Q: There’s a co-op not far from where I live on the Upper West Side that backs up to a building with rat holes in it and the rats come out of them. Contacted the management company, they responded but don’t seem to be doing anything. If the owners or management company are alerted to these problems and do not address them, what should be done? I’m sure the city has something to say, but can a citizen file a civil lawsuit against a building? What to do if someone is bitten by one of the rats?
A: First, notify the city by calling 311 or by filling out a online complaint form. Many city agencies respond to rodent complaints based on where the pests have taken up residence and who owns the building.
Then get in line. As of early August, more than 25,100 complaints about rodents, including rats and mice, had been filed this year — a number expected to exceed the roughly 31,600 complaints in 2019, before the pandemic, according to city data. You can also check the status of the property inspection in the city “Rat Information Portal”.
If the problem is not resolved, the health department may issue a summons and may order an exterminator at the property owner’s expense, an agency spokesman said.
Litigation should be a last resort because the process can be expensive and time-consuming, with no guarantee of a positive outcome, said Stephen D. Sladkus, a partner at Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas. But if the problem persists and management doesn’t respond, a co-op resident can sue for breach of the property’s lease, the contract that outlines the corporation’s obligations to maintain the building and protect the premises — including from rodents.
Mr. Sladkus saw in such contracts vague promises, such as an assignment to maintain a “prime residential building,” he said. “And rats aren’t even close to first grade.”
A nearby co-op board or even a single aggrieved neighbor can also file a nuisance lawsuit to try to force the owner to fix the problem, Mr. Sladkus said.
Record the building’s actions to correct the problem. If a resident was bitten by a rat on the property and the co-op knew about the infestation but didn’t take action, that could be grounds for a personal injury lawsuit, “just like there would be a bare wire or a broken step,” he said.
But most co-ops are likely to take action before a lawsuit, especially if other residents become involved.