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Team Up With Residents to Fight Pests

June 2020

Apartment managers can create a plan to succeed without using toxic pesticides.

Residents want their homes to be free of pests. But they often don’t want harsh pesticides—or any pesticides—used in their apartments. They may not even provide regular access to their homes to help fight pests in their building. “Complete success requires buy-in by residents—that’s a key lesson,” says Bradley Gaynor, Senior Director of Facilities and Capital Planning for Boston-based WinnResidential.

Together with residents, apartment managers can create a plan to successfully combat pests without having to use the kinds of toxic pesticides that were once common. Instead, they deprive pests of the water, food and the habitat they need. They apply relatively safe pesticides like gels only when necessary. However, the plan can only succeed if managers and residents work together.

“We believe educating residents is a big part of the process,” says Charles R. Cerbini, Executive Vice President of Corbett Exterminating Inc. “It takes some work to get people in the right frame of mind.”

Residents Are the Key

When an apartment investor buys a new apartment community, some distrustful residents may not be eager to provide access to their homes. However, pests often travel through the walls between apartments. It is impossible to fight them in just one part of a building.

“There has to be some kind of cycling through the apartments to know what is going on,” says Cerbini. That means that residents have to be persuaded to provide regular access. “We really need to have residents meet as a group.” 

Cerbini holds regular meetings at the buildings he visits. They are often well-attended by residents eager to hear answers to questions like: What does a bedbug really look like? “We bring bedbugs, dead, in all different growth stages, in vials,” says Cerbini. “I keep mine in vodka—it’s a good, clear preservative.”

These meetings can build trust with residents and can help apartment managers enlist them in the plan to fight pests. “The solution is continuous resident education,” says Gaynor of WinnResidential.

The techniques of integrated pest management (IPM) help keep pests out of apartments by making the environment in these apartments less attractive to them. Pests typically need something to drink, a source of food and a place to shelter. Pest-control specialists start by making any source of water inaccessible for pests. Then they look for food.

“If roaches don’t have anything to eat, then they can’t be there,” says Cerbini.

For IPM to work, residents need to be educated about the plan. “Even in meticulously clean apartments, there is often a trash can, usually in the kitchen, often not metal with a lid that closes,” Cerbini says. “That’s the same as leaving a smorgasbord on the kitchen table.”

These meetings with residents might expose their desire for less-toxic chemicals to fight pesticides. “The demand for non-toxic, organic pest management is less a function of green building and more the result of an increasingly heightened environmental awareness by residents, owners and municipalities,” says Gaynor.

These new techniques are very different that the strategies pest-control experts used in the past. “The old-school way, you would spray all the baseboards and leave,” says Cerbini. “However, the old-time residual sprays that we used… the industry was basically told we couldn’t use these things anymore.”

Instead, pest-control experts now use pesticides as a last resort. They concentrate on relatively safe materials, like gel baits that pests take back to their nests, instead of harsher materials that are more likely to affect the air quality in
an apartment.

Renovation: An Opportunity to Prevent Pests

When apartment community owners renovate, they have a huge opportunity to make their apartments less attractive to insects. “What’s often overlooked is the need to incorporate materials that are known to prevent pest penetration when you are rehabbing multifamily buildings and apartments,” Gaynor says.

For example, when an apartment becomes vacant, contractors can plug up the tiny pathways bugs use to travel from apartment to apartment. That includes applying caulking to the baseboard, where the floors meet the walls, and using a rodent-proofing material like steel wool or other “fill fabrics” to plug the spaces around water, gas or electric lines.

When you are putting money into renovation, it’s the perfect opportunity to make sure you’re also doing pest proofing, such as sealing up holes, says Cerbini. These techniques can save apartment managers a lot of money. “Doing those things is going to reduce the expense for the building going forward.”