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Pest Control: Resources for Housing Managers

One of the trickiest environmental challenges for housing managers is pest management - finding the best way to control unwanted invaders while minimizing the use of potentially toxic pesticides. Pests such as cockroaches, mice, rats and bed bugs can be particularly troublesome in multi-family housing.
 

Living with pests should not be the norm for anyone -- whether one lives in a single family home or multifamily housing.

Integrated pest management (IPM) differs from traditional pest control:

  • It emphasizes eliminating nesting places as well as sources of food and water for pests.
  • It excludes pests from the home.

Studies have proven that IPM is the most effective way to control pests in the home. Effective IPM programs in multi-family housing require a team effort involving residents, maintenance and custodial staff, pest management professionals, and the housing manager. This Web page contains information housing managers can use to implement IPM programs.

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Why Control Pests Responsibly on Your Property?

Pests Cause Problems

In addition to lending properties a poor appearance and potentially causing physical damage, pests can cause health problems that could make living in a property uncomfortable, dangerous or even deadly. Certain kinds of insects, rodents and microbes can cause or spread vector-borne diseases (like West Nile virus or rabies), asthma and allergies, avian flu, and diseases due to microbial contamination, among other health problems.

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Pesticides Can Be Harmful If Misused

To combat pest problems, many people often turn immediately to pesticides. Pesticides are intended to be toxic to pests. When used improperly, pesticides can be toxic for people as well. Children, older adults and those with compromised immune systems are some groups who are especially vulnerable to harm from improper use of pesticides.

Taking precautions to prevent pests from entering the property and becoming a problem is the first step to safe and prudent pest control. By using the common sense approach of a strategy known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), housing managers can avoid wasting time and money on treatments and repairs for pest infestations that could have been prevented. Additionally, dealing with pest problems quickly and effectively can help ensure that residents are pleased with their apartments and do not move away due to infestations.

For more information on responsible pest control, please refer to the IPM fact sheet and consult the seven components of good facilities management below.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

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Seven Essential Components of Good Facilities Management

These seven components provide housing managers a guide to good facilities management in the context of responsible pest control. This list includes many examples of ways to follow these guidelines.

1. Monitoring is the periodic estimation of relative pest population levels, building conditions and other factors that might influence the successful management of pest problems. Information gained through monitoring is critical for determining whether control measures-chemical or otherwise-are necessary.

In many apartment buildings, maintenance technicians are more familiar with the buildings they manage than anyone else that works in the building. They are the ones most likely to see pests or evidence of pests and the conditions that enable pest infestations, and they are the ones most likely to be blamed if a resident sees pests. Maintenance technicians should be familiar with pests and signs of pest problems. Many successful Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs have involved maintenance technicians as "scouts" for pests by teaching them to look for signs, such as rodent droppings, gnaw marks, and frass (insect exoskeletons and excrement).

Electricians are also important for an effective monitoring program because they often go into areas of buildings that others do not frequent, such as crawl spaces and inside drop ceilings. If electricians notice pests, gnawed wires, or other evidence of pests in such areas, they should immediately inform the pest control manager for the building.

Plumbers are also an important part of the IPM team because they are in the best position to spot leaks, humidity, condensation, and standing water that can lead to pest problems. By the nature of their work, carpenters, roofers and other tradespersons can offer additional insight into pests and structural conditions that allow pests to thrive.

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2. Reduce access to and through buildings. The first defense against unwanted visitors, pests included, is making sure they do not get into the building. If there are apartments with pest infestations, spread of the infestation can be minimized to the extent the passageway from these apartments to the rest of the building can be blocked. Pest management experts recommend regular inspections of the building exterior to spot holes where pests may gain entry. Other steps to keep insects and rodents from entering or traveling through your building include:

