Q&A: What to Do About Neighbor's Roaches and Mice?

By Mark S. Einhorn

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Q Do you have any information on what to do about a neighbor who admittedly has a problem with cockroaches and occasionally mice? I moved into a new unit about a month ago. I had an exterminator before I even moved in, and after a month, I found a roach in my apartment. My private exterminator advised that as long as my neighbor’s unit is infested I will have a problem.

I’ve approached management about this issue, and have been told that they can’t do anything unless my neighbor lets them in. I’ve spoken with my neighbor, but I am concerned that he has no intention of cleaning up and letting the building management come in to exterminate. Can you please tell me what my rights are? Doesn’t management have the right to go into a unit for sanitary reasons? What about the health and cleanlinessof the rest of the units on the floor?

— Bugged out by Neighbor

A This is a great question, as it presents the often-frustrating example of what to do when your neighbor’s lifestyle starts to impact your life. Many people appreciate the courtesy of trying to address the issue with them before a third party is involved, which can lead very quickly to hard feelings. But as you have found, the open, direct approach does not always work. Under the Massachusetts Condominium Statute, the managing board has a right of access to any unit for the purpose of maintaining, repairing, and replacing any of the common areas or facilities that are accessible from the unit, orfor making emergency repairs necessary to prevent damage to the common areas or other units.

Because an infestation in your neighbor’s unit puts the entire building at risk of becoming infested, the board could request access to the unit under the statute for the purpose of performing exterminating.

In addition, many condominium documents contain provisions which grant the managing board the right to mandate that an owner perform maintenance or repair work if the condition of the unit poses a hazard or nuisance to other residents. Clearly, if the unit is infested with cockroaches and/or mice, that condition constitutes an ongoing nuisance and a health hazard to all of the residents in the building. This type of provision is typically found in the Bylaws or Declaration of Trust, and usually states a time period by which the owner must comply with the demand. If the owner fails to comply with the board’s demand, most provisions grantthe board the right to access the unit for the purpose of performing the repair (or in this case, the extermination) and charge the cost of doing that to the unit owner’s account.

Lastly, if the managing board refusesto take action on its own, as an abutting owner, you could also pursue a private nuisance claim against your neighbor. You may also report the matter to the local health inspector and try to enlist that agency’s help in compelling the owner to clean up and exterminate the unit.

— Mark S. Einhorn, Esq.

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