Can a Co-op Be Forced to Pay for Exterminator?

Q.  The basement of our prewar co-op is undergoing renovation to enlarge the laundry room and storage space. In the process, the building has become riddled with mice.
The building’s exterminator first sprayed poison in our kitchen, to no effect. He then put out baited glue traps, and I bought some spring-loaded traps and put cheese in them. No luck. These mice must have their Ph.D.’s in avoidance techniques.
We’re wondering if we bring in an outside exterminator, can we expect the building to pay for the service?
A.  “The state’s Real Property Law provides that a warranty of habitability is implied in all residential leases,” said David A. Kaminsky, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.
What this means, in essence, is that the place is guaranteed to be fit for human habitation and that occupants will not be subjected to conditions that are dangerous, hazardous or detrimental to health or safety.
Mr. Kaminsky said that courts have applied this law to co-op apartments because proprietary leases create the requisite landlord-tenant relationship to invoke the statute.
So the co-op must provide an exterminator to get rid of the mice, he said. If the co-op fails to take care of the situation, then yes, the letter writers can hire their own exterminator service and demand reimbursement from the co-op for the cost.
If the co-op refuses to pay, Mr. Kaminsky said, the apartment owners could withhold maintenance charges and seek credit for the exterminator’s bill, or begin a small-claims case to recover the amount spent on the exterminator.
A practical problem is that the writers will not be able to have their exterminator treat the common areas of the building, like the basement, where the mice are probably coming from, Mr. Kaminsky said. “Pressure must be put on the co-op to be more aggressive about the ‘Ph.D. mice.'”

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