Discovered that a New Apartment has Mice, What Can You Do?

My friend moved into a new apartment yesterday here in Chicago and in the second day while unpacking she spotted a mouse*. She’s completely freaking out and is panicked. I’m not sure if the situation is salvageable but I was wondering if anyone has any advice about how to address the situation or any experience.

First off, the apartment was rented through a placement service called Apartment People and there’s a 1-year lease agreement. The landlord has not yet responded to any attempts to contact him. What obligations does the landlord have in this situation? What obligations does the placement service have? Does a new tenant have any protections or recourse in this situation if they want to break the lease and leave? Is the landlord in anyway liable for the moving costs if she’s able to leave?

The building is a 1-bedroom unit on the 3rd floor (top) in a fairly large complex of maybe 10-12 units. I imagine the landlord will downplay it and simply send in an exterminator, but that probably isn’t a viable solution. I’m not sure she will ever get past the issue based on her initial reaction of abject horror and more practically a building of this age and size might be impossible to exterminate thoroughly. One might assume that the fact that one was sighted in the middle of the first full day in the place is a very bad sign.

What are your thoughts? I know that Chicago has some sort of renters bill of rights but I haven’t been able to locate it yet and I’m not sure how binding that actually is. I’m not sure how the contract is written and what provisions are in it for breaking a lease and what it says about pests, but I assume there’s some standard boilerplate.

Has anyone dealt with this issue, specific to Chicago or not, and what did you do? Any advice on how to proceed in the immediate short term?

    • I think it’s a mouse, she was too shaken up to actually explain what it was and wasn’t too eager to delve into the specifics when we talked. It might be a cockroach issue too, but those are the only ideas I have for what would trigger this.

Get a glue trap and a bottle of vegetable oil. Catch the mouse, climb down the fire escape, place trap plus mouse on neighbor’s landing, and pour oil on mouse. The oil dissolves the glue and, once he’s done licking off the oil, the mouse will move in with your neighbor.

ETA: It’s a mouse. No point in getting the authorities involved, especially since they will laugh at your friend. That is, if she ever gets through to them. She’s in Chi now, not Winetka. She needs to understand that the nightlife comes with vermin.

…How about setting mousetraps? If there’s a large family living there, she can get quite a few of them by resetting the traps every time she catches one. My husband once caught a couple of dozen mice in a week that way while living in a giant old residential hotel that had been turned into a co-op (Cloyne Court in Berkeley, for those of you who know it). He had no more mouse problems, and neither did anyone else.

If she’s really freaking out that much over a mouse, she’s just going to have to get over it. There probably isn’t any such thing as a completely pest-free apartment building.

Get a cat. Cat pheromones scare mice away. As for legal remedies, good luck.

If she’s freaking out about a mouse, she’s got a lot of crap to be worrying about in the future. It’s going to be difficult to completely eliminate the problem in a large apartment complex. Once she sees a rat, she’s going to be a lot less disturbed about the cute mouse. How does she feel about cockroaches?

The landlord probably does have some obligation to send an exterminator. What does the lease say?

Also, seconding the advice about the cat.

Please let your friend know that female cats are much more efficient mousers than the males. I wonder what your friend would do if she saw one of our palmetto bugs, which resemble giant mutant cockroaches.

You say that as if this apartment is older but your title said new. Minor nitpick is all…

But I don’t agree with the others that she should just “deal”. But I also don’t think the authorities should be involved either. Isn’t there a chain of command for something like this? You know, you find an issue, bring it to your property manager, then the landlord, and then??? She should figure that out first, and what that chain is (in fact, I would do it with notarized letters). If nothing works, the threat of a lawyer may do something. I can’t imagine having to deal with mice for a place that you pay to live in.

One mouse is not a big deal. Set a trap and be done with it.

Your friend’s reaction to a mouse is unfortunately not going to work well in the real world. It doesn’t sound as if it’s likely to help, but perhaps you can explain that a mouse isn’t the equivalent of, say, a komodo dragon or saltwater crocodile - people can, and of necessity do, coexist with them, often without great strain. Mousetraps and cats are popular responses; neither is fully effective.

But the chance that this says “pest-free or a full refund” is close to zero.

Why are you buying into your friends panic reaction to a mouse? Mice are everywhere and battling rodents is a fact of life in apartment buildings with any age. You’re asking about breaking a lease over a mouse sighting? Do you know how nutty that sounds? If she has a mouse phobia she needs to deal with it if she intends to live in the real world.

Chicago leases are governed by the Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. Under its provisions (section 5-12-110), a tenant whose landlord “fails to maintain” an apartment appropriately, including failing “to exterminate insects, rodents or other pests”, may:[ul][li]break a lease, if the noncompliance renders the apartment “not reasonably fit and habitable”;[]hire someone to repair the damage himself/herself and deduct the cost from rent;[]withhold an amount from his/her rent which “reasonably reflects the reduced value of the premises.”[/ul][/li]For any of the above methods of relief to be legal, however, the tenant must first send written notice to the landlord and allow the landlord 14 days to remedy the problem. As other posters have noted above, I doubt that a single rodent (or cockroach) would meet the condition of “not reasonably fit and habitable”. The lease your friend signed may have other clauses concerning pest control as well, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

In any event, the first thing your friend should do is to ask her landlord to fix the problem; and yes, he’ll probably send an exterminator. It’s only after that doesn’t work (or, possibly, after your landlord doesn’t send an exterminator) that your friend can think about trying to break the lease.

IANAL. Consult with a tenants’ rights organization such as the Metropolitan Tenants’ Organization to confirm or disprove the above information before taking any action.

