From the Forum – Landlord Nightmare

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Landlord Nightmare

“Hi all, my landlord has been an absolute nightmare since I moved into my place in November, but we have gotten to the last straw. There are now mice is our walls and running through our apartment. We have tried blocking all the holes we can find with bricks and have laid poison and traps, and the problem persists. The landlord refuses to send an exterminator or help in any way, even though the building is in violation of a dozen items in the DC housing code. This morning, she sent me 65 texts detailing “natural ways to get rid of mice” including leaving used, urine-soaked cat litter or snake poop around the house to “deter the pests.” I scheduled an exterminator to come and informed her I will be deducting the cost from our rent check. I am afraid, however, that I will somehow be left on the hook for this, even though it is illegal to have mouse holes and rodents in a tenant’s property. Any advice on dealing with this situation professionally would be appreciated. It is difficult to deal with her because she seems to have some kind of personality disorder and does not respond to interactions in a predictable way. And for anyone who remembers the apt on Cap Hill with the “slumlord” for rent sign – this is that house. Thanks.”

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35 Comment

  • justinbc

    Office of the Tenant Advocate, call them today.

    • +1 Also, you can call to get a housing inspector in. The landlord will be given time to remedy violations and will have to post fined if she doesn’t fix them. It’s helpful if you get at least one other tenant to have their unit inspected, too, because the landlord is only responsible for keeping common areas up and isn’t responsive for vermin problems unless the vermin problem exists in more than one unit.

    • +1 I couldn’t agree more. Call them!

  • your landlord sounds like a piece of work, but unfortunately, even if she were all together and the best of landlords, she can’t get rid of your mice. You are going to have to tackle this yourself. Calling an exterminator won’t do much good anyway, they are going to do the same thing you’ve already done. set traps. I lived in NYC for 10 years, never saw a mouse. Bought my place here and had to go to all out WAR with those f*ckers. It takes a while, diligence, and a tough stomach, but you’ll get it under control. Block all the holes, use caulk against baseboards. set traps, grow mint and lavender in your kitchen. Keep your kitchen SPOTLESS and think about getting a cat. Good luck.

    • I disagree with your sentiments. It’s the landlord’s responsibility to not only make improvements that will prevent mice and other pests, but to pay for those improvements or services. The renter shouldn’t have to absorb the costs of treating the problem, let alone improving HER property.

      • Emmaleigh504

        My landlord successfully got rid of our rodent problem. First they tried traps and poison, but when that didn’t work they went into our apartments and repaired any walls with holes or weak spots. No mice since then (Ashlee was very sad they fixed the problem). No cost to me. Bernstein is the best.

        • That is pretty standard in multi unit (typically larger) buildings. It’s a built in cost, I’m sure. I had no issue buying a few traps, but the LL did the wall fixes and poison.

          • Emmaleigh504

            the wall fixes were way beyond what I thought they would be. They didn’t just patch the holes, the wall that had the holes completely fortified with a metal sheet, then new sheet rock and paint for the whole room. My poor kitty was soooo sad. She thought the mice were her toys playing back.

          • Long run cheaper than coming back for this unit and then the next. My ll is just cheap, so I wasn’t getting all of that.

    • I’ve been on both sides of this one. I expected my tenants to buy traps, keep it clean, etc., but I came out to get holes sealed and asked the same of my landlord when I had the issue. No matter how many traps you put down the holes maybe on the exterior needs to be handled by the landlord. Exterminator sprayed a boric acid compound in the walls before sealing holes which helped as well.
      You own your unit; they’re tenants.

      • This is right. Realistically apartment buildings and row houses have mice in DC. If you want to keep them out of human spaces you need regular maintenance to fill holes. Any responsible landlord should have regular rodent maintenance.

  • Hey neighbor! I live a few houses down from you toward Independence.

    I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this unfortunate situation. Please let me know if I can be helpful in any way — even if it’s just for refuge from the rats! It seems like that house has always been in a state of disrepair.

    Call the Office of the Tenant Advocate ASAP. I would start withholding rent if the issue goes unresolved by the end of this month. Be sure to document everything you can with photos or videos.

    Here’s the DC Tenants Bill of Rights:

    And the Survival Guide:

    Good luck!

