How To Tell if An Apartment Has Roaches (Before You Move In)

When looking for a new place to live, you can easily find out the size of an apartment, the neighborhood it’s located within, and its physical condition. However, a factor that many people overlook is the chance of roaches. Trying to find cockroaches in an apartment you don’t even live in yet may seem overwhelming. However, cockroaches leave many signs that you can use to determine their presence before deciding to move in.

To tell if an apartment has roaches, look for visual proof such as feces, egg shells, shed cockroach skins, and roaches themselves. You can find all of this near places that cockroaches spend their time. That includes underneath kitchen and bathroom sinks, near pipes, and inside cabinets. If there is a heavy infestation, you can also smell them. Roaches leave an oily, musty odor that makes a home smell old.

People sign leases without realizing there is a roach infestation. It’s the landlord’s duty to ensure the rental property complies with health and safety codes in the U.S. That includes clearing the apartment of any cockroaches before the tenant moves in. If you run into a problem, be sure to document all signs of an infestation and contact the health department.

How Common are Roaches in Apartments?

According to the Journal of Economic Entomology, roaches are common in apartments. In fact, it’s more likely that you will encounter them in an apartment than in a house. That’s because of these factors:

More Chances For Food

In a house, you can limit access to food sources. This will help drive out roaches or make them vulnerable to pesticides. However, this is more difficult to achieve in an apartment building.

With more people living in a single area, there is more food and garbage. If roaches have trouble finding food in one apartment, the next place is really nearby.

More Chances For Shelter

Using traps and roach bait to eliminate cockroaches is rather futile when living in an apartment. These methods will only force the roaches to flee to another apartment, where they can:

  • Hide
  • Reproduce
  • Grow

Once your apartment is clear of traps or residual pesticides, the cockroaches can return stronger than ever. The only way to keep an apartment complex free of roaches is to routinely:

  • Clear out the inhabitants
  • Fumigate the building from top to bottom

This, of course, never happens due to the expense and inconvenience. Because of that, cockroaches reign supreme in apartments unless landlords are very diligent. Help is also required from tenants to limit how attractive their homes are to roaches, which isn’t always the case.

how common are roaches in apartments?

One Person Can Ruin It For Everyone

A good way to keep roaches out of your living area is to keep the place clean. This works if you live in a single house alone, but in an apartment, it’s far more difficult. Even if your place is spotless, that may not be true for your neighbors.

If a neighbor has a dirty, cluttered house, there are sure to be cockroaches. When that roach nest gets overcrowded, all those roaches will move into your place. After all, you’re only a wall or ventilation duct away.

Does An Apartment Have Roaches?

Finding out you live in a cockroach nest can be gross, dangerous, and costly. Because of that, you should never sign a lease on an apartment that’s infested with roaches.

However, some landlords are deceiving. Some may lie to you about an apartment’s infestation status to get you to sign a lease. That places the burden on you to detect the roaches and decide if you should pass up this apartment.

During your walkthrough, be sure to inspect the place. Look for the following signs of cockroaches in an apartment:

Cockroach Egg Shells

Female roaches create egg casings called ootheca. These are used to carry their unhatched eggs. Depending on the species, an ootheca stays attached to the cockroach until it’s nearly time for the nymphs to hatch.

Before hatching, roaches will tuck the ootheca away in a secure place. This ensures other roaches and bugs don’t eat the eggs. If you see an ootheca in broad daylight, it means that the apartment is severely infested. After all, the mother could not find anywhere to hide the eggs.

Cockroach ootheca are the same color as roaches. Because of this, even people who are inexperienced with roaches should be able to spot them. They are oval in shape, but most will be torn open from when the nymphs hatched.

Shed Exoskeletons

Cockroaches grow by molting. This happens when they shed their exoskeleton to make room for a bigger and longer body. Nymphs molt an average of 6 times until they reach a final molt and become adults.

Shed exoskeletons are thin and similar in color to the average roach. Just like the ootheca, you should have no problem identifying them at a glance. If you find a single exoskeleton, you can bet on there being more.

If the shed skin looks large and recent, several roaches are about to reach sexual maturity. In some cases, they already have. In a few days or weeks, the cockroaches will procreate. You’ll soon find a horde of nymphs crawling all over your apartment.

Be careful when encountering an exoskeleton with wings. Cockroaches don’t grow wings until their very final molt when they become adults. As such, the leftover skin will not contain wings. If it does, you are instead looking at a termite exoskeleton.  

Cockroaches Themselves

When people check out apartments, they mostly visit during the day. Seeing a cockroach at any time is a nightmare, but one found during sunlight hours spells nothing but trouble.

According to Chulalongkorn University, roaches have specific feeding times. They are only active between the hours of 5 P.M. and 6 A.M. They leave their nests and hunt for food during this time.

Finding roaches during the day means that the infestation is severe. Cockroaches are getting pushed out of their harborage and into the open. They are forced to scavenge during risky hours, and there are countless more still in hiding.

Feces

Roach feces are as small as coffee grounds and black pepper. When cockroaches walk, they defecate as they go.

Cockroaches usually navigate via routes they know are secure. They will use these paths to travel around the apartment without worry. Feces from multiple roaches will usually mark these routes and highlight which parts of the apartment they travel through the most.

Smell

A single roach will not leave much of a scent. However, multiple roaches have an odor that we can detect with ease.

Cockroaches have an oily, musky smell because they are constantly releasing pheromones. These are emitted when they die, communicate with each other, and when they mate.