Thanks for the comments so far. I’ve clarified that it’s a roach problem, not a mouse one. From my perspective that’s probably the worse of the two options from a eradication standpoint.

Just to offer a little bit of context, the roaches are a serious concern for her from a cleanliness and a “able to sleep at night” perspective but the extreme reaction and anxiety are more a result of an already stressful move and uncertainty in the decision to relocate on the whole. This is simply the straw that broke the camels back, taking the stress of a miserable moving process involving little food and sleep, large initial financial hit and future obligations to a breaking point. This move was supposed to be a big step forward to a nicer place (read: life) she could be proud of and Murphy’s Law is kicking in in spades.

I’m sure the end result will be a tedious and uncertain battle with the pest control agencies but the fact that eliminating them from one unit is essentially meaningless makes a yearlong commitment really bitter. I’m curious of there’s some sort of Lemon Law situation where moving into a new apartment and noticing immediate issues allows you some sort of leverage in breaking a lease if it should come to that.

FTR, the landlord responded and claims that this is the first complaint he’s ever had. I’m skeptical considering it took all of 12 hours to spot the first one, while it was daytime and she was home all day no less. He says he will send pest control and I suggested she contact the neighbors to get a feel for the building and it’s management and to get any stories of pests and his attention to the problems. Is there any further investigation she can do to see if this issue is more serious than one badly maintained unit? To see if the landlord has a track record of poor response? If the previous tenant left as a result of an ongoing issue?

The problem is under the law you still have to give the landlord a chance to correct the situation. Thus you couldn’t expect to move out and get a refund or break a lease before you give the landlord a “reasonable” opportunity to rectify the situation.

By then the lease is up. As for “reasonable” that definition depends on whatever judge you get if you sue

Though it’s been clarified that the problem is not mice, I have to put it on record that the above is absolutely not true. Take it from someone who’s seen personally a feline shelter with 250+ cats have a mouse problem!

A well-run multi-story, multi-unit building should have regular extermination service. A good example is my building (6 floors, 60 units). Extermination service is available upon request the first Thursday of every month (meaning they have exterminator on retainer for that day every month), and every 6 months they REQUIRE access to every unit to inspect and spray regardless of whether there’s been a problem noticed.

Another question is whether the OP’s friend really saw a cockroach, or if she saw a centipede. Centipedes are more commonly seen this time of year and in the fall (during season changes) and they can’t be killed by the same stuff exterminators use for roaches, so they’re seen more often. I’ve killed three of them in the last 2 weeks. Haven’t seen a cockroach in the 7 years I’ve lived in this building.

It is a bit odd that she wasn’t able to clarify for you whether it was a mouse or roach problem at first. She was that traumatized?

Anyway, although she’s never going to be completely roach-free, there are a couple things she can do to minimize her future roach sightings.

  1. Let the landlord’s exterminator come in every month to spray.

  2. Buy some Combat roach bait and leave it in the kitchen and bathroom.

  3. Never, ever, ever, take any food into her bedroom (assuming this isn’t a studio). If there is no organic matter or water, roaches and rats aren’t going to bother with your bedroom. This will help her sleep better at night. If she starts eating cookies in her bed or leaving plates on the nightstand, then all bets are off.

I understand that this is her first apartment, but I kind of wonder if there is a landlord bulletin board somewhere on the net where someone has just posted, “New tenant freaking out on the first day–any way to break lease with her? Need reply fast!”

It’s not that she couldn’t, it’s that she thought it would be obvious and I didn’t think pressing for details was going to be particularly helpful at that moment. She wasn’t in a place to be very pragmatic or analytical.

Got another update.

She’s contacted the Apartment People and they claim to have had no complaints in the building but they haven’t placed a new tenant in that complex in a few years. They have another vacant unit they are trying to fill now and now that there’s been a complaint they will stop showing it. They referred her to the Tenant’s Organization to find out what options she has.

The landlord told her that she should call the exterminator on Monday and get him out to treat.

She spoke to her next door neighbor and he said that when he first moved in he had a problem and that it took a couple months to stop seeing signs of them. So that’s one lie the landlord has told and pretty much confirms that the whole place has issues that may or may not be solvable.

She’s evacuated her cats to another apartment because she’s afraid to leave food and water out for them and she doesn’t want the cats catching and eating them when she’s not around. I think she slept elsewhere last night. She’s currently emptying the kitchen completely and preparing for the exterminator.

She’s calmed but it doesn’t seem like she’ll ever be able to be comfortable in the place. Maybe a conversation with the exterminator will be helpful and create some perspective and maybe the Tenants Organization will have some helpful advice in how to deal with the landlord, but right now it looks like leaving the place is still a priority.

If cockroaches are that traumatic, then city living is not for your friend. They’re impossible to avoid or eradicate entirely.

FYI: my cats eat roaches with zeal. They’re perfectly healthy.

ETA: the cats, I mean, are healthy.

Yeah, she shouldn’t be depriving her cats of the fun. They love a good game of cockroach hockey, especially on hardwood floors. However, while cats can keep a mouse population in check, they will not eliminate a cockroach problem. Indeed, they will not see it as a problem.

Having lived in New Orleans, which has some serious roaches, I’m a little skeptical that you can starve them out. They will eat anything, even the glue off the back of stamps and envelopes or holding books or packaging together. Sure, don’t leave food lying around, but don’t expect that to be the end of it.

Baits are what worked best for us. That, and washing anything you really need to be clean before you use it. For example, wipe down countertops before preparing food on them.