  • Fix broken windows, screens, vent covers or holes in exterior walls as soon as possible. A mouse can fit through a hole as small as the diameter of a dime.
  • Doors and windows that do not completely close must be fixed immediately to prevent pests from getting in. Doors that do not seal at the bottom should be fitted with weatherproof sweeps, or the bottom should be extended, or the threshold built up to insure the gap is less than 1/4 inch.
  • Automatic door closers should be considered for frequently used doors that tend to be left open, and for doors that are near rooms or outdoor areas where food or trash is present.
  • Do not leave doors to buildings propped open, particularly near kitchen areas or dumpsters.
  • Place screens over air intake and exhaust vents for heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to prevent insects and rodents from entering buildings. Whenever possible, use screens on doors, hatches, skylights and other openings. Cover fan and vent openings with galvanized mesh with openings of 1/4 inch or smaller.
  • Carefully review HVAC components, such as piping and duct work, where they meet floors, walls, or ceilings, and close openings pests could enter to prevent these from becoming runways for pests. The most commonly used materials for this are caulk, sheet metal, knitted copper mesh or steel wool, spray foam insulation, and cement. Knitted copper mesh, steel wool and cement are among the best materials to plug openings of 1/4 inch or greater. Rodents can gnaw through softer substances.
  • Plug gaps and openings where wires and conduits come through walls, ceilings, floors, the backs of cabinets, etc. to prevent rodents and insects from using electrical wires and conduits as a means to gain access to, and travel throughout, buildings.
  • Eliminate pest access in plumbing systems. Seal around sill cocks, sewer lines, and other openings. Use caulk, knitted copper mesh, steel wool, or foam insulation to block access around pipe openings. These materials are often used in combination with hinged metal "collars" designed specifically to cover gaps around plumbing and other service conduits.

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3. Reduce sources of water. Steps to reduce sources of water for pests include:

  • Fix leaking pipes and faucets as soon as possible. A five-gallon bucket under a slow leak may seem an easy solution to a plumbing problem. However, it provides a watering trough for rats, mice and cockroaches and may be a moisture source for supporting mold growth.
  • Keep roof drains and downspouts open and free-flowing.
  • Keep gutters clean and unclogged. Standing water and debris in gutters provides water for rats, carpenter ants, mosquitoes and other pests.
  • Fix clogged or slow drains as quickly as possible.
  • Replace water-damaged wood as soon as possible.
  • Insulate pipes in areas that might be prone to condensation. Condensation is a significant source of water for pests.
  • Empty mop buckets and store mops head up.

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4. Manage your recycling program. While recycling is meant to improve the environment, it can contribute to environmental problems, particularly those related to pests, if it is not handled correctly. Some key concepts that managers in charge of recycling activities should understand and practice include:

  • Wash recyclable containers. Food and drink left on or in recyclables will help support insects and rodents. Use soapy water to wash bottles, cans, wrappings, and other items that have food residues clinging to them before placing them in recycling bins.
  • Use metal bins when practical. Pests can gnaw through many types of plastic containers.
  • Line bins used to store food and beverage containers with garbage bags and clean bins weekly with detergent and hot water.
  • Equip storage bins with tight fitting lids to keep rodents and insects out.
  • Arrange for all recyclables to be picked up as frequently as possible. This keeps pests from being able to rely on a steady source of shelter or breeding area. Constant disruption of pest habitats helps keep populations from becoming established.

5. Manage your garbageSteps to keep garbage-pest free include:

  • Store dumpsters and trash cans on concrete or asphalt surfaces as far away from the building as possible, but never within three feet of a building wall or fence.
  • Provide adequate numbers of dumpsters and trash receptacles to avoid overflow of contents. Outdoor trash receptacles should have self-closing lids.
  • Inspect trash rooms regularly and clean up spills promptly.

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6. Remove pests without pesticides. If a pest insect infestation is large, vacuuming is a quick way to reduce the population immediately. A strong vacuum can be used to pick up live cockroaches, as well as their egg cases and droppings. IPM experts recommend using a vacuum equipped with high efficiency air particulate (HEPA) filter to reduce the amount of  allergens that can become airborne during cleaning. To clean up mouse and rat nests and droppings, do not sweep or vacuum but follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cleaning Up After Rodents since rodent materials can be contaminated with viruses and other disease agents that pose a serious risk to people. Read more about controlling rodents.

