The three-bedroom apartment in the Upper West Side co-op is home to a married couple and their three young children. And a whole lot of mice. The apartment is so infested, in fact, that mice dart across pillows while the family sleeps, and they leave droppings in the baby’s high chair. Management and a pest control company have set out sticky traps, the contractor who combined the family’s two apartments into has done some repairs, but the mice remain. What is the co-op board’s responsibility?
Under the warranty of habitability, according to the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times, the co-op board is responsible for making sure that apartments are free of vermin. Management must take this issue seriously, figuring out how many apartments are affected and treating them all. Remedies include caulking and sealing all holes in walls, floors and ceilings. Food cannot be left out, leaky faucets must be repaired, and areas where mouse droppings are found should be sanitized. The affected shareholders should also alert their neighbors, who could collectively call for a special meeting of the board.
If the board fails to act, the shareholders should report the condition to 311, filing complaints with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. A visit from a city inspector might spur the board to engage a specialist or take other steps.
“I can’t imagine why a board would not want to engage a specialist” if the problem is widespread, says attorney Lisa Smith, a partner at Smith, Gambrell & Russell. “The board members live there, too.”
Above all, don’t underestimate the stubbornness of mice. “You have to do all these things, and you have to do it for weeks before you begin to see a diminishment of the mice,” says Paul Gottsegen, president of Halstead Property Management. “A mouse infestation is only slightly less alarming than a bedbug infestation."
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