WBAI’s Housing Notebook with advice for tenants living with bed bugs in New York

by nobugsonme on January 4, 2010 · 1 comment

in bed bugs, bedbugs, landlords and tenants, new york city

Tonight’s Housing Notebook on New York public radio station WBAI featured bed bugs.

The program description reads:

Vajra Kilgour interviewed American Museum of Natural History entomologist Lou Sorkin and tenant lawyer Catharine Grad in a discussion of New York City’s nightmare scourge – bedbugs – and what tenants can do to get rid of them.

Click here to listen to or download the mp3 file of the program directly. (You can also find it in the archives by looking for Housing Notebook program from 1/4/2010; this interface shows the time of the segment, which may be helpful.)

Housing Notebook is sponsored by the wonderful Met Council on Housing, whose hotline is a fabulous resource for tenants with questions about their rights.

Lou Sorkin, the American Museum of Natural History entomologist, needs no introduction around here! Catherine Grad is a tenant lawyer.

Lou’s segment begins at about 13:36 if you want to skip ahead to it. Lou covers a lot of ground including problems with detection, people’s misconceptions about bed bugs, options for and issues surrounding bed bug treatment. Much of this is familiar to the die-hard bedbugger, since Lou has already schooled us so well in the basics. But his segment is very valuable for those not as familiar with bed bugs, their detection and treatment.

After a brief musical break (Bessie Smith’s version of “Mean Old Bed Bug Blues”), Cathy Grad joins Lou at approximately 40:25, to talk about issues relevant to tenants with bed bugs in NYC.

Grad emphasizes the New York City tenant’s responsibility to tell the landlord s/he has bed bugs as soon as s/he notices or suspects the problem, to complete needed prep work, and to allow the pest control firm to treat, and that it’s the landlord’s responsibility to hire a pest control firm to get rid of them.

We agree with Grad that the city needs to do something to help low income tenants to pay for bed bug prep. (And we acknowledge some landlords may need assistance with treatment costs as well!)

Grad reminds tenants to create a paper trail when communicating with landlords, and to send a letter to follow up on verbal complaints made to the landlord about bed bugs. She suggests tenants should let neighbors know there’s a bed bug problem so they will know to look out for it, and emphasizes the need for neighbors to work together to eradicate a building’s bed bug problem.

If tenants have notified the landlord about the problem, and landlords have not done anything, Grad says tenants can save receipts from extermination bills which they end up paying, and deduct it from the rent (this is called a “Repair and Deduct”). Grad cautions that tenants must have a paper trail; the landlord may take them to housing court over this, and tenants need to be able to show that they notified the landlord and the landlord did nothing. In order to establish you were allowed to deduct sums from your rent, you need a paper trail. (Note: host Vajra Kilgour then refers to the landlord blacklist which identifies people who have been taken to housing court. It does exist and you should consider carefully the ramifications of being listed on it to your future renting options in NYC.)

As Grad notes, if you attempt a “Repair and Deduct,” you need to consider the risks that the court will rule in the landlord’s favor; you do not know what the judge will decide. You may end up having to pay that rent money you originally withheld; and you may thus be out the cost of extermination and the rent as well, on top of being blacklisted from future housing. Given the risks, if you want to attempt this, you might want to listen to the recording carefully (if you haven’t yet) to hear Grad’s advice in full, read the Met Council Fact Sheets (“How to Get Repairs” parts 1 and 2 available here), call the Met Council hotline for further advice, or consult a housing lawyer. (Note: we are not lawyers and can’t give legal advice.) Remember also, this information applies in New York City only.

If a landlord’s pest control firm does a poor job or does not complete the job or uses methods like bombs which do not get rid of bed bugs (and can in fact make your bed bug problems worse), then you need to persist with the landlord to get them to solve the problem (which may involve hiring a different firm or having the firm come back until the problem is solved). Calling 311 to file a housing complaint is an option available at any time (after you notify the landlord, or instead of doing so), but we understand the inspectors (if they come) will need to see live, crawling bed bugs in your home. It may antagonize the landlord less if you notify him/her and allow him/her to try and fix the problem first. It may also be more efficient.

Thanks to Vajra Kilgour and Met Council on Housing, Catherine Grad, and Lou Sorkin for an informative broadcast!

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