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Ask Sam: Can my landlord make me pay for my own bed bug extermination?

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Question:

Last year my roommate and I found a bed bug in our apartment, and told the super, who called the exterminator, who suggested we proceed with an extermination, though there wasn't a significant infestation. When I moved out a few months ago, the landlord held back part of my security deposit as payment for the exterminator, saying it was "elective." No one told us there would be a charge at the time, and I can't find details on whether an infestation needs to be confirmed in order for a landlord to pay. What's my best course of action?

Answer:

Your landlord absolutely can't make you shoulder the burden of extermination costs, and they certainly can't deduct that expense from your security deposit, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.

"Extermination is always going to be the landlord's responsibility—there's no way the tenants are responsible for this," says Himmelstein. City housing code specifically states that tenants are entitled to a bed bug-free environment, and that the responsibility is solely the landlord's.

(If you need to back up your claims, the Metropolitan Council on Housing has specifics about the letter of the law here, and the city's website lays out the bed bug policy and other resources here.)

If you inform your landlord of their legal responsibilities and they still try to withhold your deposit, you have a couple of different options. The first, says Himmelstein, is a free mediation service offered through the Attorney General's office which is specifically set up to help settle security deposit disputes, among other issues. (More information on that here.)

The second option is to take your landlord to small claims court, depending on the size of the deposit. Either way, says Himmelstein, "You should get your full security deposit back."

 

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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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