  • Unfortunately, most leases have a clause that states that pest problems are the responsibility of the tenant.

    When I was dealing with a predatory landlord/slumlord in my first rental post-college, I called the Office of the Tenant Advocate, and they were extremely helpful. I strongly recommend you call them.

    One of the tactics they gave me was to look up my landlord’s name in DC’s Basic Business License database to see if she had a BBL (it is illegal to operate as a landlord without a BBL), and to use the lack of BBL as leverage. I looked her up, and, of course, she did not have one. I told her that if she did not address our issues, we would consider reporting her to the DC government, and this worked.

    While I would not normally resort to threats like this, it was a tactic suggested by the DC government itself, so I felt comfortable doing it, and it worked great. So, I definitely recommend looking into whether she is operating without a BBL (highly likely). Hope that helps!

    • Most likely the landlord would just get the BBL and then you would be in the same situation. Only now they would be at war with you. You should then expect them to raise your rent or terminate your tenancy using some backdoor clause in the lease.

      Don’t threaten your landlord unless you want to suffer equal amounts of damage.

      • Doubtful because she is bringing in (most likely) a fair amount of tax free money without having the place done up to a standard.
        Unless you break a rule in the lease, don’t pay rent on time, or ll wants to move back into the place, the ll would have a hard time getting rid of you legally. If you’re going to threaten a ll dc is the place to do it.

        • Exactly. If a landlord wants you out, they can “convert it back to personal use” and you are screwed. It’s very easy to do. You have no recourse and will have to move out.

          Sure they can technically not rent it for a short amount of time. But since they were not following the rules in the first place, do you actually think that they will wait for the waiting period to be over before renting it out illegally again? I don’t think so.

          Either way your ass will be homeless if you start a war with the landlord. Tenants don’t need to be such bullies in D.C. The landlords of D.C. are getting very tired of tenant B.S. and won’t stand for it much longer. The more tenants make it difficult for landlords, the higher the rents will be raised in D.C.

          So go ahead…start a war with your landlord. I bet neither or you will win.

          • I fail to see how this situation is “tenant BS” and it seems like this landlord is bringing all the hardship on themselves.

          • phl2dc

            OR landlords can start taking care of their properties like they should. What a weird comment you’ve left there…

    • Anything in the lease that contravenes DC law is unenforceable. Definitely talk to OTA about what you should expect form the landlord regardless of what your lease says.

      • Not entirely true. Tenants can sign away rights just as landlords. As long as you are not forced to sign the contract, something as minor as pest control (or even repairs) can become the responsibility of the tenant.

        Tenants really don’t have the control that people think they do. Landlords can always convert it back to personal use (say a weekend home in the city?) and you are screwed.

        So have fun trying to get one over on your landlord. Hint: the landlord has more at stake than you do and will most likely win in the long run.

        • I’m getting the feeling you’re the landlord in question…

        • Accountering

          Anon, you are simply wrong. Tenants cannot sign away rights that contradict DC law. Regardless of what the lease says, at the end it goes to month-to-month for example.

          • So wait- if my tenants lease expires and I get them to sign a new lease to maintain their current rent amount( or I’ll increase it by $200 if they go month-to-month) are you saying that this new lease can’t be enforced?

    • I believe DC law requires tenants to live in pest free housing. DC law supersedes anything in a lease.

  • For your mouse problem:

    Ordering a couple of these can’t hurt:

    And the best traps I’ve used are these:

    Bait both with peanut butter, maybe mix in some honey if you have it.

    Sorry you’re dealing with this.

  • Emmaleigh504

    “urine-soaked cat litter” gross and useless. 65 texts is just insane. I have no advice, just sympathy. good luck!

  • I’m surprised it hasn’t been said yet, but D-Con.

    Lots of apartments have mice. It sounds like your mouse problem has gotten out of control. Traditional snap traps baited with peanut butter and D-Con.

  • It is very easy to report this to DCRA and they will bring an inspector out to your house. I have similar problems with both a roach and mouse infestation in our entire building. After the inspector came around, the slumlord was still not a nice man, but compliant to the letter (he was required to hire an actual company AND have the make follow up treatments). Below is a link to there page as well as their main info.