Where to Look

Proof that roaches live in an apartment can’t always be found in plain sight. You have to look in areas where these bugs often congregate.

Roaches like damp, dark, and secure cracks and crevices. When apartment hunting, try looking in places such as:

Renting an Apartment with Roaches

If you see the above signs in a future apartment, it’s wise to assume a cockroach infestation is present. Even if the landlord tells you that the apartment was recently fumigated, don’t automatically trust it. If the landlord is telling the truth, roaches from other apartments could have still migrated to yours.

Of course, it’s not impossible to live in an apartment with roaches. There are ways to protect yourself if you must rent an apartment with roaches.

Check the Lease

Make sure that the lease says that the landlord is renting the apartment to you in “habitable conditions.” This should be in every standard lease, since it’s required by law. Nonetheless, double-check if the statement is written with confusing language.

Providing a habitable place to live is a basic requirement. However, there could be many loopholes written among the legal jargon. This could protect the landlord in court, should they ever get sued.

If you can, before signing, try going over the lease at least once with the landlord. This will help clear any doubts. You can also ask what the plan of action is, should you find roaches after moving in.

Take Pictures

Even more importantly, you should take pictures of the apartment before you move in. This is something most landlords do on their own. However, it’s best to keep your own pictures as well. It will help you prove that the roaches were present before you moved in.

If there are cockroach eggs, exoskeletons, or other forms of proof, you need to document this closely. A landlord is unlikely to photograph that during their own walkthrough.

Aside from verifying the infestation, this helps safeguard you against liabilities. Roaches can damage an apartment. Their feces may stain walls and floors. They can also destroy insulation, wood, and furniture by nibbling on it.

When it’s time to move out, you need to prove that you weren’t the one to cause the damages. Being able to show pictures will be useful.

Avoid Bringing Roaches with You

Before moving in, check that you haven’t brought the roaches with you. Cockroaches like to hide in:

When people move, they often move their cockroaches with them. Ensuring that you are roach-free will help keep any present infestation manageable.

It will also ensure that you don’t have to pay for future pest control measures. If you moved into a cockroach-infested apartment, the landlord is the one that pays for:

  • The exterminators
  • The pest control products

That’s because the landlord wasn’t able to provide you with a habitable place to live. However, this is only true if the cockroaches were already there, to begin with.

Just Signed a Lease And Found Roaches

If you’ve moved into a new apartment that’s infested with roaches, you’re not stuck with cockroaches forever. You can take legal action. If you signed a lease stating that the apartment is habitable, the presence of roaches contradicts that statement.

You shouldn’t have to buy pest control products because the landlord wasn’t upfront about the apartment’s conditions. However, terminating a lease early often comes with a penalty. Here’s what you can do instead:

just signed a lease and found roaches

Communicate with the Landlord

Your first step is to talk with the landlord and explain the cockroach infestation. If the landlord agrees to deal with everything, then they have a set number of days to fix the issue.

The exact timeline depends on the state and the terms of the lease. If the landlord doesn’t solve the issue within the timeframe provided, call your local health inspector.

If the landlord explains that you need to handle the infestation, you can call your local health department. They will then inspect whether or not the apartment is in livable conditions. Afterward, they may:

  • Shut the building down
  • Tell the landlord to handle the infestation within a certain timeframe

Know Your Rights

Before calling the health department, make sure you know all your rights by checking your state’s civil code. If the landlord disputes the claim that the lease has been violated, your rights as a tenant will be your trump card. It’s illegal to intentionally rent someone an apartment with pests as it’s a health risk.

With that said, don’t get too proactive. Regardless of what the health department says, you should not withhold rent until the landlord deals with the infestation. It is illegal to do so. No matter the circumstances, it will hurt your case should the landlord dispute your claim.

Roaches in Apartment Law

In the United States, landlords are responsible for making sure their property is in habitable condition. This means the apartment should not contain anything that can put a tenant at risk of injury or health deterioration. Cockroaches trigger allergies and spread diseases, so they are considered a health risk.

Every state has different rules about renting apartments with roaches. Checking your state’s civil code and calling your local health inspector will help you understand your options. However, there are some basic things every civil code states.

What the Law Says About Cockroaches in Apartments

Landlords must ensure that an apartment is roach-free before they rent it out. If there were roaches before you moved in, it is up to the landlord to call in and pay for pest control. Depending on the state, the landlord has a few days to a few weeks to solve the roach problem. If the landlord does not, then a penalty will be given by the local health department.

In some cases, you may bring up the infestation to your landlord, and your claim will be disputed. Here, you will need to contact the local health authorities or get legal assistance. This is where all the pictures you took come in handy, proving that the cockroaches were already there.

If it’s determined that the roach problem was the landlord’s fault, then good news. There are 2 ways to go about paying for the extermination methods:

  • The landlord pays for it out of personal or business funds
  • The tenant pays, but this is subtracted from the rent that must be paid

It varies by state, but the second option may not be valid unless you meet specific requirements. For example, in Missouri, tenants can only get rent deducted to pay for damages if they have:

  • Lived on the property for at least 6 months
  • Paid all rent owed
  • Given their landlord at least 14 days to respond to the notice

In some cases, it may be determined that the roaches were present because of your own actions. If it’s because of negligence, then the tenant must pay for pest control. This factor is included in most leases, since it protects the landlord from liability. Because of this, it’s always smart to thoroughly document the apartment once you arrive.