One of the services we offer affordable housing providers who sign up for StopPests’ free consulting and training is reviewing leases for property managers. We look for all the ways IPM principles can be incorporated into a lease and existing lease language can be interpreted to to make implementing IPM a little easier in multifamily housing. In a previous assessment of nine housing authorities we worked with, all stated that delivering a lease violation notice for poor housekeeping with specifics on how to remedy was the best way to motivate residents to do their part in an IPM program.
There are often vague references to housekeeping and pests control, but many leases lack the specifics. Your version of clean and uncluttered may not be the same as your neighbor's. Ultimately, cooperation from residents (or lack of) may determine if a pest infestation gets under control. When expectations and obligations are clearly laid out for residents and housing staff, the lease can be another tool in the IPM program. What follows are some common IPM leverage points that you can look for in your lease.
First, we look for any mention of exterminating or exterminators. This is an outdated term, but this isn’t just about word choice. The term extermination implies just killing pests. Good pest management is more than that. It includes inspection, monitoring, and making recommendations for eliminating food, water, shelter, and entry points. We suggest using pest control, pest management professional, and IPM as replacement terms to shift the focus from just killing off pests.
Vague language like “within a reasonable time period” is also noted. We suggest replacing undefined time periods with defined time periods. For example, one of our recommendations is to conduct a housekeeping inspection within 90 days of move in and at least annually thereafter. Tenants should have a clear understanding of how many visits and inspections they can expect at a minimum.
One thing we hear from property managers is that sometimes residents don’t report pest infestations. Are residents aware property management covers the cost of pest control? This should not be one of the reasons pests go un-reported. We suggest including a reference to pest control in the list of utilities and services covered by management. In addition, make sure residents know exactly how to report in order to generate a work order.
Another issue we often hear is residents don’t cooperate with pest control visits. For those who can’t do their part, we strategize about support options. For those who won’t do their part, we have the lease. Does your lease clearly state that failure to comply with preparations for pest management and allowing access by contractors can result in adverse action? Lease termination, transfer, and extra charges can all be repercussions for failing to comply with maintenance visits and pest control preparation. If there are no repercussions for not cooperating with pest management visits (or failing housekeeping inspections for that matter), it makes pests control extremely difficult, even impossible.
In all leases there is a section describing the tenant’s responsibilities. Tenants are typically responsible for reporting maintenance issues. We suggest defining what those issues are and referencing specific examples such as: signs of pests, presence of wildlife, drainage issues, leaks, moisture issues, mold, holes greater than ¼ inch, broken or missing window screens, and any unsafe or unsanitary conditions. Again, if there are no stated repercussions for not reporting issues, it makes it hard to enforce a lease.
We know that garbage, and how we dispose of it, plays a huge role in managing pests. Does your lease describe garbage and waste disposal guidelines? A good lease will describe the tenant’s role in garbage disposal. We look for statements like: Garbage should be disposed of in a sanitary and safe manner, incovered containers and should not sit in a unit for more than a week. No trash or items should be stored in yards. Doors and hallways should be accessible and free from clutter.
Often leases state residents are prohibited from storing flammable or highly volatile materials. Many people do not realize “bug bombs” or total release foggers are volatile materials. Because the use of these pesticides is ingrained in some communities (despite the hazard and ineffectiveness of the formulation), we think it’s best to directly reference bug bombs in a list of prohibited items. We also encourage looking for these materials in housekeeping inspections…but that’s a topic for another blog post!
Although it’s not easy to make changes to a lease, keep these points in mind when the opportunity does arise.
For more information on changing lease language to help implement IPM in multifamily housing, see the StopPests Lease Guidance.