August 5, 2008 12:41 PM   Subscribe

I just moved in to my first rental on the 1st, and it is infested with fleas, fleas, fleas everywhere. What is appropriate for me to expect my landlord to do about this? What should I do myself to attack this problem?

I had no idea about the fleas until I moved in. I already talked to the landlord, and he flea bombed the place yesterday, but when I walked in again today I still had fleas jumping all over me. This very much disturbs me; I haven't actually slept in my house yet because of them, nor have I moved in most of my belongings. I'm not really sure what I can expect of my landlord, as I've never rented a place on my own before; I would really like these fleas gone, though. What is appropriate to expect of my landlord in this situation? What should I take on myself in order to get rid of these fleas?
posted by Alligator to Home & Garden (21 answers total)
Don't pay a dime until he has the space 100% clear. Have him sign a rider to the effect of, "If I ever see a feal again it is within my rights to (har har) flee the premises". Thats gross and almost certainly against code.
posted by GilloD at 12:44 PM on August 5, 2008

Where are you? Laws about suitability of rentals vary by state and by country.
posted by Class Goat at 12:49 PM on August 5, 2008

Depending on what city you are in, that certainly sounds like grounds to 1) call the health department, and 2) terminate the lease. You can't live in a place infested with fleas.

Document everything, keep copies of all communication.

I would complain a whole lot.
posted by Ponderance at 12:49 PM on August 5, 2008

Response by poster: North Carolina
posted by Alligator at 12:49 PM on August 5, 2008

Yikes. That is a health hazard to be sure.

Ask you landlord to hire an exterminator. Insist on a professional, not his buddy with a can of Raid, and no more bug bombs.

If your landlord is unwilling to do this you may have grounds for breaking your lease.

Check your local tenet law, but also check local ordinances for pest infestations. But only do this if you landlord is being a dick. Otherwise try to work with the guy.

Also, if you do stay in the place ask if he will pro-rate the month since you were unable to stay in the apartment for the first week.
posted by wfrgms at 12:51 PM on August 5, 2008

When we had fleas, we put down flea powder carpet dust everywhere and vacuumed and vacuumed

After a while they went away.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 1:25 PM on August 5, 2008

It's definitely the landlord's responsibility since you just moved in. Meantime, to improve your quality of life until the landlord can get a professional to take care of it, I've had really good luck with the flea powder that contains d-limonene. It's a citrus product that doesn't smell bad. Sprinkle it very liberally over your carpets, let it sit for a bit, then vacuum it up.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:37 PM on August 5, 2008

Try the flea powder and see what happens. If the last tenant had a pet that was bringing them in, who knows maybe they will just go away. Not being hysterical could win you some points with your landlord.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:10 PM on August 5, 2008

They don't "just go away". They stick around as long as there is something to eat. Tell your landlord to hire a professional exterminator, or you won't move in.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:13 PM on August 5, 2008

If you do have to treat it yourself I would recommend Zodiac products. I've never known flea bombs, powders, or a lot of other things, to do anything. But carefully spraying everywhere with Zodiac flea spray, paying careful attention to cracks, skirting boards, etc has. Its not nice stuff but way better than fleas. They will still take a couple of days to die.
posted by tallus at 2:17 PM on August 5, 2008

Also if you have fleas inside you probably have fleas in the yard so spend some time in your yard to see b/c if your getting pro's out they probably should spray the yard too. You may want to mention to your landlord something along the lines of "hey did the previous people already get their deposit back?" if not he can use that to off-set his costs.
Sorry your first rental is a pain I hope things get better soon.
posted by doorsfan at 2:36 PM on August 5, 2008

Diatomaceous Earth might be useful. No chemicals. Bugs can't build up a tolerance to it. It's slightly irritating for humans, but non-toxic as far as I know. Sprinkle liberally on carpet and cracks. Let sit for a bit, then vacuum up. I had a termite problem a couple years ago in my bedroom and this fixed it up pretty well.

Good luck
posted by johnstein at 2:41 PM on August 5, 2008

I definitely wouldn't try to fix this problem yourself, partly because it requires a professional and partly because it sets up a bad precedent with your LL. Ask him to hire an exterminator and tell him you will not pay rent until the problem is taken care of. If you've already paid the first month's rent (I assume you have) ask him to return the portion you're not "using." If he balks at any of this, call your Attorney General (they should have a rental law division) or the local tenants' rights organization.

In all your landlord dealings, be courteous and respectful, but firm.
posted by lunasol at 3:39 PM on August 5, 2008

I've also lived in a flea infested house. It's certainly possible to keep it under control although we never managed to fully clean the place up. Vacuuming in general is a good idea and should be done before you do more treatment. The reason is that the flea eggs sit dormant until food comes along (so warmth and footsteps), then they hatch. Vacuuming makes the floor vibrate which tells the eggs there's something there to eat and is a good way to get the rest of them to hatch.

