Pest prevention and problematic tenants
Hiring the one contractor you dread the most: Exterminators
Something told me I should have pressed the issue more. I walked into an apartment building and saw a spacious living room and bedroom, and a reasonably sized kitchen. It was near public transportation, and since I worked in downtown Chicago throughout 95 percent of my career, that was important. I owned a car and parking was included. Plus, I could see the “el” (Chicago’s name for subway trains) from the living room window. The place was spotless.
I came back one more time to sign paperwork and to hear how loud the train was if I opened the windows. I then checked the kitchen cabinets to see whether all my pots from my off-campus apartment in Missouri would fit. That’s when I noticed the black, circular roach motels. I knew what they were. I’d had a relative and a couple of friends who had roaches when I was a kid. But although my childhood home had the worst luck of dealing with one pregnant mouse, roaches were not something I was used to.
I immediately asked the agent, “Why are those under the sink cabinet? They weren’t here last time. If this place has roaches, you can forget it.”
The agent talked to the property manager, who said that the roach motels were a “preventative measure.” I mentioned that they weren’t trying to “prevent” anything when I first came to see the place, not thinking I would come back for a second visit. I was assured that the building didn’t have an extermination problem but had exterminators come out for prevention checks annually anyway. I couldn’t shake the thought that no building needs preventative checks if it doesn’t already have a bug problem. (Note: My off-campus apartment for two years, third apartment for eight years and a condo rental for three years further proved this point.)
But I moved in. It was convenient. It was only $675, which was an amazing rate for Chicago’s north side (now averaging approximately $1.5K per month but about $900 in 2004). As a first-year college grad, I needed something realistic for my annual salary. And for the size of this place, including parking, it would’ve been hard to pass this deal up.
Less than two weeks later, I immediately started seeing roaches on the counters and the stove. I was furious. In a lengthy and irate letter, I told the property management company this needed to be resolved pronto. The extermination visits went from annually to quarterly. I was appalled when they offered to let me break my lease so they didn’t have to spend more on extermination. But by that point, I was too stubborn to move. If I were going to be the squeaky wheel in this building to get their extermination problem under control so they would stop lying to new tenants, let’s get ready to rumble!
My most surprising pest control obstacle: Another tenant
I got on the elevator with a girl who told me she’d heard a tenant had a pest problem. I nodded. When I got off the elevator, she peered around the corner to see which way I was going. That’s when I realized I was being blamed for the pest problem. Seriously? When I turned around to confront her about it, she scrambled back on the elevator. Was the convenience of the train and a spacious unit even worth all of this trouble with the property managers? I considered packing my boxes and just ponying up the $300 more for a neighboring building.
Then the exterminator came back for a quarterly visit. I asked him how often he visited there and was he new to the building. He shrugged and said, “Nope, I’m in this building all of the time.” I shook my head, recalling the property managers telling the agent that those roach motels weren’t that big of a deal.
I sighed, wondering what my Plan B would be. But what really threw me off was his next comment.
“You’re always going to have a bug problem if I cannot spray all the units,” the exterminator said. “One of the tenants won’t ever let me in after the last time. I tried to spray the place, and she told me not to harm the roaches. ‘They’re her friends,’ she told me.”
Have you ever had one of those moments where you wonder if you’re fluent in the language you’ve grown up speaking? Because I genuinely thought that I must’ve heard his English incorrectly, I asked him to repeat himself. He did.
“Her friends?” I triple-checked.
He nodded. It didn’t take long for me to figure out who the lady was, through process of elimination of which units were sprayed and which ones were not, because he wasn’t going to tell me. When I bumped into her on the elevator, I mentioned this story in conversation. She shrugged and said, “They’re not hurting anybody.”
I was speechless. She was an older woman who seemed unbothered by pests, and I wondered why the property management company made spraying optional. The most logical thing to do would be to kick her out if she refused to have her unit sprayed, but somehow their bigger issue was me for making them spend more money to take care of the building. I didn’t even mind the occasional spider. (If you live near the lakefront, you’re going to deal with an occasional spider. It’s a given.) As a former Girl Scout, I am pretty much indifferent about Charlotte. I smack those down and keep it moving. But roaches and mice are where I draw the line. By the time I realized there was a mouse problem by year-end, I was saving up for a new place.
I don’t know what ever happened with that tenant. I do know I raised enough hell to get the roach and mouse problem considerably down to a minimum. I was not surprised when my lease renewal came up, and they hiked the price up to $400 more. They knew that’d make me leave, and I happily skipped out and moved to an apartment I lived in that was roach-free and only had a couple of mice in eight years. My only experience after that was someone sitting on the parking lot curb with another kind of roach. Considering my college years, I was mainly quiet about that unless my apartment started to reek of it.
Living in a multi-unit can be drama-free or stressful, depending upon a variety of factors. It’s safe to say that a condo-owned building will probably be run more responsibly because homeowners have a vested interest in making sure the value doesn’t go down and the living space is up to par. But when you’re renting out units (condos included) or living in an apartment, you could either have the tenant who simply doesn’t care (they don’t own it anyway and can leave whenever they feel like it) or one who will make property managers earn every dime.
In my biased opinion, you are better off with the tenant who makes sure you maintain upkeep of the building. No property manager worth your time (or money) would be OK with residents living in filth, with pests, or dealing with constantly ignored (and reasonable) repairs. But what I learned from that first apartment I rented in my hometown was it may be easy to blame the property management company. However, sometimes the issue is the tenants themselves. Without making sure both are invested, you’ll always have problems.
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