Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

It Just Bugs Me

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Total Black: $2,255.14
Total Red: $230,648.00

As typical of the past few months, I was awoken again this morning by the telephone ringing.  The first caller was SallieMae at 8:57am.  Surprisingly, however, the second caller was not.  SallieMae often calls from two different telephone numbers so they effectively call you twice as often.  Not sure how legal that is.  But today, the second call came from the landlord’s management company.  The letter I mentioned in Bring It On seems to have brought something on because within a half-hour of the landlord’s management company calling, their attorney telephoned as well.  His message indicated that he’d do his best to try to get the lawsuit for non-payment of rent discontinued.  Later in the day I received an email from the attorney slightly retracting that earlier message, claiming that I had said I’d be paid in full by this time and I’m not yet.  He also noted that they’re “looking into” my other complaint.  I replied and referenced only the financial issues and clarified that September’s rent had already been sent in, and should have been received already, and that half of October’s rent was coming.  Later in the day I received another telephone call, this time from someone else with the management company, telling me that he heard I had a “problem” with the apartment and he wanted to talk to me about it.  Isn’t it interesting that my “problem” all of a sudden is a concern of theirs?

In 2004 a landlord was sued for breach of the warranty of habitability because of bedbugs in a tenant’s apartment.  That cBedbugsase, Ludlow Properties, LLC v. Young, tipped the scales of justice in the tenant’s favor.  Up until then, bedbugs were not viewed as the landlord’s responsibility since, it was argued, tenants, or even guests of tenants, or anyone really, could bring bedbugs into the apartment.  Roaches and other rodents like mice or rats, they actively seek out buildings for its warmth and food-sources.  Bedbugs must be brought in.  So, bedbugs were blamed, effectively if not actually, on tenants. That’s all true, but the fact that anyone can bring them in means that it can’t be a problem of the tenant.  The bugs could be in the corner of a package you received in the mail.  You might have picked one up from the seat on the bus from the person who sat there before you.  They could even come in on a guest visiting someone else in the buildings.  Perhaps your mail carrier is carrying more than the mail.  What makes the problem so vicious is that bedbugs have been known to go long spans without eating, up to a year according to a 2006 New York Times article by Sewell Chan notes, “Everything You Need to Know About Bedbugs but Were Afraid to Ask.”  And New York City in particular has been really badly affected.  So, it just bugs me—pardon the intentional pun—that the landlord and their agents just decide to respond to my concerns when I threaten to sue for damages.  I don’t understand why people have to be threatened to do the right thing.

It’s unfortunate, but much of personal injury law is based on the unwillingness of businesses to do what’s right: to put warnings on certain products, to remove harmful chemicals or substances from certain products, to properly test others before putting them into the market.  So too here with bedbugs.  I complained to the building superintendent about a week after I moved in.  Believe it or not, I was afraid to tell them anything.  I thought it my fault somehow.  Bedbugs seem to come with dirt and filth.  At least that’s what we think of when we think of pests and rodents.  Turns out, actually, that bedbugs used to be a problem of the rich, not the poor, because the poor couldn’t afford to keep their homes warm enough in the winter; the cold would kill the bugs.  At any rate, once I told the landlord’s management company about the problem, they should have acted upon it.  A fellow tenant warned me of the problem as I was moving in, telling me that the prior occupant of my apartment moved out because of health complications from the bedbugs.  So the landlord was put on notice by me, if not by others in the building, yet nothing has happened.  It’s not like the bugs just go away.  I believe I effectively banished them from my apartment but that was only after spending nearly the entire month of October, November, and part of December working at it.  I sprayed and washed everything.  I caulked corners where the walls met because I saw the bedbugs crawling between apartments.  Then I painted the walls to squash and kill any left behind.  Plus I needed to cover up the fecal trails left behind as they crawled along the wall and the bloodstains as I caught, and sometimes squashed the bedbugs, bursting someone’s blood onto my walls.  I shellacked the brick walls in my apartment—both bedroom and kitchen area—to kill any bugs in the crevices and hopefully close up any holes.  My internal clock got reprogrammed to wake me at 4am because that’s when the bugs seem to feed.  Since moving in I’ve washed all clothes, light and dark, in hot water because only high temperatures kill them.  More than a few times I found dead bedbugs in the lint in the dryers.  Of course, any time I have, I also forgot to empty it beforehand, so it left me unsure whether those corpses came from my apartment or someone else’s.  My skin has become hypersensitive so that the slightest brush of those fine hairs anywhere on the body has me thinking something’s crawling there.  It’s like I have terminal heebie-jeebies.  And all this only scratches the surface of what I went through last Fall.

So, given all that.  I wonder now whether I out to just say screw it all and proceed with the legal action brought by the landlord.  Despite being on time, and oftentimes months in advance—because I used the severance package to pre-pay my rent a few times, this is how a paying client is treated.  In the Ludlow case I mentioned above, the landlord had to pay back 45% of the rent in an abatement.  As an attorney, I view litigation as the last resort.  I suppose I’m a rare in that regard.  But this time, the landlord has pushed my hand and doesn’t seem to care about my particular situation.  I doubt that my month behind is bankrupting them.  With rents dropping in New York like flies in Fall, one would think the landlord would be too happy to have a quiet, responsible tenant.  Instead, I’m dragged to court.  Imagine what would happen if credit card companies ran to court every time we were thirty days late?  Or any other creditor?  I don’t know why it’s different for landlords.  One or two months behind and they get to kick you out on your ass.  That’s another thing that bugs me.

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