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The first step is admitting you have a problem: rats and mice

Special to The Times

Question: I suspect some sort of rodent has moved into my apartment. What should I do?

Answer: First, confirm your suspicions by watching for the classic signs. The most obvious is actually seeing one. A fleeting glimpse can present itself when a light is turned on. The next best indicator is rodent droppings, which resemble black rice or dark pellets, often found under drawers or behind furniture. Rodents can be in crawl spaces, attics and between the walls.

Their favorite places to forage? Wherever they find their favorite foods, including peanut butter, chocolate and cereals. Nuts and grains are a treat too.

Surprisingly, mice can squeeze through a hole as small as a quarter of an inch. Rats and mice prefer to enter a home through holes, not open spaces, running along or behind the walls, ceilings or under floors.

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The Department of Health Services of Los Angeles County publishes several guides detailing rodent control and prevention (www.lapublichealth.org). One brochure provides helpful hints, including diagrams explaining the likes of proper storage and trap placement. The brochure suggests, “The successful elimination of a rodent infestation in or around a dwelling usually depends on three separate procedures: sanitation, rodent proofing and the eventual elimination of the rats or mice.”

Both landlord and tenant play a role in prevention of rats and mice. Landlords should fix leaky water sources, such as faucets. Sources of standing water must be eliminated. Common areas should be free of debris, especially nest-friendly piles of wood or newspaper. Thick ivy, another popular nesting site, and excess foliage should be trimmed.

If your landlord balks, remind him that prevention is less expensive than hiring exterminators and dealing with city inspectors. Several laws protect California renters, including Civil Code Section 1941.1, which details conditions that render a unit legally uninhabitable. The code specifies “all areas under control of the landlord be kept in every part clean, sanitary and free of all accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents and vermin.”

Prevention is important for renters too. The Civil Code also requires tenants to take reasonable care of their units.

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Start with food storage. Cereal should be placed in plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. Ditto for chocolate goodies.

Don’t keep any food in open or accessible areas. Put leftovers in the fridge, not on the counter. Put away pet food at night, including open bowls.

Houseplants should not be left standing in pools of water.

Rodents love cozy places to nest, so don’t provide shelter. Stacks of papers, magazines and clothes are an invitation. If you do discover droppings or trapped rodents, disinfect the contaminated materials and surfaces by thoroughly wetting them down with full-strength household or general-purpose disinfectant. Always wear rubber, latex, vinyl or nitrile gloves.

Because rodents can squeeze through tiny holes, a walk-through of the unit may reveal where the problem is. Obvious entry areas are windows and doors. If an opening under a door exceeds a quarter-inch, a sheet-metal kick plate can cover the gap. Windows that don’t close should be reported to the landlord. Holes in floors, especially in dark places such as closets or laundry areas, should be checked. Investigate the spaces behind ovens and refrigerators and inside cabinets.

For foundation, roofing or attic areas, ask the landlord to check for openings. Holes must be properly plugged -- not by stuffing in a rag, but with heavy-gauge wire mesh pushed into the hole, topped by Spackle or any suitable hardening sealant.

What if your landlord won’t act? First, send a written request, specifying the problem and describing signs of rodent activity. Be sure you’ve complied on your end. If you don’t get a timely response, a call to the local health department might bring results. In Los Angeles County, complaints can be filed online at www.ladhs.org/housing or by calling (626) 430-5200. Keep in mind that pests are a curable problem and the right combination of prevention and treatment should abate your concerns.

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