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Dave’s here to answer your questions every Wednesday, so send them to him at tenant@sfappeal.com


This is probably something a lot of people are going through with the cold weather: ant infestation. I rent a half-submerged basement in-law, and the landlord lives in the upstairs part of the house. I’ve lived here over four years and know the LL well. I also know the ants well, and have been vigilant this year. I have watched a giant swarm in the back yard walk over our Grants for Ants stakes for weeks, while spraying Orange Guard all around the base of the house and windows.

Then, at the beginning of the cold snap, the ants were gone. My stomach sank. I knew they were in the house. A few days later they made their ingress at the base of our food pantry, and there were suddenly hundreds of ants swarming on those food shelves, and over to more food shelves on the other side of the house. Luckily we double ziplock and tupperware most of our food, but it was a sign of doom as far as I’m concerned. I took pictures, cleaned, and left the LL a voice message. He told me to spray raid and that an exterminator is very expensive. Now they are in my bedroom and in the bathroom, going after crumbs from lunches long ago and morsels of catfood. I’m still cleaning and photographing, but nothing short of an exterminator is going to make them go away at this point. What are my rights???

I read a little factoid the other day that stated the combined weight of all the ants in the world is approximately the same or greater than the combined weight of all human beings. Ants are the perfect Stalinists. As we all know, ants are omnivorous, industrious, well-organized little creatures that could devour the whole world if they were as large as say, golden retrievers. They are also smart enough to go inside when it gets cold.

When I read your question, I was not convinced that an ant incursion rose to the level of a housing violation because ants do not carry disease, nor do they make it a habit to bite people unless they are molested. We’re just too big for them to eat. I asked a San Francisco housing inspector if it was their policy to write a violation on a unit with an ant infestation. He confirmed my suspicion and told me that they do not. In fact, he reminded me that pests in general are not covered in the Housing Code.

He pointed out that when ants do emerge as a complaint, housing inspectors can refer the complaint to the Environmental Health Program of the SF Department of Public Health, which in turn, assigns a Health investigator or inspector to perform an inspection. When you click on the site, notice that ants are not mentioned in the list of pests. So my general advice to tenants with ants is that you can make a complaint, but I’m not so sure that much can be done to make the landlord exterminate them.

You, however, have a bigger problem! My guess is that you are living in an illegal unit. If you share your electricity with the landlord or your utilities are included in the rent it is very likely that the unit does not have a Certificate of Occupancy. Generally it is not a good idea to call housing inspectors because they could notice, for example, no secondary means of egress, and violate the whole unit. The landlord, to abate the violation, would have to give you a 60-Day Notice to Vacate, pay you half of the statutory relocation fees, pay you the other half when you vacate, and remove the kitchen from the unit.

You need to discuss this with a qualified tenant counselor before you begin to make complaints about your landlord. Go to the San Francisco Tenants Union or the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco.

I hope I’m not sounding too flip, but in the meantime, try Raid. I use it very effectively in a building that houses at least a billion ants. I just spray at the point of entry. Granted, my unit is not below ground level, but Raid works for me.

Dave Crow is an attorney who specializes in San Francisco landlord tenant law. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice, and the information is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or his firm, Crow & Rose unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

the author

Dave Crow is an attorney who specializes in San Francisco landlord tenant law. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice, and the information is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or his firm, Crow & Rose unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

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  • Greg Dewar

    I once had an ant invasion with a twist….the ants had marked a trail into my freezer, where they promptly died. Because no ant was alive to go back and mark the trail “don’t go this way or you’ll die” they kept piling up. Ants organize using a scent trail they put down to tell other ants where the food is.

    Once we found the breach, the landlord and I put down ant traps and sprayed. However we found that piling on Nutrasweet (not saccharin, not splenda, not sugar) repelled the ants in a way even RAID couldn’t.

    Apparently there’s something in the chemical makeup of Nutrasweet that absolutely repels ants. What that means for humans is anyone’s guess, but they finally stopped dying in the freezer!

  • Greg Dewar

    I once had an ant invasion with a twist….the ants had marked a trail into my freezer, where they promptly died. Because no ant was alive to go back and mark the trail “don’t go this way or you’ll die” they kept piling up. Ants organize using a scent trail they put down to tell other ants where the food is.

    Once we found the breach, the landlord and I put down ant traps and sprayed. However we found that piling on Nutrasweet (not saccharin, not splenda, not sugar) repelled the ants in a way even RAID couldn’t.

    Apparently there’s something in the chemical makeup of Nutrasweet that absolutely repels ants. What that means for humans is anyone’s guess, but they finally stopped dying in the freezer!

  • Haze Valet

    First of all: DONT USE RAID. Talk about a violation to human health and water quality. The ants are coming into the house because they are looking for food, and the rain is flooding their nest outside. Argentine ants probably control more real estate in California than the UC system, so eliminating them is next to impossible. Using containerized baits with sugar water (Outside) will draw the ants away from your kitchen to a more readily available food source. Then you need to look for areas that are allowing the ants access into your unit. Caulking cracks and crevices is a great way to keep ants out. Also make sure you regularly take out your trash and compost, so you do not attract them inside. IF you decide you need to call an exterminator, check with the Department of Health and the Department of the Environment to see which pest management companies they recommend. These companies will probably conform their practices to green pest management certification requirements and only use chemical products on the SF Environment reduced risk pesticide list. Keeping pests out of your home comes down to good building management practices, so Landlords might want to consider helping you out to protect their reputation. The UC Davis IPM center has a lot of great info on do it yourself ant management. Check it out.

  • Haze Valet

    First of all: DONT USE RAID. Talk about a violation to human health and water quality. The ants are coming into the house because they are looking for food, and the rain is flooding their nest outside. Argentine ants probably control more real estate in California than the UC system, so eliminating them is next to impossible. Using containerized baits with sugar water (Outside) will draw the ants away from your kitchen to a more readily available food source. Then you need to look for areas that are allowing the ants access into your unit. Caulking cracks and crevices is a great way to keep ants out. Also make sure you regularly take out your trash and compost, so you do not attract them inside. IF you decide you need to call an exterminator, check with the Department of Health and the Department of the Environment to see which pest management companies they recommend. These companies will probably conform their practices to green pest management certification requirements and only use chemical products on the SF Environment reduced risk pesticide list. Keeping pests out of your home comes down to good building management practices, so Landlords might want to consider helping you out to protect their reputation. The UC Davis IPM center has a lot of great info on do it yourself ant management. Check it out.

  • pudu

    Turmeric works wonders for ant infestations. They hate the stuff. I put it in all the various cracks where they were entering the flat and we haven’t had any new ants in years.

  • pudu

    Turmeric works wonders for ant infestations. They hate the stuff. I put it in all the various cracks where they were entering the flat and we haven’t had any new ants in years.

  • Dave Crow

    Ok, no more Raid. Next time I have ants I’m going to try these non-toxic remedies!

  • Dave Crow

    Ok, no more Raid. Next time I have ants I’m going to try these non-toxic remedies!