While bats are generally only associated with Halloween celebrations, many property owners find that bats can be a problem all year long. In many parts of the country, bats take up residence in the attics of buildings, including rental properties. When landlords are alerted to the presence of a bat in the apartment, it is often because tenants have seen them exiting the attic space at dusk, or heard scratching and squeaking in the ceilings or walls.
Landlords have the responsibility to ensure that a rental property is free of pests, and should either hire a professional bat removal expert or do it themselves. Cost should never be an issue because there is nothing in tenant behavior that attracts bats or allows them to move in. As with most pests, there is a right way and a wrong way to rid a home with bats.
Bat in my apartment
Some of the common bat species in North America include the big brown bat, little brown bat, northern long-eared bat and the Brazilian free-tailed bat. These creatures feed on insects during their night flights, so if they find a place that has plenty of food and a nice shelter, they will claim this roosting area as their home.
They prefer to live in dry, dark places, such as caves, old mine shafts and rocky overhangs. If places like this are scarce, the animals will look to man-made structures to set up a colony. The attic spaces of homes are an ideal place for them to take up residence.
Contrary to popular belief, bats don’t attack people. They use their impressive echolocation skills to swoop toward insects, and often when this happens close to people, it is misinterpreted as an attack. However, bats are a big problem when they are living in a structure because their droppings can be smelly or even toxic, and they also attract insects, mice and other pests. In very rare cases, a bat might become sick and infect someone with rabies via a bite if handled. However, bats themselves usually pose no harm to humans unless they are sharing a living space.
A Bat Colony in the Attic
Bats are experts at finding safe places for their colony to live, and they will take any opportunity to exploit a crack, hole or broken spot to gain access to an attic space. They can gain access via holes and gaps that are as small as a half inch. Unlike raccoons, who will chew or claw through housing material to access a space, bats simply take advantage of pre-existing openings.
It’s harder for home owners to maintain, or even spot, gaps and cracks in higher places on a structure so they are more likely to go unnoticed until it is too late. Also, it’s often difficult to notice when bats are living in the attic because they are very quiet in the daytime, and exit at night in the spring, summer and fall under cover of darkness when most people aren’t looking out for them.
It can be months or even years before someone notices that there are unwanted tenants in the rental in the form of bats. Bats hibernate in the winter months as well, so a whole colony could be in an attic space without giving away their presence except for their occasional excursions outside for water.
The Wrong Way To Get Rid of Bats in the Attic
Discovering that there are bats in the attic of a rental property can trigger some extreme action on the part of the landlord, but there is a right way and a wrong way to deal with the problem. Many landlords call a bat control specialist or wildlife expert to handle the problem. However, it’s possible for landlords with a DIY approach to force the unwanted tenants to find another home.
The mistake that many people make is to climb up on the roof in the middle of the day, spot a big hole and seal it up right away. The problem with sealing up the biggest hole in the attic space as soon as they discover it is that this is done during the daytime when all the animals are still inside. This hasty action can create two different scenarios.
First, if the hole was the only entrance and exit point to the attic, then the bats are trapped inside. Once awake, they will do whatever they can to get out. Usually, they manage to find a way into the living space, such as through venting systems, or go down into the walls where they get stuck and so forth. If they can’t get out of the attic space for food and water, they will die inside the home, causing all kinds of odor and insect problems.
Second, if that main entrance isn’t the only way to get in and out of the attic space, the bats will simply use an alternative hole to come and go. Landlords may falsely believe that their bat problem is over because they don’t see the creatures around that exit point anymore when in reality they are still there and just using another way.
Many states have laws that protect bats from being killed, so there are plenty of legal issues regarding traps, poison and bait. The bottom line is that landlords or pest control people cannot kill bats. Using the wrong way to get rid of these animals will leave landlords with much bigger problems than just having them there in the first place.
What to do about bats
The reality is, bats are very useful in keeping insect populations down so it’s always preferable to relocate a bat colony rather than to kill it.The most trouble-free and only legal way to get rid of bats in an attic is via a live exclusion or eviction. A live exclusion is not a process that can be done in a day or two—it takes patience and observation to ensure that it is done right.
Here are the steps to doing a live exclusion on bats in the attic:
Step 1. Observe the Bats
The first thing to do is observe the bats around the rental property before their new home is disturbed in any way. Landlords can sit outside the home at dusk when bats leave their shelter and head out for food. Observing the entrance and exit points of the attic over a few nights can help landlords determine exactly where they are. Landlords also need to observe the bats to determine what species they are, because their behavior and nesting habits differ.
Step 2. Identify the Best Time
A bat eviction can only happen at certain times of the year to be legal and effective. A colony of bats in the attic will be primarily comprised of primarily females with their babies. Bat maternity times only take place during certain times of the year. Until the baby bats are old enough to fly on their own, the females leave them in the attic space to go and get food. Only when the babies can fly and join the older bats in looking for food can a live eviction be successful.
Sealing off an attic while the females are outside and the babies are inside can lead to problems as the babies crawl down into the walls looking for food, starve to death and then decompose. The females work hard to get back inside, often entering through open doors, screened windows and via other openings or cracks that have previously gone unnoticed. It isn’t uncommon for bats to accidentally enter the living space of the property in an effort to get back inside.
Performing a proper live eviction is determined by the bat species and this maternity period. A wildlife expert can help landlords determine the end of the maternity season for each bat in their area, which will generally be sometime between June and August, depending on the species. It is illegal to exclude bats during maternity season unless unusual circumstances are in place and special permission is given.
Step 3. Install Eviction Devices
At the proper time of year, landlords can install either commercial or homemade devices used for bat evictions. They can be cones of wiring shaped like funnels or even a PVC pipe with a loose screen flap at the end. Another popular device is a simple window screen that is secured at the top, allowing the bottom to flap open for exiting but falls back into place to prevent re-entry. All these devices and more allow them to exit, but not enter the attic space.
Landlords can seal up any non-primary entrance and exit holes permanently, leaving the valve-like devices on one or two primary entryways. Experts recommend installing the exit valve devices at night when the majority of the bats are already out of the attic.
Step 4. Permanent Sealing
After seven days of observation to ensure that there are no more creatures exiting the attic, landlords can remove the valve devices and permanently seal the holes. Depending on the type of entry point, landlords can use anything like caulk, plastic screening, polyurethane foam, metal sheeting and more to ensure that there are no entry points for bats to get back into the attic.
Step 5. Cleaning Up After Bats
When bats live in an attic, even for a short time, they leave their droppings and urine. This can cause corrosion of wood, drywall and insulation, and even lead to mold. A contaminated attic needs to be professionally cleaned to remove the droppings, apply a special enzyme cleaner, check for other pests and problems, and replace and repair any damage.
When the process is done right by a landlord or by a professional, there should be no way that bats can ever return to the attic space unless new holes are created. That’s why regular maintenance is important and maintaining good communication with tenants is the key to discovering bats. Because the tenants are there all the time, they will be the first to notice whether or not bats are residing in the rental property.