Q. I am the president of our condo. We have a unit owner who has bed bugs, but refuses to do anything about it. He threatens criminal action if we force ourselves into the unit, which is extremely cluttered. They have all sorts of remedies for co-ops and landlord-tenant residences. But what about [condo] unit owners who refuse to do anything? What course of action can the board and management take? He claims he has no bed bugs, but our exterminator says otherwise.
—Trapped by Infestation
A. According to Lisa Smith, a partner at the New York law firm of Smith Gambrell & Russell LLP: “Most condominium bylaws have a section titled ‘Rights of Access,’ which permits the board, its agents, authorized persons, etc. to enter the unit for purposes of inspection, maintenance, repairs, and curing violations. In cases of emergency, the right of access may be exercised immediately. Although many may consider a bed bug infestation an ‘emergency,’ it is not like a fire or flood. If the unit owner refuses to provide access, the unit owner should be held in default of the bylaws, and the condominium should seek a court order providing access. While most bylaws provide for reimbursement of expenses, it will take time to obtain a court order, and there is no guarantee that the court will award 100 percent of the expenses incurred.
“The problem is compounded by the fact that this unit owner may also be a hoarder. Hoarding is also called ‘Collyer Brothers Syndrome’ after two brothers with that last name were found dead in their apartment amidst more than 140 tons of items collected by them over decades. Hoarding presents its own difficulties for a condominium, but it is important to remember that it is a mental illness. If this unit owner has an emergency contact person, the managing agent should reach out to him/her to convince the unit owner to provide access—both to have the unit cleaned, and to inspect and treat for bed bugs. In extreme cases, Adult Protective Services can be called and/or a guardian can be appointed by the court. While the condominium is not completely without its remedies, convincing the owner to provide access is obviously less expensive, more expedient, and more neighborly than pursuing litigation.”