Bee Johnson illustration for Express

As the weather turns cold, residents around the region may discover uninvited houseguests bunking down for the winter. And droppings are often the first sign.

Mice are prolific defecators and can take bathroom breaks up to 80 times a day, according to Chris Sexton, a service manager for Orkin Pest Control in Northern Virginia. “Every time they stop, they drop,” he says.

However, even if you haven’t seen any droppings around your home, it is still worthwhile to assess your readiness to repel these tiny invaders.

“This is our time of year for rodents when things start ramping up,” Sexton says. “Their food sources start getting scarce, insects start dying off, their grasses that they usually burrow into for cover are dying off, and they start looking for indoor shelter that’s more suitable for them to get through the winter.”

Preventing a mouse infestation is best done by limiting their access to the two resources they want from you: food and shelter.

Mice can wriggle their way in through holes as small as a quarter-inch, which includes some unexpected entry points. “We recommend that you seal all of the places where wires or pipes come into the house,” says Gerard Brown, the program manager for rodent and vector control at D.C.’s Department of Health. “That might be the oven or gas line, but mice also might nest in the refrigerator or in the oven or under the sink.”

Mice can feed off a variety of different food sources, so keeping a clean home free of spills and unattended food will help.

“Sanitation is pest control. If a mouse or any other rodent doesn’t have food, they will move on,” says Brown. He recommends keeping pantry staples in hard containers, rather than in bags that mice can chew through. Uneaten pet food is another rodent favorite, so clean up your pet’s leftover kibble and feces.

The D.C. Department of Health has more mouse prevention tips.

Procedure for renters
Contact your landlord as soon as you see droppings or evidence that your food has been nibbled on, because early intervention can help check population growth. “A lot of times, we find it’s just one or two that got in,” Sexton says. “[But] their breeding is very fast and they have short gestation periods … so the population can grow pretty rapidly if there’s a food source and conditions are suitable.”

After your landlord has been notified, he or she must procure extermination services, says Joel Cohn of the D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate. But keep in mind, if it’s determined that you didn’t keep the unit in a safe and sanitary condition, your owner may charge you for extermination.

If the landlord is not providing extermination, you have the option to contact the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. “The DCRA will send out a housing inspector who can take a look and see if there is in fact evidence of rodents,” says Matt Orlins of the DCRA. “And then we can go ahead and issue a citation.” If the problem isn’t resolved, the DCRA could issue a fine. A tenant could also seek civil damages or a rent abatement.

Additional DIY
If you also want to set your own mouse traps, Brown recommends traditional snapping traps over glue traps. Mice, which use whiskers to explore their environment, might not be fully ensnared in a sticky trap. “If a mouse’s whisker gets caught on a glue trap, and they get off, you’ll never catch it again,” he says.

When it comes to setting the trap, the type of bait you use matters. “If you have peanut butter or cheese, a rodent can lick it off without the trap triggering,” Brown says. “But if you have cooked chicken or a piece of Slim Jim, then they have to pull on it, and then trigger the trap.”

Sexton recommends using traps instead of poison. “With a trap, you can find a dead body and get rid of it, so you don’t have to deal with a smell in a wall or in a ceiling or attic,” he says.

Unfortunately, the cuddliest solution for mice isn’t always foolproof. “I’ve seen pictures that residents have provided that have rats and cats eating out of the same bowl at the same time,” Brown says. “I don’t think that you can have a rodent control program with cats.”

Stubborn landlord? Call in the experts.
If your landlord won’t pay up for an exterminator, you can contact the Office of the Tenant Advocate for help. The OTA’s Joel Cohn says there is an arm of the D.C. Superior Court, the Housing Conditions Calendar, that can help. “The Housing Conditions Calendar exists basically to give tenants expedited relief from housing-condition problems,” Cohn says. “If they want a rent rebate or damages of some kind, that’s not the place they go. This is specifically to get housing problems fixed — disrepair, whatever it may be.”

More stories about renting in D.C.:

Here are the pieces of furniture that you should be splurging on

With these gadgets, you can turn your rental into a smart home

Got a green thumb and nowhere to grow? Try one of D.C.’s community gardens.