Questions and Answers for August 2017

Adapted from our Message Boards, where members can ask questions and get answers. Practicing landlords and service providers answer questions, and we combine the best answers here.

Q: What can I do about recurring mice?

Under MA law, owners and managers are responsible for maintaining the rented premises vermin-free. This means you can’t throw up your hands and tell the tenants to buy traps.

The first thing is to clear away food sources. Although pop culture thinks of mice as searching for cheese, they will eat anything, including seeds and grains, but especially substances with oils like peanut butter. They will smell and eat chocolate even if in a box. Make sure all food sources in the entire building are in plastic, glass, or sealed wooden containers. Important: this applies to pet food, as well. Your tenants cannot leave out food overnight, and cannot permit an animal like a guinea pig to splash pellets onto the floor.

The second thing is to clear away nesting material. Food only becomes a primary objective late in the winter. Nesting material is needed year-round. Insulation, clothes stored in a loose cardboard box, and tissue paper are all possible mouse hang-outs. Seal this stuff off.

Third is to exclude mice from the building. This means sealing holes outside and inside the apartments. Outside, remortar the exposed foundation, repair the basement walls, and seal the sills. Inside, stuff copper wool and Pur Black foam in all pipe cut-outs, including under the sinks, in closets, and under heating elements. Make sure all doors seal tightly at the bottoms and corners. Add weather-stripping if they do not.

Finally, place bait in stations and set glue traps. Do not throw loose bait blocks around. Although Home Depot and Lowe’s sell them loose, it is unlawful for you to put these in tenant apartments. Hire a licensed exterminator to set bait stations and traps. Once you have done all the prep work, this will be as cheap as possible.

(A note about glue traps: although they are quiet and effective, they often cause great suffering to the mouse caught. The most humane way to kill a mouse lingering on a trap is to place it in a sealed carbon dioxide gas chamber, like they have in labs. If you do not have access to this (most don’t), place your non-dominant thumb and forefinger behind its head, at the base of its skull, and use your dominant hand to grab their tail and pull it sharply back while holding their head in place. This will sever their spinal cord immediately and will cause the least suffering. =( )

The key to dealing with mice is prevention, which is much harder on older properties. Seal the building. Many owners struggle to achieve a “like new” seal, and so resort to continual baiting and trapping as the best that can be done.

Q: Can I store my tenant’s security deposit in a box under my bed?

No! You must deposit the money in a Massachusetts branch of a bank (not a credit union) in a special landlord-tenant account. You will be the signatory, but the tenant’s social will be on the account. You must also follow everything in our security deposit checklist online.