Q Do you have any information on what to do about a neighbor who admittedly has roaches and occasionally mice? Doesn’t management have the right to go into an apartment for sanitary reasons? What about the health and cleanliness of the rest of the apartments on the floor?
—Concerned Apartment Owner
A According to attorneys Marcie Waterman Murray and Stewart Wurtzel, of the Manhattan-based law firm of Deutsch Tane Waterman & Wurtzel, P.C., “infestations of bugs and/or rodents is not an uncommon problem in the New York City. The key to dealing with the issue in a cooperative is to determine the origin of the problem. If, for example, management keeps to a regular extermination schedule throughout the building, but one shareholder keeps a filthy apartment that attracts rodents and insects, the problem may be attributed solely to such a shareholder. If, however, there is no particularly dirty apartment and mice and/or bugs are found throughout the building or originate in a common area it would be difficult to argue that the issue is not the general responsibility of the cooperative.
“Management should be informed in writing of the problem, with the report containing as many details as possible. Arrangements should be made by them to inspect the apartment. Under most proprietary leases, entry requires notice to the shareholder except in an emergency situation—which this might not be. If the shareholder refuses to provide entry, a court proceeding to compel access may be required. A licensed exterminator should conduct the inspection and make a determination as to the origin of the infestation(s). If it can be attributed to a single shareholder, the board should provide the shareholder with the opportunity promptly to use his or her own exterminator. [The shareholder will then] provide the board with written evidence from the exterminator that the procedure has been carried out, (there may also be a warranty of some sort provided to the shareholder by the exterminator). The shareholder should also have the exterminator indicate in the writing whether follow up treatments are required and, if so, must show that such additional treatments are carried out.
“If the shareholder is not cooperative (no pun intended,) the board may tell the shareholder that A) it will have its own exterminator carry out the treatment and the shareholder will be billed for the costs (if the matter required a court proceeding to obtain access the court should also be asked to compel secondary access for extermination, if required following the inspection.) Or B) the cooperative may begin eviction proceedings against the shareholder for violating the proprietary lease. The failure to provide access and allow treatment to be made or the failure to maintain the apartment in a sanitary condition could both serve as the basis for an eviction proceeding against the offending shareholder. The failure to maintain the apartment in a sanitary condition would constitute a nuisance. If the nuisance was left uncured after successful prosecution of a holdover proceeding, the violation could result in the eviction of the shareholder from the building.
“If the problem originates from a common area or is a building-wide infestation which cannot be traced to anything a single shareholder did or failed to do, the board needs to authorize a building-wide treatment program for the problem, as appropriate. Such cost would be part of the standard operating budget of the cooperative.”