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About Cockroaches

Landlords, Cockroaches, and You

I think I have cockroaches! What can I do as a tenant? Help!

Are they your fault?

Landlords love to blame cockroach infestation on the tenants, so that they can excuse themselves from their legal responsibilities to eradicate the infestation and restore habitability to the place.

“You live like pigs. That’s why you have cockroaches,” you hear them say.

Not so, at all. Cockroaches are hearty creatures, who have outlived the dinosaurs and can survive atomic radiation. They have propagated throughout the world, in different types.

Cockroaches reach maturity in about a month. Each female can produce 200-800 new cockroaches per year. She continues to do so for the rest of her life: 3 months to 2 years. They can live without water for a month and without food for 3 months. Food is anything, especially glue, cardboard and paper, but also dust and soap.

Cockroach infestation has little to do with cleanliness and mostly to do with how many are in the building, trying to survive.

“We don’t have cockroaches. Those are Palmetto bugs” [or water bugs, or beetles, and other euphemisms]. Sorry, those are just the common names for common cockroaches.

How do you get rid of them?

Forget roach traps; they kill a few, but are ineffective, expensive and disgusting, and have to be placed right.

Sound devices don’t work.

Spot spraying with poison like Raid can kill a few, but they just go next door, or into the walls, for a vacation, and then return in greater numbers.

Cockroach powder, usually made of borax and diatomaceous earth (tiny crustacean skeletons), is not poisonous, but has limited usefulness. It is coarse, designed to scratch their waxy undercoating when cockroaches crawl over it, causing them to dehydrate and die that way. However, it won’t work if the cockroaches don’t walk that way, or go around it, and won’t work on carpets because the powder sinks down and the cockroaches walk on the tops of the fibers. Also, it has to be constantly re-applied in places where the cockroaches are likely to crawl, leaving a gritty floor.

Like the other attempts, it does make it look like the landlord is doing something, but it is a band-aid for a heart attack. The only real solution is to tent the entire building and fumigate, and landlords rarely want to do that, due to the expense.

What kind are they?

There are 5 common types in California.

In warm dry areas, such a cupboards bathrooms, and closets, you may find German or American cockroaches. The Germans are 1/2 inch long and tan. The Americans are an inch or two and chestnut brown. Both need to near a water source. The Oriental cockroach lives in cooler, dark damp places like basements and sewers. Less common are the Smokybrown and Brown-Banded cockroaches, which come inside houses.

German Cockroach

Photo by Jared Belson

American Cockroach (“Palmetto”, “Waterbug”)

Oriental Cockroach

Smokybrown Cockroach

Brown-Banded Cockroach