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Ask Sam: My landlord refuses to let my exterminator in the building. Can he do that?

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Dear Sam: I have a rent-stabilized apartment, and hired and paid for my own exterminator. Now the management is refusing to let them into the building to do their work. Is this allowed?

While this seems like it should be a fairly straightforward issue, the situation is deceptively complicated, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations

"It's the owner's responsibility under the warranty of habitability to keep an apartment free of vermin," Himmelstein says. "Landlords have an absolute obligation to make sure that apartments don't have roaches and mice and bed bugs." 

"However, if you want to have someone come in and do work on your apartment, landlords also have a right to say no, unless it's purely cosmetic, like decorating," Himmelstein adds. And since the landlord does have such a strong legal obligation to keep your place pest-free, they might be wary of you bringing in an exterminator who won't sufficiently solve the problem.

"If a tenant brings in an exterminator who does a crummy job and your pests get into a neighbor's apartment, then that neighbor's recourse is to go after the landlord, not the tenant who hired the exterminator," says Himmelstein. In other words, the landlord has a lot to lose here, so it's reasonable that they'd want to be in control of the situation and hire their own workers.

So, now the question is why you wanted to hire your own exterminator in the first place. Is it because your landlord refuses to exterminate on their own, or because you don't like the chemicals the landlord's exterminator of choice might be using? (The latter complaint is surprisingly common, Himmelstein notes.)

If the problem is that the landlord is ignoring the problem or hired someone ineffective, you can bring an HP action against them to perform a proper extermination. But if the issue is just that you'd prefer to bring in your own service, that won't fly unless you have concrete evidence that there's some kind of legitimate reason you don't want the landlord's exterminator in your apartment. (For instance, a statement from a doctor explaining that the chemicals the landlord is using make you sick.)

The bottom line here is that you should look to the landlord first for these kinds of fixes, and if you do want to bring someone in, get approval from the landlord ahead of time so you don't run into last-minute roadblocks, or wind up with your exterminator locked out of the building.


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Sam Himmelstein, Esq., represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan.  To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.

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