My mother, who died this past July, did not suffer fools gladly and, when something seemed wrong, she didn’t mince words. “That’s stupid,” she would say in her pronounced Greek accent. “Really stupid.”I wonder what she would have made of the recent goings-on at a small, self-managed Manhattan cooperative. From what I have learned, the board president came home to find a long-winded message on his home answering machine.
“Hey, I’m just calling to tell you that, last week, we noticed we had gotten some bites, and we were concerned that we had bed bugs. We had someone come and inspect and apparently we do have some bed bugs in our apartment. So, we are going to be taking care of it. My sister-in-law is going to be helping us out. She was there yesterday with the inspectors to look at what was going on. We do think we have bed bugs. We have them, but we’re going to take care of them as soon as possible, like next week.”
Now, was this shareholder acting responsibly? To a point. He was taking some steps to deal with the problem. But, probably because of the stigma associated with bed bugs, he waited an awfully long time before notifying the board (one week is an eternity of breeding in bed bug world). Rather than waiting and/or trying to handle the issue himself – as though he were dealing with roaches or ants – he should have brought in the board.
If, in fact, he had bed bugs, it was his responsibility to let the directors know so that they could conduct their own investigation. That’s important because the board, ultimately, has the legal responsibility to deal with this issue. Under a new protocol for issuing violations, the city now requires owners and managers of properties where bed bug infestations have been identified to inspect and treat units on either side of and above and below the bed-bug-infested unit, to use a licensed pest control professional to treat the infestation, and to employ a variety of treatment strategies rather than depending on chemical pesticides alone. Where bed bugs persist, or occur in multiple apartments in the same building, the health department will require owners to take several additional pest removal steps (i.e., notify residents that bed bugs have been identified in the building, and develop and distribute a building-wide pest-management plan to all residents).
There are penalties for non-compliance. Building owners who are repeat offenders must have a licensed exterminator complete an Affidavit of Correction of Pest Infestation. Owners who fail to provide this will be issued a violation and be required to appear at a hearing before the city’s Environmental Control Board, where fines may be issued, and non-compliant owners may end up with liens on their buildings, which was not possible before.
This co-op knew that – and had, once upon a time, gone down to the Department of Buildings to get a lien lifted (a Byzantine process to be avoided at all costs) – and swung into action as soon as it got the report. An inspector with a bed-bug-sniffing dog was scheduled to come the very next day and, as the law required, all the adjoining apartments were to be inspected. The residents were notified as well.
Then, everything was turned upside down. The super, who had dealt with the same problem at another building, talked to the owner with the afflicted apartment. So did the board president. Now he was singing a different tune. Maybe there weren’t bed bugs. Maybe they were mosquito bites. What about the inspection he had conducted? Well, the bed-bug-sniffing dog had barked at the couch, but it was all deemed inconclusive.
The board canceled the multiple inspections and just had the “afflicted” unit examined. No bed bugs were found.
The board got kudos from many of the shareholders for its fast response. And as for the owner who cried wolf? Well, as my mother would have said, “It’s stupid, just stupid.”
HABITAT, September 2011