My room has bedbugs. My landlord refuses to cover the costs of extermination, on the grounds that they've never had this problem before. Do I push it, or let it go? Complication: my landlord is not actually my landlord.
posted by Ashen to Human Relations (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Before reading on, please know that all parties now currently reside in NJ. Nothing in my lease describes how pests of any kind are handled.
1) The actual property owner is a 92 year-old woman; while tenants' rent payments and security deposits go into her account, she does not manage the property in any way. All communication in relation to the property and the status of the tenants, and the collection of all rent and water utility payments, are managed by X, her daughter. X is the one who does occasional visits to the house, replaces smoke detectors, etc.
2) When communicating with X about issues, X's default response (documented) has been to immediately place blame on the tenants. Upon moving in, for example, I discovered that the fridge was covered in mold, was filled with items that had expired, and there were rotting produce in pantry shelf corners. It took me 5 hours to sort through, then sterilize, the fridge. I casually mentioned this to the landlord, who replied with "some things are out of my control. There's nothing I could have done about it." She responded similarly when I informed her, a month later, that ants had destroyed our food in the pantry and that we may need an exterminator if home remedies didn't work. It is for this reason that, when a mouse ran past me on my bed in the middle of the night, I didn't say anything right away, and instead spent tons of money laying a variety of traps and poisons. When I finally DID inform her of the mice (after discovering mice feces under couch cushions, on pantry shelves, and in cupboards), she recommended luring them out with peanut butter and vanilla.
3) When a bedbug ran across my leg last week, I immediately stripped my bed, heat-treated the sheets, and informed X of what I'd seen. X called an exterminator company before providing me with the number, and informed me of the cost of treating my room. By that point, I was fully aware that NJ law requires landlords to cover the costs of bedbug extermination, and so I pushed back against her claims that my guests (one of which was bitten over the weekend) were unhygienic, and that my lack of cleanliness brought them into the house. When I attempted to clarify who covered the cost, X told me that "[her mother] should not have to shoulder any part of the burden of this; it is enough that her house has now been introduced to bedbugs."
4) I've never, in the history of my living in apartments, dealt with this problem before. The rooms were not treated or properly cleaned in between tenants and subletters, although X told me that no one has ever complained about anything to her before. It's wholly possible that bedbugs were brought in before my August move-in, through a subletter, but either lay dormant or never fed on me (because I was never home for long enough). It is also possible that a bedbug was brought into my room on one of my shoes, or my bag. I mention both possibilities because culpability is NOT as clear-cut as X claimed it to be. And even IF bedbugs were drawn to filth, I dust and clean my room bi-weekly and use industrial-grade cleaner on my walls and surfaces (a by-product of my anxiety; I do it as a form of self-care). I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, unclean.
I don't know how fruitful it would be to pursue the costs of extermination ($374.50) in court. While I know for a fact that my house meets the minimum requirements for a landlord to be responsible for extermination, I don't know if X can be considered the de facto landlord. If she CAN'T, then I'd rather cut my losses: I cannot bring myself to sue a 92-year-old woman. Furthermore, X informed me during this exchange that her mother was in hospice care, which makes me even more inclined to swallow the cost and move forward.
$374.50 is a huge financial hardship for me, to the point where I'm quickly running out of food with no way to replace it. Putting down half of it today, as required by the exterminator, means that I can't pay bills, buy groceries, OR pay the rest of my rent in a timely fashion. Until I slept at my boyfriend's house last night (after heat-treating the clothes on my back, my backpack and other items for 2 hours to prevent carrying bedbugs), I had been awake without naps for 3 days. I have not been sleeping consistently since the mice problem (November), and I'm pretty pissed off.
Do I consult a lawyer, or do I let this go?