Dear Maintenance Men:

Written by Apartment Management Magazine on . Posted in Blog

By Jerry L’Ecuyer & Frank Alvarez

Dear Maintenance Men:

Should I check smoke alarm batteries in my units or is that the resident’s job?  Also, how often should I clean out my water heaters, not to mention A/C filters and so on?


Dear Linda:

1-         Most rental agreements have a check box that says the resident is responsible for the operation of the smoke alarm. The newest rental agreements now have a check box for Carbon Monoxide alarms.   We lay awake at night thinking about that little check box. In order to sleep, we check the residents smoke and CO alarms every time we do maintenance on the unit. We keep a log of each time we check and what action was taken.  The smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarms should be “Officially” checked and logged, at least once a year.  Typically, January is a good month for the annual check.    

 2-        A typical 100-gallon water heater depending on the BTU rating will costs anywhere from $4,700 to over $6,500 installed. That cost alone should be incentive to clean out the heater regularly.   Normally, the clean out should be done at least once a year. If the water at your building has a high mineral content, then it should be cleaned out every nine months. Again keep a log of each clean out; it will help in remembering when to do the next cleaning.

3-         If your building has forced air & heating, the filter should be checked, cleaned or replaced each October or November and each May or June. This will help keep your systems working properly and reduce strain on the components. It will also ensure proper filtration before the winter and summer workloads.  

4-         Cleaning out the exhaust vent tubes of the laundry room dryer. Everyone knows about cleaning out the dryer lint basket and throwing it on the laundry room floor. We’re talking about cleaning out the lines leading out the back of the dryer. Keeping the exhaust vent tubes clean will help cut down on gas and electric usage, longer machine life and shorter drying time and lint in these tubes have been known to be a fire hazard. It should be done at least once a year and again, keep a log of each cleaning for reference. 

Dear Maintenance Men:

How do I get rid of mice or rats?  I have found droppings in the house and I’m not happy and I need a solution.


Dear Annie:

We have written about dealing with mice and rat issues in the past and below is what we recommend if you want to get rid of the rodents yourself.  Keep in mind that rats and mice are smart & conservative.   They are not risk takers.  In the rat or mouse’s mind, a trap out in the middle of the floor is too risky to investigate.   Rodents will run along walls, rafters and other low exposure areas.  Put the traps along these routes about ten feet apart. A good bait to use is peanut butter. Patience is king when trying to trap a rat.  Place all your baited traps, but DO NOT set them for a day or two.  Let the rat nibble at the bait danger free.  This last part is the hardest to do.  However, patience will win out. If you rush ahead and set the traps and the rat triggers one and is not caught; he will remember!   Also, avoid using traps designed for mice; it will only annoy the rat and he will be smarter for it. The same goes for using rat traps to catch mice.  The trap is too big and when sprung may miss the mouse.

Using poison is another option.  Anticoagulant poison is very popular.  This poison causes the rat’s blood to thin. It will make him thirsty and when he drinks water, he will bleed internally.  When using this option, be sure to leave a saucer of water near the poison.  The poison normally comes in bars that can be broken up into pieces. Remember rodents hoard, so just because the poison is gone, does not mean they ate it.  Put more until they stop taking it.  The local hardware store should carry this product, but it is best to go to a farm supply store. They will have the best quality supply.  Be careful with placement, so other animals do not eat this poison. The hardware store or farm supply store carry approved bait dispensers designed for rats or mice. Again, patience is rewarded.  Before using poison bait, use crunchy peanut butter to let the rats get used to the bait station for a few days. Then add the poison bait with a little bit of peanut butter. 

Glue traps are also a viable option.  It is important to use large rat sized traps.  Put the glue trap along a known rat runway, or along a ledge or rafter used by the rodents.  It is important to nail or fasten the glue trap in place.   Place a bit of peanut butter in the middle of the trap as an attractant.     Happy hunting!

Dear Maintenance Men:

 I own a small apartment building with an average amount of landscaping around the property.     I have a garden service that comes each week; they cut and edge and do what their supposed to do, I think, although they don’t spend a lot of time at the property.    What should I expect from my landscapers or garden service?


Dear John:

We have a minimum list of items that must be completed at a property. If these items are skipped or ignored, we feel the property will suffer.  On a weekly basis, we expect the garden service to provide the following: 

  1. Cut the grass.
  2. Edge the grass.
  3. Pull out weeds between the sidewalk cracks, walk around the building, including the alley.
  4. Turn over the dirt in all the flowerbeds each week.
  5. Pick up any trash around the property.
  6. Broom, blow or hose down the walkways.
  7. Turn on the sprinkler lines, check for clogged heads, broken lines etc.
  8. Check that the timer is set properly.  
  9. Cut, trim and thin any shrubs or bushes.
  10. Maintain communication with the owner about problems or improvements 

The above list takes time, half hour minimum at a small property. If your landscape gardener completed the list on a weekly basis, you could very well have the best-looking property on the block!  Which means higher rents … if you add color flowers … even higher rents! 

Finding a landscape gardener to do above list consistently is not easy.   Ask your local apartment association for recommendations or look in your neighborhood or city for a property with outstanding landscaping and ask who the gardener is. Have him give you a quote according to your “list”.   Keep in mind a landscape company or gardener who give the above service will charge more than a “blow and go” gardener, however your property will reflect their above average service.

If you need maintenance work or consultation for your building or project, please feel free to contact us. We are available throughout Southern California. For an appointment please call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. at 714 956-8371  
Frank Alvarez is licensed contractor and the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. He has been involved with apartment maintenance & construction for over 30 years. Frankie is President of the Apartment Association of Orange County and a lecturer, educational instructor and Chair of the Education Committee of the AAOC.  He is also Chairman of the Product Service Counsel.  Frank can be reached at (714) 956-8371 For more info please go to: 
Jerry L’Ecuyer is a real estate broker. He is currently a Director Emeritus and Past President of the Apartment Association of Orange County and past Chairman of the association’s Education Committee.  Jerry has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.