Conventional pest control —with an initial flush-out followed by routine spraying— has generally failed to provide long-term protection from pests in low-income multifamily housing. The results? Often frustrated tenants take pest control into their own hands. They turn to over-the-counter, off label, or even illegal pesticides, risking their own health, their neighbors’, and the environment. Sometimes they also become mistrustful of housing staff or contractors. This might lead to residents denying access to units or not following pest control advice.
Combine this with a general lack of knowledge or misconceptions about proper pest management, and you’ve got some of the main challenges —and motives— for switching to IPM (Integrated Pest Management).
And key to your success? Engaging residents and community members throughout the process. In fact, they are among the most important partners in pest control.
So what is the residents’ role in IPM? Basically, it is the same as that of the whole IPM team: controlling pests by preventing access, detecting infestations quickly, and making sure food, water and shelter are not available. Some of the specific tasks tenants should do to achieve this include:
- keep their homes clean and clutter-free,
- report pests, leaks, mold, access points, and other maintenance issues,
- take the necessary steps to prevent bringing pests home,
- prepare for contractor visits (such as emptying cabinets and moving furniture or equipment as instructed) and allow access to unit,
- notify management of disabilities or when assistance is needed to participate in IPM,
- support and share information with neighbors (we’ll come back to this…),
- provide feedback about the quality and thoroughness of pest inspections & treatments, and the progress of the program
Now, you might be raising an eyebrow when looking at these last couple tasks (whether you’re a manager, staff, or even a resident). And sure, resident feedback can be hard to manage sometimes, or residents may think it won’t matter. However, many believe it is this kind of involvement and participation that makes people feel, and thus become, true partners in such a program. When they are treated with respect as equal partners and have developed trust, they are more likely to respond positively 1.
Encourage and welcome their input, commend their efforts, and above all let them know they’re a crucial piece of the puzzle!
Also, tenants are more likely to change their attitude and behavior when they feel management is working with them and for them. People need to know they are not being judged —a key factor when dealing with culture differences—, lectured, or simply criticized. At the same time, they must realize (and you need to convey) that the ultimate goal is to make their lives better, safer and healthier.
Little things, like explaining a tenant that you’re inspecting their home, or wearing protective gear while at it, to protect them (as well) from bringing pests into their house, can make a big difference. They will probably collaborate and appreciate your efforts much more!
Having information and educational materials in many (relevant) languages can also be a powerful way to show residents that you care — you want everyone to be able to understand and participate in IPM; you want everyone to be safe. Several extension, public health organizations, and pest/pesticide management groups have created brochures, videos and other resources in various languages, mostly aimed toward under-served populations.
Visit StopPests.org to find links to some of these resources (search by topic or specific pest).
Same goes for inviting your pest control operator to talk to tenants and staff about their work — it can be a valuable training opportunity, while building positive relationships and gaining trust.
Overall, there are many ways and tools for involving both staff and residents in an IPM program 1, 2. Building awareness and understanding of the program is a key step from early on. One strategy that can be very helpful for this purpose —and much more— is the use of peer educators, mentors, or community advocates. This approach is often seen as complex and time consuming (which it is!), but it can also bring great value if it’s set up properly… This will be the topic for the second part of this post, so stay tuned!