Q: I have been dealing with an infestation of mice for three months, and I’m at my wit’s end. I’m 70 years old and have lived in my rent-stabilized apartment in Manhattan for 35 years. I’ve discovered mounds of mouse feces behind my sofa, under radiators and in the kitchen. I demanded that the stove be replaced, which it was, but another mouse died somewhere in the new oven and management is refusing to replace that oven. They sent an exterminator to put down poison boxes, and someone else came to close up holes, to no avail. I’ve called 311 and three housing inspectors have been here. I have also consulted a lawyer, but realized I can’t afford one. I am sickened from inhaling mouse feces, and I think my landlord would be happy if I left so they could have the apartment back.
A: The infestation you describe can indeed be hazardous to your health, but you don’t have to put up with it.
“All landlords must follow the law and make sure apartments aren’t overrun by pests because New Yorkers deserve a healthy, safe place to call home,” said Natasha Kersey, deputy press secretary for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
City laws protect tenants from living with insects, mice and rats, because these vermin can spoil your food, damage your home and make asthma and allergies worse.
You have exhausted the first two steps, which are reaching out to the landlord and calling 311 to make a complaint. If the landlord fails to correct a violation by the date issued by the housing inspector, you can file what’s called an HP proceeding in the housing court in your borough. Agencies in every borough provide free legal assistance for tenants who qualify, though many tenants represent themselves for proceedings in which they are seeking repairs. To strengthen your case, save photos, videos and documentation of your correspondence with your landlord and superintendent.
Ami Shah, deputy director of Legal Services NYC’s citywide housing practice, which provides free legal help to low-income New Yorkers, said that housing court proceedings are helpful in resolving these kinds of situations. That’s because a judge issues deadlines for the landlord to act, the repairs are monitored, and the landlord faces fines if the issue is not fixed. If the landlord does not comply, you can pursue civil penalties.
Housing court helps remind landlords that they are accountable to the city, not just to you.
“They have to fix it,” Ms. Shah said.
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