PHA Liable for Unit’s Bedbug Infestation
Facts: Household members sued the local PHA, alleging that the PHA was negligent because it failed to eradicate a bedbug infestation condition. The residents claimed that the condition began in 2012 and continued to date. The PHA admitted that the unit had bedbugs on and off over a period of time, but denied any liability. The residents asked the court for a ruling on the issue of the PHA’s liability for failing to eradicate bedbugs in the unit.
New York City law creates a warranty of habitability with regard to landlord-tenant relationships. Case law has established that the PHA is subject to the warranty of habitability. And the residents alleged a breach of the warranty of habitability by failing to eradicate the bedbug condition in their unit. The PHA claimed that there was no breach of the warranty of habitability either because it took all reasonable steps to eradicate the bedbug infestation or that the condition was caused by one or more of the household members.
The record didn’t show that the PHA acted in a way to indicate that the residents caused the infestation. There was no indication that the PHA ever undertook to terminate the residents’ tenancy for violating the lease terms or for creating a nuisance.
Ruling: A New York state court ruled in favor of the residents.
Reasoning: The law makes eradication of bedbugs in apartments the obligation of the owner. The court stated that this obligation is mandatory and cannot be waived, and that the PHA, in spite of its efforts, failed to eradicate the bedbugs.
The testimony of the PHA employees and the experts led the court to the conclusion that the PHA’s efforts, though perhaps well intentioned, were inadequate. For instance, the experts and exterminator all testified that the best practice is to remove switch plates, outlet covers, moldings, and other areas that commonly serve as harborage for bedbugs prior to spraying insecticides. The PHA doesn’t do this before applying pesticides. The court questioned how eradication could be successful if the industry-accepted protocols aren’t followed.
Also, PHA witnesses testified that unless there’s a complaint from an adjacent apartment, that apartment won’t be fumigated at the same time. Because the experts testified that bedbugs migrate and will leave one apartment if possible after fumigation, when the insecticide wears off, the bedbugs can return to the first apartment.
Also, the PHA’s expert, an entomologist familiar with the breeding habits and lifestyle of bedbugs, opined that after the initial treatment, a second application should be made within 10 days to two weeks for optimum results. There was nothing in the PHA’s work order records to establish that this procedure was followed.
- Aponte v. New York City Housing Authority, October 2016