Landlord Tenant Q&A with CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R)
CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Broker-In Charge, Callahan Realty, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. I own and manage a small house in Palolo Valley. The whole area is favored by the Hawaiian rats (rattus Polynesiensis), in addition to other rodents. I include in my lease addendum that the tenants are to close windows when they leave the house to avoid rat and mouse intrusions and that food should not be left uncovered on the counters, which attracts both rodents and roaches. There are many pets in the area so I do not allow poison. I also include in my lease that the tenant must assist in rodent control by advising me of any intrusions when they occur and setting the traps which I provide. I note that if they do not want to set the traps, that I will do it for them and supply the preferred bait, which is coconut. Do you see any problem with this approach?
How do the pest control companies deal with this without using poison?
A. I suggest that you discuss all this in detail with the tenant while reviewing the lease and before they move into the rental. When there is any continuing situation, it is always best to discuss it up front and not wait until someone is unhappy because they feel they were not given all of the information available.
I think the preventative requirements, such as leaving the windows closed and no food out are excellent things to have in the lease they are very difficult to enforce, but good to have nonetheless. Keep in mind that entering through screens is not the only way rodents get in. They will squeeze under doors and through any small hole, often chewing through washer or dishwasher hoses to make room for themselves in areas where the hoses run. They will gnaw right through drywall to get where they want to go.
In answering this question, I called a licensed Pest Management Professional (PMP) that I know and respect. He shared that licensed companies can only control three types of rodents. They can help with the Black Rat or “roof” rats which are the rats that you find in attics, palm trees, and on utility lines. These rats are very good climbers and can go up the side of a structure. They can also help with Brown Rats or “sewer” rats; these are good swimmers and
like sewer drains and areas by streams or rivers. Lastly, they can help eradicate the house mouse, which are the cute little things that cause so much damage. These are the three most invasive household pests on the island.
The techniques used by most PMPs are: 1) Exclusion -determining how the rodents are entering the property and taking that ability away from them, 2) Setting traps to catch rodents and disposing of them, and 3) Setting bait stations with poisons. I learned that there are different types of poisons that PMPs may use. The professional that I prefer uses tamper proof bait stations that prevent dogs or cats from getting to the poison. He also uses a slow acting poison rather than a stronger poison that kills immediately. The slow acting poison causes the rodents to feel sick and when they do they normally go back to their nest or into a tree rather than just dying in the home. Even if a dog or cat were to eat a rat that had ingested poison, it would not be enough to kill the animal unless perhaps it was the size of a rat.
Back to your question of whether or not it is OK for the tenant to be required to help the landlord in pest control, the answer is yes. When allowing pets on the property, it is always a good idea to include in the pet addendum that pet food should not be left out longer than necessary. In areas where there may be feral cats, some people can be tempted to leave food out for the cats which can then attract rodents. This is another good item to have in an addendum and also discuss with the tenant.
At the end of the day though, if there is a rodent problem that constitutes a Health and Safety Hazard, you as the owner of the property will be held responsible by both Department of Health regulations and the Landlord Tenant Code. Your approach in working together with the tenant is a very good one, but be sure not to become complacent check back periodically with the tenant to ensure that ongoing infestation has not occurred.