Landlord (and city inspector) won't step up re: moth infestation

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Jul 30, 2019
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#1
Long post--sorry!

I rent an apartment in a large-ish building (not owner-occupied). My landlord has been slackening on eradicating a pantry and clothing moth infestation in my apartment, other apartments, and the back hallway (common area). The infestation started in June 2018--over a year ago. Since then, I've caught hundreds of moths (in pheromone traps) in my apartment and the back hallway. The back hallway, in particular, is Moth Central.

Last year my landlord hired an exterminator whose treatments came w/ a 90-day warranty. The exterminator inspected and treated my apartment, my immediate next-door-neighbor's, and the back hallway--that's it. After the warranty ended, the infestation persisted, but my landlord refused to spend more money. The exterminator felt the infestation persisted b/c the moths were feeding on something that was not removed--but my landlord refused to inspect other apartments or tenant storage cabinets/closets in the back hallway.

I called the city's inspectional services department, and they sent an inspector. She cited my landlord—and then retracted her citation b/c, she claimed, she needed to see live moths, not dead moths caught on pheromone traps. (I checked the state building code, which does *not* require that inspections turn up live pests.)

Given my landlord's and the city’s lack of cooperation, when this past spring rolled around, the moth problem re-escalated. I called my landlord’s office, and my landlord's brother/partner told me, "I don't want to hear it" and "Just leave." That's the attitude I'm dealing with.

Surprisingly, after dawdling and lying to me, my landlord did send an exterminator to inspect my unit and the back hallway. Based on the exterminator's recommendation, my landlord *finally* agreed to have other apartments, and back-hall storage cabinets/closets, inspected. The exterminator found evidence of moth activity in other apartments and back-hall storage closets. My landlord *finally* agreed to have my apartment, other apartments, back hallway, and tenant storage closets exterminated. The extermination took place 6.24.19--a whole month after my landlord’s brother/partner said, "I don't want to hear it." A month's delay in treating an escalating infestation is inexcusable and violates state building code.

Despite the 6.24.19 extermination, the moth infestation is worsening. The exterminator's 6.25.19 invoice said, "Follow up in 3 weeks." That was 5 weeks ago, and my landlord has yet to schedule another extermination. This, despite my telling the landlord several times that the problem persists. This, despite the fact that the 6.24.19 extermination came with a 90-day warranty (meaning my landlord needn't spend more money on follow-up exterminations through end of Sept). Bottom line: there's been just 1 extermination in the 2 months since I told my landlord's office that the problem had resurfaced.

I contacted the city's inspectional services dept again. I escalated to the head honcho, who, thankfully, agreed that state code does not require that the inspection turn up live pests; moths on traps are sufficient evidence of infestation.

The city sent an inspector to check my apartment and the back hallway on 7.23.19. She seemed sympathetic--couldn't believe the infestation has lasted over a year, said I shouldn't have to live this way.

BUT her letter to my landlord gave him 25 days (till Aug 20) to correct the problem. This is no way to address an active infestation, and it appears to violate state code, too. Therefore, I submitted a “petition” in writing for a hearing before the city’s Board of Health. I called the chair of the Board of Health, but he did not return my call.

Apparently, I’m being cast as a villain for wanting to live in normal conditions.

I’ve been told that my only recourse is going to housing court, but that involves yet more stress, time, and expense. Plus, court proceedings are a matter of public record, and I don’t want a future prospective landlord to worry that I’m a trouble-maker. Plus, what if I lose? My landlord has been pretty wily. He’s doing just enough so he can wave a paid invoice in a judge's face and say, "See, I paid for exterminations!" I believe he won’t go further b/c he wants me to leave—and because he’s lazy and has no skin in the game (doesn’t live in the building).

What else can I do? THANKS!

PS I’ve spent a fortune on dry cleaning, peva containers for my clothes, moth traps, pesticide, an exterminator my landlord wouldn’t pay for . . . the list goes on. Would be great if I could recoup some costs.
 
Jul 30, 2019
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#3
Unfortunately it seems like you have done everything you can to try to get assistance and housing court may be your only recourse.

Thanks, Neil.

1) Can an advocate intercede? I know you intercede with other businesses.

2) Also, how can I edit my post? I saw a typo.

--Moth Lady
 
Jul 30, 2018
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#4
The purpose of this forum is to give consumers the tools they need to resolve their own consumer problem. The process involves writing to the company contacts with a grievance and propose a reasonable solution. The idea is to create a paper trail of communication. After writing all of the contacts, if their has been no desired solution, then you can request an advocate evaluate the paper trail for further assistance. However, this forum does not provide legal advice or legal services. Based on your narrative, your issue is now a legal matter since you filed a complaint with the board of health. At this point all you can do is wait the process out since the landlord has a few weeks to answer the complaint. Most likely, the landlord will have no further contact with you in order to avoid further implicating themselves. Sorry this is happening to you.
 

