Keeping Bedbugs at Bay – The New York Times


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Bedbugs and Neighbors

Four years ago, my daughter bought a townhouse. Soon after she moved in, she had an infestation of bedbugs, which she treated. When my daughter asked the next-door neighbors if they had bedbugs, they said no. But my daughter’s exterminator saw evidence of an infestation on items left at the curb in front of their house. Just a few weeks ago, my daughter again saw furniture on the curb in front of the neighbor’s house. If the problem has returned, there is no guarantee that the neighbor will treat it. Does my daughter have any recourse? How can she keep the infestation from spreading to her house?

Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Anyone who has battled bedbugs knows that the experience can be grueling, expensive and traumatic. Finding someone to blame for the misfortune might give your daughter some measure of comfort, but it will not protect her from another infestation.

Bedbugs are hardy travelers that hitch rides on clothes, luggage and blankets. They sometimes take refuge in moving vans, hiding in the blankets that movers use to wrap furniture. I say this because her neighbors could easily blame your daughter for the first infestation. It is also possible that the previous owners of her townhouse had bedbugs. (She might want to reach out to them and ask.)

“The daughter won’t be able to prove that her neighbor is the cause of her bedbug infestation,” said Jonathan H. Newman, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

In any case, the bedbugs might not be back. Furniture left on the street is no proof that bedbugs have returned. Perhaps the neighbors redecorated. And given the length of time since the last occurrence, any bugs are likely new arrivals. “Bedbugs will only live 14 to 18 months without a blood meal,” said John McGowan, the director of operations for Bugged Out Pest Management in Brooklyn. “So I’m pretty sure this has to be a new case.”

Your daughter can try to reduce any risk, Mr. McGowan said, by sealing all cracks and crevices along her baseboards and electrical outlet covers. A pest-control expert could chemically treat the walls. She could put her mattresses and box springs in bedbug-resistant encasements, and use bedbug glue monitors on the floors to help her spot bugs.

She could also get in touch with her neighbors and express her anxiety that should a bedbug problem recur, it could easily spread from one rowhouse to the next. A collective response could help reduce that risk.

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“Your daughter won’t be able to get rid of them on her own,” Mr. Newman said. “She and her neighbors, with the assistance of licensed pest-control professionals, will have to work together in a coordinated effort.”

A Neighborhood Fight

A private entity bought several smaller buildings in front of our co-op building with plans to knock them down and build a large tower. While some shareholders oppose a new tower, others support it. The board, however, is leading — and financing — a fight to change neighborhood zoning rules to prevent the tower (or any new tower) from being built. It has funded this effort with hundreds of thousands of dollars from our building’s reserve fund. Can reserves be used to support neighborhood issues? Or must a co-op’s funds be used only to improve the building and its property? If the board is using those funds improperly, what can other shareholders do to get the money back?

Midtown East, Manhattan

Generally, a reserve fund is supposed to pay for capital improvements, like a new boiler. But boards sometimes tap this pot of money to cover emergency expenses. So if your board sees the new tower as a threat to the building, it might argue that financing a neighborhood fight is a good use of that money.

But if the money was earmarked for a specific project, like a new roof, and the board instead funneled it to a pet project, then the board has overstepped its bounds. “If you have a reserve fund that is set aside to put a new roof on the building and all of a sudden the board is dipping into it to pay a lobbyist, that’s a problem,” said Andrew I. Bart, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

Because not all shareholders see this as a battle worth waging, review your governing documents to see if you have any power to stop the board. Are there restrictions about how the board can spend the co-op’s finances? The rules may say that shareholders are required to vote on this sort of discretionary spending. Or the board might need approval from a special committee, or a vote by a majority of the board members. Review the books and records, including board minutes, if you can, to figure out where and how the money was spent and to make sure the board followed the rules.

You may be able to organize other shareholders and call a special meeting to confront the board. If the board did violate co-op rules or acted in bad faith, shareholders could take the board to court to force it to stop spending the money. And if any board members violated their fiduciary duty, they could be held personally liable, Mr. Bart said.

Instead of the board’s draining a building’s reserves to fight for a cause that not all shareholders support, concerned board members and shareholders could enlist the help of the community board and local elected officials who have been involved in the effort to rezone Midtown East.

Abandoned Furniture

I rented a first-floor apartment in 2015. The previous tenant left two Adirondack chairs, a plastic outdoor table and a large pot filled with soil in the backyard. Now I am about to move out. Am I responsible for getting rid of these items?

Upper East Side, Manhattan

When you move out of an apartment, you are usually supposed to return the apartment to the landlord in the same condition it was in when you rented it, except for reasonable wear and tear. So unless your lease says otherwise, you are not responsible for disposing of furniture that was there when you moved in, said David E. Frazer, a Manhattan lawyer who represents tenants.

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