control that has reliably worked for me. It works nearly instantly to keep out ants. Remove people and pets from the area. Spray around baseboards, windows, doors anywhere in your place (bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms are all okay). You and any pets can return once it dries.

Several years back I was renting an apartment on the second floor in a subdivided Victorian house. It was a very hot and dry summer. Tiny Argentine ants were invading my home through every door and window. Killing the colony with Terro bait and Combat gel was not working, even with ants feeding heavily on it for a week or more. I was waking up in the middle of the night because ants were crawling on me while I was laying in bed. I have not seen Hereditary but that image you linked sent me straight back to that harrowing time of my life.

My landlady, who lived on the ground floor and whose living space was also invaded by ants, had Orkin spray around the perimeter of the house. Instead of ants coming through window or door gaps, I saw ants coming out between cracks in the floorboards and around baseboards! I may have shed a tear or two in frustration. The lack of sleep due to the heatwave that would not break and the bed ants (gross) had me at the end of my rope. I was about to book a room in a modern hotel with air conditioning and just walk away from that creaky Victorian house for a few days just so I could be a human again.

I went to Home Depot to find anything else besides Terro and Combat. Came home with Ortho Home Defense because the packaging said it was safe to spray everywhere indoors. I sprayed the interior perimeter of my entire apartment then went to work for the day. I came home. No ants in sight around the Terro bait or Combat gel they'd been gorging on earlier. I went to sleep that night. No bed ants. Peace at last! Over the next few days I had to spray a few new entry points the ants found, but I won the war (inside my home, at least).

Since then I've used Ortho Home Defense in other rentals and at work with great success. The new battery-powered comfort wand for the big 1-gallon jug tends to crap out (and is the cause for many bad reviews online), but I found YouTube videos to fix the issue.
posted by bones to dark emeralds at 2:57 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

I have a service that shows up once a month and sprays some kind of plant essential oil around the perimeter of my house. No ants enter my house any more, whereas I would reliably need to use Terro a couple times a year when a migratory nest tried to set up in my house.

The spray doesn’t seem to kill as much as it strongly dissuades bugs, keeping them outdoors where life is better for them anyway. This costs me $72/month, and is definitely worth it IMO.

My service is almost certainly not in your area, but my point is that the chemicals don’t always have to be dangerous poisons to work, and if all of you tenants go in together on it the cost may be quite low.
posted by aramaic at 4:59 PM on February 9

We have a regular service, because various, um, multi-legged and/or winged individuals like to move into our Victorian on a regular basis (ants, stink bugs, box elder beetles, squirrels, bats, mice...). For bugs, they only spray around the exterior of the property, and it works for months. It is expensive, which probably explains why your LL is hemming and hawing.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:31 PM on February 9

We have a pest control guy that comes every 6 weeks for something like sixty bucks. He no longer sprays inside, because my wife started having a reaction to it (not perethyrins (sp?) she already asked him not to use those). Spraying the perimeter of the house has kept bugs out, and when we had some *tiny* ants come in the kitchen he put something under the window sill in the kitchen where we had seen most of them, they apparently took that back home and it killed enough of them that they've not been back. If you're able to pay for it yourself, it's worth it. It's also worth it to the landlord if they come and identify these as carpenter ants or termites because those are destructive to _their_ property.

If you're rather not pay, check the landlord/tenant laws in your state. Most landlords are required to keep their places to a certain "healthy" standard and ant infestations aren't.
posted by TimHare at 9:22 PM on February 9

I use cinnamon in my streetside mailbox when the ants try to move in every summer, and to disrupt their scent trails when they decide to check the place out. It deters them. I got borax-based ant-killer and put it behind the cabinets, esp. the kitchen sink, where my pets can't go. Your situation is severe, and I would use All The Things. Yes, I would call pest control. and ask the landlord to pay for it. I was a small-time landlord, and this is not tenable. But, yeah, I'd do it anyway because I'd be miserable.

Outdoors, I've used Terro with success, it might be injectable into their tunnels. Ants have value to the environment, but your current circumstances require major action.
posted by theora55 at 9:34 AM on February 10

I don't go for serious pest control lightly, but I had an ant situation and found that Advion Ant Gel is a damn miracle. Because comes in a sort of syringe with a narrow little nozzle, you can aim it beneath mouldings and such where it will be out of reach to cats. You can also use it outside. This would be more of an "ongoing control" situation after you get real extermination.
posted by desuetude at 7:15 PM on February 10

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