When her home was infested with bed bugs, a co-op shareholder spent several thousand dollars to eradicate them. Now, a year later, the co-op board is updating its property lease agreement so that treating bugs is entirely the responsibility of residents. Does a board have the power to do that?
It’s complicated, replies the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times. Renters in New York City, including co-op owners, have the right to live in apartments free of bed bugs and other vermin, and co-op directors have a legal obligation to eradicate bed bug infestations and prevent them from returning. However, the rules do not say who has to pay for the treatment. The city is giving co-op leaders and landlords 30 days to address the issue. The cooperative is also required to file an annual report with the city and provide residents with written notice of the building’s bed bug history, including disclosure of infestations over the past year.
Bed bugs are specifically mentioned in the list of insects that building owners are legally required to control. New York City lists bed bugs as a Class B violation, meaning they are considered dangerous. “The cooperative is in the best position to deal with a building-wide infestation,” said Lisa Smith, partner at law firm Smith, Gambrell & Russell. The Board may call a qualified professional to treat the affected unit and inspect adjacent units. “Neighbors won’t do this to each other,” Smith adds.
Treating the infestation is one thing; paying is another. The board could force this calculation on the shareholders. Most cooperatives and landlords bear the cost of destruction, while tenants bear the costs associated with preparing their homes for destruction and containing the infestation. “The real cost is the preparation,” says Smith. For example, renters often replace mattresses and sofas, and clean and launder all their clothes and linens.
Under city and state housing ordinances, the board cannot shirk its responsibility for eradicating bedbugs by amending its condominium lease. It can pass on the cost of destruction to shareholders, but shareholders can push back, arguing that passing the cost on to them could be counterproductive. These costs are not exceptional for a building, but they can be large enough to deter a single shareholder from reporting an infestation in their home. Bed bugs love it when this happens.