Hiring a Professional to Control Pests
Whether dealing with spiders inside your home or crabgrass in your yard, there are several things to consider before hiring a professional to manage pests. The first and foremost consideration, even before cost of service, is determining whether the business is qualified to control the pests you’re dealing with. Under the Virginia Pesticide Control Act any individual or business that applies or recommends the use of any pesticide commercially must have a Virginia Pesticide Business License unless exempted by regulation. This license is issued by the Office of Pesticide Services (OPS), a program of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) under Regulations promulgated by the Virginia Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Businesses who apply for a license must meet certain criteria before a license can be issued. These criteria include: evidence of financial responsibility and the employment of a certified commercial applicator. When hiring a business to apply pesticides such as insecticides or weed killers, ask them for their Virginia Pesticide Business License number. Licensed businesses are included on the Virginia Licensed Pesticide Business list which can be viewed on the OPS website here.
Hiring a licensed professional provides some financial protection to the customer if damages or injury occurs.
The evidence of financial responsibility consists of a liability insurance policy which is issued to protect persons who suffer legal damages as a result of the use of any pesticide by the licensed business. At a minimum, state licensed pesticide businesses are required to carry $100,000 for property damage, and $100,000 for personal injury or death of one person, and $300,000 per occurrence. Specific details of the requirement for “Evidence of Financial Responsibility” can be found in §3.2-3927 of the Virginia Pesticide Control Act and 2 VAC 5-680-80 of the Regulations.
Hiring a licensed professional helps ensure that their employees are properly trained in pest identification, current pest management practices and the proper application of pesticides.
As previously mentioned, a business must employ a certified commercial applicator before a license can be issued. The certified commercial applicator is responsible for the safe application of pesticides and providing recommendations for the use of pesticides. In many cases, the certified commercial applicator is either an owner or a member of management. Prior to being certified, a commercial applicator has to receive one year of appropriate training and/or experience. The training and/or experience would come either through on the job training or through a formal training program, specific to the type of pests and pesticides for which they will be working. There are currently 21 separate categories or sub-categories under which they can be certified. The commercial applicator must also pass an exam specific to the category in which they will be working before receiving certification.
Additionally, any employee of the pesticide business who uses or recommends the use of a pesticide must also be certified as either a registered technician or a commercial applicator. Although, the training required for a registered technician is not as intensive or in depth as that required for a commercial applicator, they must still receive training specific to the category in which they will be working. This would include 20 hours of on-the-job training from their employer in the proper application of pesticides and 20 hours of board-approved training. Similarly to the commercial applicator, a registered technician would also be required to pass an exam in order to be certified.
Ask the applicator if they have their certification card as either a registered technician or a commercial applicator. Applicators certified as either a Commercial Applicator or a Registered Technician are included in the Virginia Certified Commercial Applicator list which can be viewed on the Office of Pesticide Services website here.
Researching the licensed business before agreeing to services can prevent unsatisfactory results.
Although a pesticide business may be licensed, that does not guarantee that they will provide satisfactory results or services. As a potential customer, research the business prior to reaching any service agreement. In 2006, the Office of Pesticide Services developed an online tool which allows consumers to check whether a business or applicator has committed any violations of the Virginia Pesticide Control Act which resulted in civil penalties. The tool is called the Civil Penalty Database. It is one tool that can be used when considering a business. If a business frequently appears listed then a consumer may want to ask more questions regarding their services.
You can also check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau, ask for recommendations from neighbors, coworkers or friends who may be familiar with the business. Do not accept services over the phone unless the business has already visited your property to properly identify the pest and evaluate management techniques.
Consumers should call at least three companies not only to compare prices but to compare services. Each business may present a different plan for managing the pest issue. The ideal company will follow integrated pest management (IPM) practices as described on the “What is IPM?” section of this website. A company following IPM practices will consider all available options for managing the pest including non-chemical or least toxic alternatives.
Additionally, consumers should always ask for a written agreement which outlines what pests will be controlled and how they will be managed. While a business is required to keep a record of the pests to be controlled, sites treated and pesticides applied they are not required by the Act or regulations to provide this information to their customer. If you wish that a business provide this information, discuss it with them prior to finalizing any agreements.
Effective control requires that the consumer cooperate with the licensed business, especially when controlling insects or rodents.
In order for any pest management plan to be effective, consumer has to cooperate with employees of the license business. Some pests, especially those that invade buildings, cannot be effectively controlled by pesticides alone. A professional who applies IPM practices may make recommendations related to sanitation practices, maintenance issues or habitat alteration (esp. in yard). These recommendations should be taken seriously if effective control is to be achieved. Failure to follow the professional’s recommendations may result in unsatisfactory control of the pest. At times, a customer may decide to apply pesticides themselves even after hiring the professional. These pesticides could interfere with the effectiveness of baits or non-repellent pesticides applied by an applicator.
Questions and Answers About Pesticide Businesses
- Question: My lawn care business just uses a weed killer from a big box hardware store to kill weeds along the sidewalk and curb, do they need a license?
Answer: Yes. A business would need a pesticide business license if it uses any pesticide including weed killers bought from a hardware store or other similar retailer.
- Question: The guy that mows my lawn doesn’t charge me for treating weeds in my flower beds. He throws it in as part of my service. Does he need a license?
Answer: Yes. Although a business may not itemize the pesticide application on their bill they are still applying the pesticide commercially. In this case, the charges are hidden in the cost of the services.
- Question: My pest control company is licensed in a neighboring state. Do they need a separate Virginia Pesticide Business License to apply pesticides here?
Answer: Yes. Even if a business is licensed in a neighboring state, they need a separate pesticide business license to conduct related business in the state of Virginia. They need to be aware of state specific laws and regulations.
- Question: While I was searching for a product to control termites at the store, someone approached me and offered to perform the treatment for a small fee; do they need a license if I buy the pesticide?
Answer: Yes. Be cautious of “freelancers” who may be looking for a quick source of income. Unless their business is properly licensed and their employees certified, you should not hire them regardless of the price.
- Question: Does the Virginia Pesticide Control Act address issues that I may have with contracts, warranties or related agreements issued by a pesticide business?
Answer: No. The Act does not address contracts, warranties or related agreements nor does it give authority to the Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services or the Office of Pesticide Services to address these issues. If you believe that a company has not fulfilled its contract or complied with any warranties, you can contact the Consumer Protection Section of the Attorney General's Office for assistance. If you hired an unlicensed business or uncertified applicator or you suspect the misuse of pesticides, you can contact the Office of Pesticides Services for assistance. In some cases, you may have to seek legal assistance apart from the services provided by VDACS staff.
- Question: My lawn care company says that the weed killer that they spray is exempt from EPA Registration. They claim it is not a pesticide and they don’t need a license. Are they correct?
Answer: No. First, the weed killer is a pesticide as defined by the Virginia Pesticide Control Act since it kills weeds. In fact, any substance that kills, repels or mitigates a pest is considered a pesticide whether it’s a salt and vinegar mixture or glyphosate. Additionally, any business applying a substance which meets this definition would be required to have a license.