Are Landlords or Tenants Responsible for Keeping Your Building Pest-Free?
Article by Joseph Salvatore Knipper
When it comes to dealing with pest control issues in New York City, the mutual rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants can often cause confusion, headaches, and miscommunication.
Who is responsible for preventing, monitoring, and solving pest problems in your building?
What are the landlord’s responsibilities regarding pest control?
Title 27 – Chapter 2 of New York City’s Housing Maintenance Code states: “An owner of a dwelling shall take reasonable measures to keep the premises free from pests[…] and shall expeditiously take reasonable measures to remediate such conditions and any underlying defects[…]” (§27–2017.1)
In layman’s terms, it is the landlord’s responsibility to practice “Integrated Pest Management” measures, such as sealing cracks and fixing the leaks that can invite pest infestations (see Integrated Pest Management). This also includes pest inspections and, when necessary, extermination.
Local Law 55 of 2018 further states that landlords are responsible for performing yearly inspections, ensuring that an apartment is pest-free before renting it to a new tenant, and notifying tenants of their rights.
What are the tenant’s responsibilities regarding pest control?
Just because landlords are responsible for many aspects of pest control, that doesn’t mean that tenants are entirely off the hook. Tenants should keep their homes clean (especially the kitchen), keep food sealed, and empty garbage and recycling regularly.
If a pest problem arises due to a tenant’s “own wilful act, assistance, or negligence or that of any member of his family or household or his guests”, the tenant may be held liable for expenses related to pest extermination.
Tenants also have a responsibility to inform their landlord of any early signs of a pest infestation, as well as structural damage that could risk a pest infestation.
Who is responsible for bed bug inspections and treatment?
Landlords are responsible for the inspection and treatment of bed bugs. If a tenant discovers bed bugs in their home or apartment, they should first contact their landlord, who will work with a local pest control company to schedule inspection and treatment.
In general, NYC’s bed bugs laws are particularly strict regarding landlord responsibilities, with any amount of bed bugs being counted as a Class B violation (hazardous), which landlords have 30 days to eliminate.
Are landlords required to call in licensed professionals, or can they use DIY methods?
Whenever pesticides are applied, landlords are required to use “a pest professional licensed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)” (Indoor Allergen Hazards NYC.gov).
However, this does not mean that landlords are required to use a pest professional for every instance of pests. In fact, the New York Department of Health states that “Pesticides should be used only as a last resort.”
The law requires landlords to eliminate pest infestations, but, other than in the application of pesticides, it doesn’t require they hire someone else to do it. Most Integrated Pest Management measures are preventative, including sealing holes, fixing screening, and eliminating food and water. These activities are perfectly acceptable for landlords to tackle themselves if they choose to, as long as they follow safe work practices.
According to 311’s information on Apartment Maintenance Complaints “Before filing a complaint, you should try to resolve the issue with your landlord, managing agent, or superintendent. If you live in a co-op or condo, you should first report apartment maintenance issues to the owner, management company or board before filing a complaint[..]. “
When tenants file an apartment maintenance complaint with 311, Housing Prevention and Development will assess the complaint. If the complaint has merit, they will inform the landlord they have either 90 days (nonhazardous pests), 30 days (bed bugs), or 21 days (rodents & cockroaches) to remedy the situation. If not, the landlord may be subject to fines.
What if I live in a co-op apartment building or own a condo?
Condominium and co-op owners are technically their own landlord, with all the responsibility that entails. In other words, they must eliminate pests on their own dime.
Nevertheless, the housing board does have the responsibility to keep the common areas of the community pest-free. Occupants should keep their housing board informed of infestations so that the board can take steps to prevent the spread to other units.
During COVID, with the eviction moratorium in place, if a tenant does not or cannot pay rent, is the landlord still obligated to pay for pest control?
New York requires that the landlord provide a “warranty of habitability,” meaning that a dwelling is provided with everything needed to make it habitable. As this warranty includes pest control, it does not appear that a landlord can refuse to provide pest control for nonpayment of rent.
Also, according to Local Law 56 of 2020, “It is unlawful to discriminate against a tenant based on their status as someone impacted by COVID-19.” For more information, see the New York City page of COVID-19 resources for tenants.
For more frequently asked questions regarding pest control, please visit our FAQ page.