Many flea killing products are aimed at breaking the life cycle and should theoretically get even the newly hatched fleas that arrive a bit later. But I've found that getting as many dormant eggs to become non-dormant as possible still really helps with cleaning up the initial infestation. I also agree that specifically spraying everything and/or spreading of powder tends to work better than bombing, the bomb just never gets the same coverage.

A professional exterminator sounds like a great idea, that's the one thing we never tried. I'd go in there and vacuum everything the day before, really get the fleas hopping, then leave it to the professionals. Probably wear long pants and shoes while vacuuming though.
posted by shelleycat at 3:46 PM on August 5, 2008

Slightly-down-the-road: I saw a tip just the other day (here) that suggested one way that might head off reinfestations (once you get the place professionally bombed): get some cheapy flea collars, cut them into 1" bits and put those in your vacuum. It'll help with any possible refugees from the exterminator.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 5:13 PM on August 5, 2008

I read an article recently in either Nature or New Scientist where they tested the flea collar in vacuum bags trick. Turns out that the force of sucking the flea into the cleaner is enough to damage it's exoskeleton and kill the flea, so the collar isn't necessary.
posted by shelleycat at 5:32 PM on August 5, 2008

I'm sorry to hear about this. I was in a very similar situation a year ago, but with roaches in Toronto.

To sum up what's in that other thread (kindly posted by a friend before I ponied up the $5 MeFee), I ended up not moving into the place. Instead, I argued half of my money back, lost $1000, and was forced to start apartment-hunting from scratch against the back-to-school rental competition. It was really nice.

The landlord at this place had an exterminator come in, but--and this is where my answer becomes more than just commiseration--the extermination was on a strictly suite-by-suite basis. Sadly, roaches are wily little devils, so they simply scuttle into an adjacent suite until the fumes clear. The exterminator admitted this to me himself, and the landlord told me (predictably) that he wouldn't pay to treat the neighbouring suites. Net result: a permanent, if mildly nomadic, infestation.

My advice is to find out how wily these fleas are. If you exterminate--and I agree with the posts that say "MAKE YOUR LANDLORD PAY FOR THE EXTERMINATOR!"--make sure that it's going to be done effectively. My woulda-been landlord thought "effective extermination" meant "come back once a month once the problem reaches another critical mass." Unless you like the smell of poison, make sure this isn't your future.

Best of luck. (Epilogue: that forfeited $1000 has the distinction of being, from different stances, the stupidest and wisest $1000 I've ever spent.)
posted by Beardman at 8:10 PM on August 5, 2008

It may also depend on where you live locally. For example, in Durham, North Carolina:

Every owner of a multi-family dwelling containing two (2) or more dwelling units and every owner of a rooming house, residency hotel or other establishment covered by section 6-155 shall be responsible for the extermination of any insects, rodents, or other pests in all dwelling units or rooming units therein and in the shared public areas of the dwelling and premises thereof. Such extermination shall include, but is not limited to, the following:
(1) Preventing the entrance by blocking or stopping up all passages, by which rats may secure
entry from the exterior with rat impervious material;
(2) Preventing the interior infestation by rat stoppage, harborage removal, the paving of
basements, cellars and any other areas which are in contact with the soil, and such cleanliness as may be necessary to eliminate rat breeding places.
(3) Providing screens or such other devices for basement windows which might provide a point of entry for rodents.
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:21 AM on August 6, 2008

Response by poster: Erm. So they flea bombed the day before yesterday. Then the landlord's maintenance man went and sprayed yesterday. I went there tonight and it was a lot better, but there were still fleas outside and I did have one flea jump on me / bite me in my house. Should I let it drop for now?
posted by Alligator at 9:26 PM on August 6, 2008

no - they now need to spray outside
posted by doorsfan at 2:26 PM on August 7, 2008

Yeah, the outside needs to be treated as well. And you should pro-rate your rent for the days you couldn't stay in the apartment; just include a letter with your next rent check explaining the math behind the deduction.

What should I do myself to attack this problem?

You can do something yourself that's pretty easy: Google "boric acid" and "fleas." It's non-toxic powder that works to scratch the outer shell of the fleas, which then dries them out. You just sprinkle it around, leave for a day and then vacuum it up. My anecdotal evidence from a major flea infestation years ago: Flea bombing doesn't work very well, but boric acid powder sprinkled and swept into corners and left for a day and then swept/vacuumed up absolutely decimated the little buggers. Seriously: they were gone and didn't come back ever. A small amount of residual powder stays in the carpet and along baseboards and keeps scratching the hell out of any new generation.

There will be another generation in a week or two if you don't do this. It's easy (any hardware store and lots of grocery stores carry it) and not nearly as bad for you as repeated doses of toxic sprays. If you have asthma or something similar, use a mask when you sprinkle and sweep it around.
posted by mediareport at 4:48 PM on August 9, 2008

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