Perhaps the most dreaded sound in an HOA or condo complex, other than a fire alarm or screaming siren, is repeated unit owners calls reporting a pest infestation. Pests can come in many types of creatures, both large and small, including bats, seagulls, geese, rodents, mold spores, and wasps. For this brief article our focus on this unpleasant subject will be insects.
Infestations of Pests
The most familiar of these natural but unwanted creatures are ants, mosquitoes, and ticks because of the fear they breed regarding disease and physical damage. Property managers and board members who have experienced a serious insect infestation in their community know unit owners can become very emotionally upset if insect problems develop in an apparent uncontrolled manner. Some of the most important aspects to consider when this problem arises are:
- Serious insect infestations cannot be swept under the rug. The word will get out beyond the community boundaries often becoming more of a problem than the infestation itself. It will affect the HOA’s and property manager’s reputation. It will linger after the problem is solved depressing market value of units and volume of prospective future buyers.
- The cost of remediation will be more than the cost to prevent the problem in the first place.
- Infestations of pests affect daily life leading to a decline in perceived quality of life and increased resentment by the unit owners.
- Some infestations can cause widespread property damage to both common and unit controlled elements including structural wood deterioration; contaminated insulation; holes in the building envelope leading to additional damage; and expensive repairs to electrical and ventilation systems.
- Disease spread and the potential of costly liability issues for the board and association.
Management of this problem requires the bylaws’ policy and procedures include preventive measures to ensure good communication between the unit owners and management to report problems and relay specific action instructions. This will include a well-defined step process of authorization and scheduling of needed pest control services to apply sprays, mists, traps, etc. recommended by professional pest management companies. Many of the suggested preventive measures are common for all insects but some actions are very specific to certain insect threats.
The good news is termites cannot cross the Piscataqua River into Maine. Apparently Maine’s long, cold winters are tough on these creatures and those termites hitching a ride in firewood or other items from away do not make it to the breeding season. This good news may turn bad with future climate change.
This means our own hearty Maine black carpenter ants are the primary problem. Therefore, the community’s Property Committee should be trained in spotting telltale ant-sign such as the appearance of saw dust in odd places along the exterior walls and foundations. Even observing woodpecker activity in the form of holes in the wood siding and trim is a sign as these birds being drawn to the wood by hearing insect activity. This sign may be double jeopardy as it also may be sign of water infiltration into the building as wet wood attracts wood destroying insects.
News reports of the northern spread of Eastern Equine Encephalitis; Zika; and West Nile Virus has got the attention of Mainers. There are many preventive steps that should be taken before authorizing a professional spray/ fogging application in the community. The Property Committee or landscape service company should be charged with eliminating any potential breeding habitat areas such as water ponding locations or open containers. Granular insecticides in drains and other water collecting property elements can be effective but should be strictly controlled by your pest service.
These small insects are becoming a very serious health hazard in an increasing number of locations in Maine, particularly in southern coastal counties. Each year there is a reported increase in both Lyme and Powassan Disease. As with mosquito control, HOA communities often defend against ticks with chemical boundary sprays recommended by professional pest services. An informed property management team may consider more environmentally safe pest treatment methods.
There are natural pesticides derived from organic materials such as oils gathered from plants. Other pest control methods could including the HOA restricting bird feeders to the edge of the property to avoid attracting deer and rodents carrying ticks. When designing the community’s amenities such as walking trails; playgrounds; and landscaping consider using materials ticks do not enjoy. This could include a boundary of wood chips around the property borders or drip edge around the building foundations. Gravel and mulch also form a barrier ticks do not like to cross. Ask your landscaper about deer resistant plants; frequent trimming of tall grass areas; and to landscape some areas with Xericape techniques and materials.
Pest control does not have to be expensive with a little common sense. Inform the unit owners how they can help themselves. Direct them to the many websites with good information on personal protection from ticks, as well how to protect their pets. We should not be afraid of the natural world but respect it and not let those little pests bug us.