Patina

Verified Member
Dec 22, 2015
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#6
I am going to suggest going a different route....any chance you would be willing to solve the problem on your own? I read about repelling moths naturally by using sachets filled with dried lavender or cotton balls dipped in lavender essential oil. This won't solve the problem in other people's apartments but could very well solve it in your own space. It also appears that you need to clean everything that could potentially give larvae a place to thrive such as cardboard boxes, etc. While the landlord appears to be sitting on his hands on this issue, there are things that you can be doing (that he cannot since its your space/possessions) to help eradicate them from your own space. When you buy items stored in boxes, remove the items from the boxes before they enter your home. Store things like clothing and food in plastic bins rather than cardboard. If they don't have a place to lay eggs, the problem should disappear in your own space.
 
Mar 23, 2015
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#13
I don't have a lot of advice, but I DO have sympathy! Years ago we lived in New Mexico and there was a huge moth INVASION that year. Open the mailbox and hundreds would fly out. Start the car, they'd literally come out of the vents. I'd spend a half hour or more each night before bed with a vacuum cleaner sucking them out of the curtains, window sills and corners of the bedroom before I could sleep, etc... Ugh. I developed a huge aversion to them to this day! They're destructive and GROSS!! Our cat did seem to enjoy them, but she was the only one... Have you tried videotaping the area to really show your landlord(s) the magnitude of the problem? Maybe they see it as "just some moths" and don't get it... Some people think they're just like butterflies or something, I think... cuz they don't seem as "icky" as roaches or spiders. I really wish you the BEST of luck with this. I know how awful a moth invasion can be!!
 
Apr 23, 2018
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#16
I agree with @Patina in that there possibly are things you can do to disinfect your own apartment. We had to do it with Indian Meal moths several years ago. The first thing you have to do is identify the species causing the problem. Perhaps you could contact the exterminator to get that information. Otherwise, check your dead moths against pictures on the web. Various websites (Orkin comes to mind) publish information on how to handle different species. The process may require you to destroy or throw out food, clothing, etc. We had to do a lot of this.
 

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
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www.promalvacations.com
#17
My suggestion is to move. If you are a tenant at will just give the landlord the required notice, and if you have a lease look for a clause that allows you to terminate or ask the landlord to cancel the lease or not renew when the lease is up.
That is not the optimal answer. The OP might have been in this place a long time or have a rent controlled apartment and moving is not practical. I would get an exterminator and then take the amount I paid off the rent.
 
Aug 29, 2018
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#18
My suggestion is to move. If you are a tenant at will just give the landlord the required notice, and if you have a lease look for a clause that allows you to terminate or ask the landlord to cancel the lease or not renew when the lease is up.
There can be issues with moving. It is plausible this is a rent controlled apartment, in which case moving would result in a market rate for rent, potentially huge increase for a comparable space.

The location may be convenient for where the poster works.

It may be hard to locate a comparable space in a reasonable distance.

It may be costly to just pick up and move, depending on the person's possession.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
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#19
My suggestion is to move. If you are a tenant at will just give the landlord the required notice, and if you have a lease look for a clause that allows you to terminate or ask the landlord to cancel the lease or not renew when the lease is up.
I'd like to think that we can do better than advise you to move, MothLady. Seems to me that you would have moved if that were a viable option. My colleagues have given lots of good advice and different ideas to solve the problem. I hope that you are able to solve it ... please let us know.
 
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Jul 30, 2019
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#20
So sorry for the very delayed response! The forum never notified me of all your replies, despite my checking the box "receive email notifications." I truly appreciate your concern and advice. To answer your questions:

* Regarding steps to take inside my apartment: Done and done. I've dumped pantry food, placed new food in air-tight containers, sent clothes out for dry cleaning and hot-water washing, placed all clothes in Peva bins and hanging "cages," vacuumed like crazy, etc. SPENT A FORTUNE. But here's the thing: the infestation is likely coming from another unit (perhaps hoarder neighbor?) or maybe the crawl space above the back hallway (common area) or . . . who knows? That's why the landlord must do more to locate and eradicate/remove the source of the problem.

* I've spoken to a few attorneys. Going to court is stressful, time-consuming, and costly. And it's a matter of public record. Don't want a future prospective landlord to search for me online and see that I've been either the plaintiff or the defendant (the latter can happen if I withhold, or deduct from, rent).

* I've considered going to the media. But I'd have the same concern about going public. Plus, would a future prospective landlord be concerned that I'd bring the moths with me?

* I looked and looked for a new place, but the market here is crazy pricey, plus there are those pesky moving expenses . . . Also, I'd be concerned about bringing moths with me to my new place. There are other reasons I want to stay where I am.

There've been a few new wrinkles since I first posted. They involve not only my landlord, but also city inspectional services and an exterminator. Bottom line: Since the one and only extermination this summer (which was back in June), my monitors/traps have caught 280--and counting--new moths in my apartment and the back hallway (common area). I took videos of moths in their death throes on the traps *and* videos of moths flying around. Nothing seems to make a difference. When it comes to my landlord and city hall: denial ain't just a river in Egypt.