Illustration: Marta Iwanek and Lindsay Boeckl

The ants go marching one by one

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Gin Sexsmith and Marta Iwanek show you how to stop your house from becoming an urban jungle



• Make sure all attics and basements are completely sealed.

• Keep screens on fireplaces and windows.

You’ve got bats:

Strange high-pitched sounds in your house at night often mean you have a bat problem. Because bats can carry diseases such as rabies it is important for trained experts to get rid of the animals.

What to do:

Contact your landlord who will contact Toronto critter control (1-800-CRITTER or visiting to deal with the problem.



• Remove easy food sources, put metal mesh fences around gardens and in front of openings into attics, crawl spaces, porches, decks and garages. Have secure lids on garbage bins.

• Raccoons can dig under shallow fences so make sure they’re placed deep into the ground.

• Get rid of any rodent, insect or bird infestation which can all be tempting food sources for raccoons

You’ve got raccoons:

Raccoons are becoming a common problem for Toronto residents, because we’re living closer and closer to raccoon’s natural habitat. They can rip off shingles and chew holes into buildings to make dens. Raccoons often carry rabies, distemper and roundworm and are very aggressive if threatened.

What to do:

If raccoons have gotten into your walls, attic or chimney contact your landlord who should contact Toronto Animal Services and deal with the issue properly without you risking your safety. After they are removed, make sure they also get rid of nest garbage which can contain many mites, ticks and fleas that can move into your house once they have lost their raccoon hosts.



• Make sure your landlord has all cracks and crevices sealed.

• Scrub entry points with detergent and spray with an insecticide. • Keep cupboards clean and be sure to wipe surfaces after eating or cooking.

What to do:

If you have ants, use a residual insecticide or ant bait that will be eaten and taken back to the nest to slowly kill the entire colony. Try to place bait in a spot where ants frequent. It’s a trial and error experience and using it successfully may take several weeks.

Bed Bugs


• Regular inspection and housecleaning.

• Vacuum carpet and mattress.

• Clean up clutter to rid your house of hiding places.

• Have landlord seal wall crevices with caulking.

• Be extremely careful when buying used clothes or furniture; ask if items were inspected for bed bugs and inspect them yourself.

• Do not bring discarded mattresses, bed frames, electronics or box springs into your home.

• When travelling inspect hotel rooms and furniture for droppings, blood spots or live insects. Inspect luggage before you return to your house.

• Force them out of hiding spots with a thin knife or hot hair dryer.

• Before looking at a place check its address with the bed

bug registry as a precaution:

You’ve got bed bugs:

Oval-shaped, size of an apple seed, usually bite at night leaving large, itchy welts that will go away on their own without treatment. Some people have no reactions to bed bug bites.

What to do:

If you spot bed bugs immediately contact your landlord who will need to contact a pest control professional or public health unit to exterminate them. It usually requires pesticides followed by proper inspection and housekeeping. Tenants are responsible for cleaning and cooperating with their landlords efforts to get rid of bed bugs. If a tenant doesn’t let the pest control operator in, the tenant will owe money unless they have a legitimate reason that can be dealt with by the Tenants Board. If a landlord will not take action a tenant must go to the Landlord and Tenant Board or Toronto Public Health.

• Use nozzle attachment and vacuum up all live bugs and eggs. Throw out vacuum bag immediately or place in freezer for several days. Vacuum every day.

• Wash all sheets, pillows, mattress pad, blankets and clothing in the hottest water possible and then place them in a hot dryer.

• Cover mattress and pillows with a plastic cover.

• Put any items that cannot be washed in a garbage bag, tie it tight and throw it out in a clearly labeled garbage bin.

• For more info:

Fruit Flies


• Keep fruit in your fridge — especially in warmer months.

• Wash counter tops and utensils immediately after using.

• Rinse dishes before leaving them in the sink.

• Keep fruit and veggie scraps in a tightly sealed compost bin.

• Make sure taps are not dripping to keep moisture at a minimum.

What to do:

If you have fruit flies, mix pop, wine or apple cider vinegar with a bit of citrus scented dish soap and leave out for fruit flies to fly into — in no time you’ll have a fruit fly morgue.



• Eliminate possible food and water sources.

• Make sure the roof does not permit pigeon entry.

• Place mothballs on balcony and eaves.

You’ve got pigeons:

Not only do pigeons carry diseases such as salmonella, toxoplasmosis, encephalitis, pigeon ornithosis and histoplasmosis, but they are also hosts to fleas, mites, biting lice, flies and ticks. Their droppings can ruin buildings and their feathers can plug vents causing more health problems.

What to do:

If you have a pigeon infestation contact your landlord who can then contact Toronto Critter Control. They will properly remove pigeons and pigeon proof the building to prevent them from nesting, loafing or feeding there any longer. When cleaning eaves and balcony be sure to wear gloves and a mask.



• Wipe off tables, counters after each meal as well as grease off of stove top and burners every night.

• Throw out garbage and compost as often as possible.

• Don’t leave dirty dishes overnight even in the dishwasher. If you must, make sure that they are rinsed or soaking in soapy water.

• Turn bathroom fan on after every bath or shower to reduce humidity.