7. Solicit the support and cooperation of building residentsEffective IPM in a multifamily housing dwelling requires the cooperation of all residents. The Safer Pest Control Project, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization working to reduce the unnecessary use of pesticides, implemented a number of successful pest control programs in Chicago Public Housing using an IPM approach.

The project manager stated that an important key to their success was getting building residents involved in the effort. By soliciting the support of these community leaders, the team encouraged building residents to take ownership of the project. Community leaders attended training sessions on IPM and, in turn, provided other residents with important information about sanitation and clutter management.

As an enticement for residents to attend the training provided by resident leaders, goody bags were distributed, providing useful supplies in the war against pests, such as cleaners, bag clips, and caulk guns. The manager said that getting building residents involved in the project helped ensure that new procedures set up for managing pests would remain in place after her team's contract ended.

("Tips for Housing Managers" was adapted from "Scram! Keeping Apartment Homes Pest-Free, Without Toxic Pesticides," an article by an EPA staff member, in the June 2004 issue of Units, a National Apartment Association's publication.)

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Pest Management Roles for Housing Managers and Staff

Responsibly controlling pests in multi-family housing requires teamwork, communication, and cooperation between residents, housing managers, housing staff, and pest management professionals (PMP).

The property manager's role encompasses these responsibilities:

  • Develop and enforce policies and procedures with staff and residents.
  • Notify residents of PMP visit in advance.
  • Encourage a reporting system for residents and staff.
  • Manage PMP.
  • Monitor and maintain facilities.
  • Identify problems, especially with housekeeping and sanitation and delegate the solutions.

The property manager is responsible for IPM, not the pest control operator. Too many core elements of an effective IPM program are beyond the control of the Pest Control Operator (PCO). In a public housing authority, the property manager may be a building manager.

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Other members of your staff and the PMP have their own responsibilities:

The role of maintenance staff:

  • Eliminate leakage.
  • Fix moisture problems.
  • Install barriers to pest entry and movement.
  • Monitor for pests and report problems.

Maintenance has a crucial role in IPM and maintaining a healthy building. Maintenance staff need to work closely with the PMP to respond to maintenance problems documented in the IPM log. They also need to get at the root causes of pest problems - water and holes.

Maintenance may be asked to monitor for pests with glue traps in common areas to alert the PMP of potential new problems.

Finally, they may have a role in unit turnover. Unit turnover is a great opportunity to clean up units, and to apply boric treatments behind walls and cabinets.

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The role of housekeeping staff:

  • Keep common areas clean and sanitary (especially trash chutes and dumpsters).
  • Report problems with housekeeping in units.
  • Monitor for pests and report problems.

The role of resident support services:

  • Get assistance for residents who are unable to prepare their unit for the PMP due to financial or physical limitations.
  • Educate residents on:
    • Pests
    • Proper housekeeping
    • Reporting presence of pests, leaks, and mold.
  • Enforce lease provisions regarding:
    • Housekeeping
    • Sanitation
    • Trash removal and storage.

Resident support services are the people that interface with the residents, especially when there are problems. They may accompany the PMP on site visits.

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The role of the pest management professional:

  • Follow contract and get paid.
  • Provide technical assistance.
  • Communicate with staff AND residents.
  • Identify problems.
  • Recommend alternative approaches.
  • Monitor for pests.
  • Apply safest pesticides.
  • Document everything: observations, pesticide usage, suggestions.
  • Be licensed if required by the state.

The PMP's other potential roles and responsibilities:

  • Using vacuum to make initial treatment of infested unit.
  • Seal cracks and crevices.
  • Set out glue traps (this may be done by staff instead).

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Residents have their own important role to play in terms of implementing IPM. Learn about the role of residents.

The results of this team approach:

  • An inspection and monitoring system that finds pests.
  • A reporting system that identifies areas of improvement.
  • Units that are prepared to get a least-toxic treatment.
  • Communication that empowers all.
  • Fewer pests and a healthier environment.

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