Stubbed Out?

Friday, June 1, 2018

Progressives cheered at the recent news that Mayor Bill De Blasio will direct the NYPD to no longer arrest pot smokers. But don’t confuse the mayor’s policy change with a pro-smoking agenda. While De Blasio has signaled his distaste for the policing of the Giuliani and Bloomberg years, his actions on smoking have largely been a continuation of his predecessor’s. In 2003, as one of his first acts in office, Mayor Bloomberg banned smoking in all restaurants and bars. Further restrictions would soon follow—among them bans on smoking in public spaces, on flavored tobacco products and on the sale of cigarettes to those under 21 years old.

And De Blasio has picked up where Mayor Mike left off. Starting in July, the city’s public housing units will ban smoking in their common areas. And in August, an even bigger change is coming: a rule that all co-op and condo buildings adopt a formal smoking policy. That doesn’t necessarily mean a ban—indeed, a building could probably even mandate that all residents smoke a pack a day, though its hard to imagine such a proviso holding up in court. But it’s hard to imagine that buildings will create fewer restrictions.

To some, this is welcome news, and will make it easier to deal with disrespectful neighbors. “Once someone is in a building, it’s really difficult to evict them,” said real estate broker Wendy Sarasohn. “So it’s best to interview them ahead of time to find out if they’re a smoker or a ballroom tap dancer or something else that makes them not a good neighbor.”

But for others (smokers, specifically), the new rules seem like one more step toward a total smoking ban. Elliott Meisel, a lawyer who specializes in cooperative and condominium law, thinks that few buildings will ban smoking outright, though some boards have looked into it. Rather, most will favor policies that make it easier to sanction smelly neighbors. Meisel has suggested that these buildings adopt language like this into their bylaws:

“(a) all doors from the apartment to any interior portion of the building are equipped with sweeps and other insulating material to prevent the emission of smoke, fumes or odors into such areas: (b) during any time such smoking is taking place a fan or other negative pressure device is operation venting any smoke, fumes or odors to the exterior of the building whether through a window or other opening, and such smoke, fumes or odors are directed sufficiently away from the building so they are not detectible in other apartments or areas of the building; and (c) in the event of any complaints by any occupants of the building, staff or other interested parties about smoke, fumes or odors created by such smoking, no further smoking shall be permitted in such apartment unless and until measures have been taken satisfactory to the Board that the offending conditions have been mitigated.”

But whatever the policy, it seems clear that smoking laws are already affecting the housing market “I recently was showing a couple from Mexico an apartment in Manhattan House,” Sarasohn said. “As we were leaving the fellow said ‘Is smoking permitted in this building?’ I told them it wasn’t and he said, “OK, we’re not interested.’ They didn’t smoke, but the wife wanted the option to have a cigarette, occasionally.” 

“Bill and Chir [De Blasio] live maintenance free in Gracie Mansion, and they have  a private home in Brooklyn,” says a Beekman Place co-op owner.  “Lots of people have heard the rumor–who knows if it’s true but I’d like to think it is–that the reason the fence around Gracie Mansion got raised is because they smoke a lot of weed and didn’t want the clouds bothering their neighbors.  Or is it alerting?  Never mind.  Point is, someone paid to raise that fence.  So I know it’s stoner logic but let’s say it’s true they indulge. I hate cigarette smoke. I stopped tobacco smoking twenty years ago. But I love it when we have a dinner party and someone breaks out a joint for the guests who indulge.  It’s almost legal, right?  And I don’t want some co-op nanny telling me they have to step outside.  I don’t think the De Blasios mean to be behaving like Nurse Ratchet. I’m a grown up: I don’t need or want a nanny.  And I certainly don’t want some co-op Nazi telling me I can’t sell my apartment to a Chinese guy who likes a cigarette.” 

What’s the middle ground? “There are very few people who smoke today—two or three, if that,” a board member at an East 60s co-op says. “It’s already a moot question. We have so many [more] important things that we do on our board, so the idea that we must abide–with regulations–by some sociological view of smoking where none are needed? It’s just absurd.”


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