• Vacuum and sweep regularly especially in hard to reach places such as under the fridge and stove.

• Clean pet food dishes daily and empty their water bowls at night.

• Discuss improvements with your landlord to cracks in caulking and walls and holes around plumbing. Electrical lines between apartments must be sealed and leaks must be fixed.

You’ve got roaches:

They can grow to a huge population on very little food and water.

What to do:

If you spot cockroaches, lay glue boards (which can be bought at most hardware and grocery stores) to see how big of a problem you have. If you are seeing them during the day you have quite an issue because cockroaches only feed during the day if their population is too large for them to all feed at night. For a large colony, roach poisons are more effective because they cover a larger area and do not rely on the cockroaches to take the bait. Contact your landlord and have him hire an exterminator if the issue is too large for you to handle with roach baits or sprays.

Mice & Rats


• Keep food away: use sealable containers, throw out garbage and compost every day, keep counters free of crumbs and scraps.

• Sweep and vacuum regularly.

• Have landlord seal cracks and openings in structure around doors and windows.

• Clean pet food bowls at night.

• Clean up rock and wood piles in yard to prevent nesting places.

You’ve got mice:

Mouse nests (made of finely shredded paper often found in sheltered areas), droppings and fresh gnawing signifies where mice are most active.

They are nocturnal and have a characteristic musky odour.

What to do:

If you have a mouse problem contact your landlord and take measures to get it under control quickly. Female mice can have up to 10 litters a year of usually five or six young. Mice feed on scraps of food meant for humans or pets, they infect food-preparation surfaces with their feces which can lead to salmonellosis.

If you spot a mouse, place pre-baited mouse traps along walls. Set the traps the following day after giving the rodent a chance to eat the bait and get used to it. Also set glue boards in groups of two or three along walls. If you have rats use larger traps. If problem persists contact landlord to set poison traps throughout the building or to call an exterminator.

Know the act to keep your place intact

Laurian Green didn’t anticipate having to share her Bloor and Ossington apartment with antennae insects and other creatures. While viewing the place in her third year, the previous tenant told her there were just mice, but that they had gotten rid of them. With people coming to see the place right after her and line-ups for other apartments in the area, the current fourth-year hospitality and tourism student decided to take it.

It wasn’t until winter when her first “freak-out” happened. There were beetles, the size of her thumb, crawling on her grey linoleum tiled floors. She told her landlord about it, who told her that if it became a problem to let her know. The sprays and traps didn’t work, but Green learned to control the critters and live with them.

“I mean it’s an issue of cleanliness,” she says. “Even one crumb can attract a beetle in my case.” The building is old, with many cracks, that she feels it would be impossible to get rid of them completely. There are also ants and fruit flies at times, but that’s manageable with cleaning as well.

Only a few months ago however, she had a different situation. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something scurry across her living room floor. At first she thought it was a beetle, but then she noticed it had fur. It was her second freak-out, but she had to stay calm — she had an exam the next day. So while her boyfriend tried to catch the mouse with plates and a spatula, she sat on the couch at one o’clock in the morning trying to cram in as much as she could. They never saw the mouse again, no droppings either and Green thinks the mouse fell fate to the neighborhood cats.

Green’s pests are manageable, but when it turns into a problem, students can be one of the most vulnerable when it comes to housing issues says Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Association (FMTA). For one, most students have the experience of their parents as landlords, where whatever they say goes. “We have an old saying in our work which is don’t follow the landlord follow the law,” says Dent. Students are also usually less experienced in the rental market and have a poorer understanding of how to enforce their rights, he adds.

The Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) governs the relationship between most property owners and tenants in Ontario. It covers anyone, including those without leases in rental housing as long as the kitchen and bathroom are not shared with the property owner.

For questions and advice there are websites and hotlines tenants can use:

FMTA Hotline 416-921-9494 or visit

RSU Legal Advocacy Services: make an appointment 416-979-5255 ext. 2325

Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) 416-944-0087 or visit

Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) for explanations on legal jargon. Visit

The Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) resolves disputes between property owners and tenants 416-645-808 or visit

Landlords’ responsibilities:

• A residential complex shall be kept reasonably free of rodents, vermin and insects.

• Extermination methods must be in accordance with municipal law.

• Openings and holes in a building are to be screened and sealed to prevent entry of the above.

The only charge a property owner can ask is first and last month’s rent, as well as a key deposit. It is illegal for him/ her to ask for a “damage deposit” or other additional charges.

Tenants’ responsibilities:

• A tenant must keep the rental unit clean, up to the standard that most people would consider ordinary of normal cleanliness

• If the unit is so dirty that it

attracts bugs or rodents presenting a health risk, the tenant could be evicted for putting the safety of the landlord and other tenants at risk

If the landlord does not fix a problem:

• Ask for repairs in writing (City of Toronto’s Municipal Licensing and Standards website has a template) and keep a record

• Take pictures if possible

• Talk to neighbours to see if they have similar problems

• If the problem still isn’t fixed contact your local Municipal

Licensing and Standards Office:

416 338-0800 or visit

• File an application with the Land and Tenant Board.

• You can also report the problem to the Investigation and Enforcement Unit (IEU) 1-888-772-9277 or visit


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