Q: I’ve been unable to live in my rent-stabilized apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, because of a bedbug infestation. The landlord hired an exterminator, who has come three times, but the bedbugs are still there. The exterminator said they might be resistant to the chemical spray. My lease isn’t up until September, and I want out of it, though I have a roommate. My landlord has refused, unless I get someone to take over the lease, but I can’t do that while it’s still infested. This experience has been mentally and financially debilitating. Is there a way out of the lease?
A: You can decide to leave and break your lease, in which case your landlord would be legally required to try to re-rent the apartment. But you would be responsible for the outstanding rent in the meantime — that is, unless a housing court ruled that this infestation was intolerable enough for you to break the lease without penalty, said David A. Kaminsky, a real estate lawyer in Manhattan.
If you leave and your roommate is included on the lease, your landlord could sue you and the roommate to recover the funds. If your roommate pays, they could in turn sue you for the funds, said Ami Shah, deputy director of the citywide housing practice at Legal Services NYC, which provides legal services for low-income New Yorkers.
Rather than breaking the lease, you could try to negotiate an early exit. If you’re successful, get an agreement in writing so you have proof that the landlord approved it. If you move out without an agreement and the landlord sues, you could use the bedbug issue as a defense. Just be sure to retain evidence of the infestation, such as photos and videos, as well as receipts for any costs that you incur related to it.
But a rent-stabilized apartment is valuable, so you might reconsider your desire to leave. You could continue to work with the landlord on a rent abatement, as you have been unable to inhabit this apartment. If the landlord refuses, that’s when you bring a case in housing court asking for repairs, known as an HP proceeding, Ms. Shah said. A court can order the landlord to remedy the conditions, and a rent abatement can be part of a settlement agreement.
Your landlord has been cooperative with efforts to rid your apartment of bedbugs, so perhaps you can try an alternate treatment.
“It’s hard to see what strain of bedbugs are resistant to what chemical,” said Luis Balseca, owner of All Out Bed Bug Exterminators in New York City. For this reason, Mr. Balseca uses a fungal treatment called Aprehend, which he has found to be more effective than chemical sprays on all strains of bedbugs.
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