Vacant properties can represent a host of problems for property managers, business owners and landlords alike. Unoccupied commercial properties can create a significant financial burden on property managers, and that burden can be compounded if the property is left without routine pest management. When buildings go dark, and the inspections stop, pest problems may soon follow.

bed bugs in hotels

A Common Misconception

It seems logical to assume that if a building is left without tenants, then pest management isn't needed. This is a common misconception. Pest management isn't only for the protection of people in the building, but also for the health and well-being of the structure itself. Although the decision to discontinue pest management services is often financially driven, what many property managers don't realize is that this decision can often carry unknown and unintended consequences. If pests decide to take up residence in a vacant unit and they are left unchecked and unmanaged, the damage caused can be significant, increasing the financial impact. Damage caused by pests will vary by species, but you could see an aesthetic impact, structural damage, or even an impact to public health.

What Pests are Looking For

Pests are animals, and they require the same resources to survive as humans - food, water, and adequate shelter. Pests are relentless in their pursuit of these resources, and vacant buildings provide an ideal habitat. Without people, one might assume that food is hard for pests to find because there won't be refuse, garbage or other foodstuffs. While this belief has some truth, it's somewhat limiting in the definition of available food. Many vacant structures are adjacent to (if not physically attached to) another structure, which may provide a source of food and water for pests. Pests are also willing to travel surprisingly far from their safe harborage for the resources they need to survive. Some pests, such as cockroaches, can even survive by eating paper, hair, or decaying plant matter. Rodents are no different, they will eat insects, vegetation, or even their own feces. All of this is to simply say that assuming a vacant building lacks potential food sources could be detrimental in the long run.

How Pests Gain Access to Vacant Buildings

While many common pests such as German cockroaches and bed bugs are introduced to a structure through human movement and behavior, there are many pest threats that don't require human involvement. Pests such as house mice, Norway rats, roof rats, American cockroaches, spiders, and termites are plentiful in nature, and as stated previously, are relentless in their pursuit of survival needs. These pests typically gain access to a vacant building through openings around unsealed utility conduits, pipe chases, improperly sealed doors and other gaps and cracks in the exterior of a building. These entry points don't need to be large either, house mice can squeeze through openings as small as ¼" and Norway rats through openings ½". Insects such as American cockroaches are capable flyers and can enter a facility through roof vent lines. Vacant or occupied – ongoing inspections and treatments from a licensed pest management company are crucial to help maintain the integrity of a structure.

Long-Term Impacts

Cockroaches, termites, and rodents are well-known threats to public health, as they can interfere with both our economic and physical wellbeing. These pests are profoundly prolific, and when left unmanaged, populations can increase exponentially, potentially creating additional hazards, risks, and possible damage. Consider that one female Norway rat can produce 8 or more litters per year, with each litter having as many as 12 pups, and that the pups are weaned within 3 weeks and reach sexual maturity in 3 months. Other rodents to consider would be the house mouse; a female house mouse can produce up to 12 litters per year, with each litter averaging 5-6 pups with offspring reaching sexual maturity in about 45 days. The American cockroach is another prolific pest; adult females can live for upwards of 15 months, and average 150 young during their lifetime which can reach sexual maturity in as little 6 months. Now, combine those population explosions with the threats below, and you see how a problem can get out of hand very quickly:

  • Rats and mice can cause damage to wiring, pipes and other objects due to their constant gnawing behavior, leading to a risk of fires and other property damage.
  • Rats and mice also contaminate virtually every surface they contact with their urine and feces, tainting products and spreading disease-causing pathogens.
  • Termites have a voracious appetite, and even a small colony can cause significant damage in less than a year, causing structural damage to your building.
  • Cockroaches will defecate where they crawl and excrete their saliva onto surfaces to essentially taste their environments. Droppings, bodily secretions and shed skins are known allergen triggers for asthmatics.
  • Cockroaches are also known carriers of a host of pathogens including Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli among several other bacteria and viruses, spread on their bodies as they crawl.

How to Prevent Damage to Vacant Properties

In the absence of routine inspections, vacant buildings can fall victim to a variety of pest threats which can have a long-term impact on the building and future tenants. Just because the lights are not on, doesn't mean no one is home. To combat these pest threats and to better protect public health, professional pest management services are a crucial service to continue – even when there are no tenants. If you are a property manager faced with an impending vacancy, before closing the door, make sure you partner with your pest management provider to create a plan that is economically feasible, and one that will aid in pest prevention.