by Peter M. Cardillo, Esq. / Published January 2015
You can have the best contract in the history of pest control contracts. But termites can’t read. All the paper and lawyers in the world won’t hold back these voracious bugs from wreaking havoc on your condominium if your pest control outfit doesn’t use the right kinds of treatments—and inspections—to protect your property.
As condominium owners or property managers, it’s your responsibility to make sure they do use the right kinds of treatments. Of course, this is harder than it sounds. Consider that with many home products and services, what you see is probably what you get. If you go to purchase a sofa and notice gashes in the upholstery, it’s pretty obvious you’re getting substandard furniture. But the lives of termites—and the business of killing them—happen largely out of sight. Indeed, many condominium owners discover termite damage by accident. I can’t count how many times clients of mine have, while renovating a bathroom or kitchen, removed part of a wall to reveal wood beams devoured by these ravenous critters.
What’s more, condominium owners and managers are often unaware of inspection and treatment methods, many of which are done in the dark, such as in crawl spaces beneath buildings.
And let’s face it, we all long to hear from our pest control technicians that there are no termites to worry about. And folks at pest control outfits love to tell us the good news, which means they don’t have to worry about further treatments or paying for pricey repairs to a customer’s property. Yet willful ignorance can leave condominium owners and property managers liable for failing to protect properties—and lead to expensive repairs.
Whether you’re a condominium owner or manager, here are some tips that will help you better understand if your pest control company is doing the right things to detect and deter termites from making a meal of your property.
Everything starts with the inspection. Typically performed annually or semi-annually, inspections are when your pest control company technician can and should discover termite infestation and damages, which means inspections should be very thorough. How extensive depends on several factors, including the size and number of condominiums in a single building and property, as well as the type of construction of the structures involved.
Condominiums can present unique inspection problems that other types of homes, including apartments, don’t. Consider that condominiums are essentially a bunch of individually-owned homes attached to each other. So you can see how important it is to get permission from each owner to enter and inspect every unit.
Let’s say you have permission from everyone. Proper inspection of a condominium involves a visual examination of walls, floors, and ceilings inside and out. This means your technician should, with a flashlight if necessary, scrutinize windowsills, floorboards, and all additional surfaces inside and out, for telltale signs of termite activity and past damage. These clues can include deposits of frass, otherwise known as termite excrement. Frass often looks like little grains of rice or tiny, brownish-red balls. The presence of frass does not mean you have active, drywood termites, but it does mean they’ve been dining at some point in time on your condominium. The same goes with deposits of actual dead termites or their wings, which they shed as soon as these critters land after one of their periodic airborne swarming. Frass is often found beneath so-called excavation or exit holes, pinhole-size spots where termites dump their waste.
Your technician should also look for little vertical or horizontal tubes that appear to be made out of pale mud. These mud tubes, often found hidden behind stucco or brick veneer outside, or behind paneling or drywall inside, point to subterranean termites, a particularly gluttonous breed. Besides using his eyes, a technician should also rely on his ears, listening for unusual hollow sounds as he lightly raps his knuckles on walls andfloors. Hollow spots may point to hidden termite damage.
Additionally, your pest control technician should, if possible, inspect beneath your condominium building. Subterranean termites, as their name suggests, invade structures from the ground. However, many condominium buildings are built atop of concrete slab foundations, without crawl spaces.
All this peering and knocking takes time. How much time depends on how big each condominium building is, and how many condominium complexes you have. It’s fair to say that a pest control technician would need at least several hours to adequately inspect a condominium building of several dozen units. Consider that larger condominium complexes can have hundreds of units, and you can see how many days, even weeks, may be needed to conduct a proper termite inspection. All of which should be plenty unsettling when you consider how some termite technicians wrap up home in-spections in ten minutes or less.
Let’s say your pest control outfit has done a proper inspection of your condominium complex. If they have found evidence of live, drywood termite activity, they should recommend either spot treatment of areas involved or, if the activity is widespread, tenting of the property. In this case, tenants will have to vacate their condominiums for several days while the building is covered in thick tarp and fumigated with poison gas. Evidence of live, subterranean termites would likely mean tenting, as well as application of termiticide specifically aimed at such termites.
Whether termite activity is found or not, they should definitely use preventive treatments. These include barrier and bait stations. Barrier treatments, as they suggest, involve essentially squirting a chemical insecticide into the ground around condominium buildings to act as a repellent to subterranean termites burrowing their way through the dirt as they scout for food. Bait stations are cones sunk into the ground at various intervals around the building. Termites eating the poisoned food in these bait stations return to their colonies, where they in turn poison fellow termites. Each method has its merits, though bait stations alone are rarely sufficient.
“The problem with bait stations is that you’re essentially gambling on termites to blunder into these bait stations,” says Paul Bello, founder of Pest Management Consulting, which helps commercial and residential property owners find the best pest control services. “These bait stations are often spaced many yards apart. That’s a lot of turf for termites to simply crawl safely past.”
Bello recommends tech-nicians use a combination of bait stations and liquid barrier treatments. Also, he says that inspections should include checking to make sure barrier chemicals haven’t dissipated to make them ineffective. Bait in bait stations also can be depleted or spoil, requiring regular checking and, when necessary, replenishment. Bigger properties often require many dozen bait stations, the exact location of which should be mapped and numbered by technicians. “If you don’t know where all the bait stations are, you can’t keep them up to date,” Bello says. “And if you can’t keep them up to date, they’re not working.”
Condominium owners and property managers also should ask and document how technicians treat their property. This includes learning what chemicals will be used, and how and where they’ll be applied. “It’s kind of like hiring a painter,” Bello explains. “Say you have two bedrooms you need painted with a total of 2,400 square feet. And the painter says he’ll do it with a gallon, but a gallon only adequately covers 1,800 square feet of wall space. If the painter used a gallon, when he should have used twice as much, that sunburst red is probably going to come out more like faint pink, and this is the same principle with termiticide.”
Still, no matter how vigilant and engaged you are in overseeing inspection and treatment of your property, chances are you won’t understand much of the science involved. “Not everyone can be, or wants to be, an expert on termites,” Bello jokes. If in doubt about the honesty of the pest control outfit or its technicians, you can always hire an entomologist knowledgeable about such matters to oversee inspections and treatments. “If you’re signing a contract to safeguard any number of condominiums, you better make sure it’s being inspected and treated correctly,” Bello says.