    It is the mission of the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to ensure your building and your unit is healthy and safe. DCRA needs you, the tenant, to report your suspected housing violations. District of Columbia laws require your landlord to provide apartments that are in a safe, habitable and livable condition. The landlord has a duty to make all repairs necessary to make buildings and apartments habitable. DC law also requires landlords to maintain buildings and apartments according to many established standards.

    Customer Notice
    The DCRA Inspections Scheduling Unit is now available from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm Monday through Friday. If you feel you need an emergency inspection, please do not email, call (202) 442-9557or dial 311 immediately. The following information will help you get your issues resolved as quickly as possible.

    Contact Email: [email protected]
    Contact Phone: (202) 442-4400
    Contact Fax: (202) 442-9445
    Contact TTY: 711
    Office Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm; Thursday 9:30am to 4:30pm

  • We used to live on the Hill and had mice as well. (Thankfully, our landlord was proactive.)

    But I can’t speak too highly of Innovative Pest Management. They came out four times in four weeks to set traps, figure out entry points, track run paths, close holes and fix the issue. They were extremely knowledgeable and fixed the issue. They were accommodating to our schedule and VERY easy to work with. (The landlord called with his CC but had us hand it on our end so he wasn’t constantly coming into the place.)

  • I used to live in a rental–luckily our landlord paid for the exterminator, but it was a pain in the butt. The exterminator was really knowledgeable, and helped us do everything needed to get rid of them:
    – put all your food into plastic containers. No boxes of cereal or bags of potatoes or anything lying around. Everything in tupperware containers with airtight lids that mice can’t get into.
    – find all the soft spots in the walls/ceilings/exterior. They go through the drywall to get to the food, so feel around the walls and ceilings and you’ll find little areas that are soft. If there isn’t already a hole, poke a hole in the soft spots.
    – Stuff it with steel wool (you can get giant bags at home depot). Once you’ve jammed in as much steel wool as possible, fill the hole with spray foam. This will expand the steel wool, and mice can’t eat through the metal.
    – Do this with any holes in the exterior too (we had brick, so had to find all the holes). This helped lessen our ant problem too.
    – If its rats, you’re out of luck. Move.

    Good luck!

  • While this won’t help with the landlord, there are a few things to look for in a pest control provider. Make sure that they inspect the property completely and seal of any possible rodent entry points. Mice can enter through a hole the size of a dime so all the poison and baits in the world won’t accomplish much if the mice can come back when the smoke clears. Once these “exclusion points” have been closed off, you can use baits to finish them off. Rowhouse and apartment building situations are a little more complicated because you need neighbor buy in but they are usually suffering from the same problem and tend to cooperate. Also, the mice will leave when the food source is gone so you have to pack any dry goods into sealable plastic containers so that the mince can’t smell or access them.

    Unfortunately this kind of thing is a common occurrence with city living and I don’t know how much the landlord is on the hook for this type of thing but I would assume that they should be doing everything they can to alleviate the problem unless it is caused by tenant negligence (dirty conditions and damage caused by the tenant).

  • Here’s a (pro-active) landlord perspective. As a landlord I have had a few mice problems in the rowhouse I rent out. I have been proactive and have had 2 different exterminator co. (1 last fall & they came back again this past spring & a new company this past spring). The 2nd exterminator could not find anymore unsealed holes (that was why I called a different co.–maybe the 1st co. missed some holes?–but nope that wasn’t the case). Overall I’ve spent $800+ for this issue, yet my tenants are still continue to see random mice once in a while in the house–coming from somewhere we don’t know. The best we can do is put out lots of traps and baits and a mice noise repellent (which is all paid by me). My tenants understand I have tried the best I can even though the problem continues.

  • In addition to traps, I’d recommend the ultrasonic mice deterrents. I put a few around the house (two in opposite ends of each room) and haven’t seen a mouse since.

  • Almost every tenant in DC is also in violation of DC law by not having renters insurance. (Yes this is actually law in DC). Starting a war with the landlord is not fruitful. They can make your life ad miserable as you are making theirs.

    What is the solution in a free market? Move! You have a choice of housing. You have a product that you do not like so go find the product you want.

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