Dear neighbor: You can’t smoke here
Jan 2011 18

Your home is your castle, right?

Mm – to a certain point.

If you live in a single-family home, sure, you can do pretty much whatever you please inside your four walls.

Many people are surprised this isn’t always the case when you rent an apartment or live in a condominium.

Here’s a brief entry from a NYC website:

An Upper East Side couple is suing their neighbor for generating so much secondhand smoke that it’s seeping into their co-op unit at 501 East 79th Street, the Post reported. Though cigar smoker Harry Dale said he’s done everything to appease his neighbors — taking most of his smoke breaks outside, using air cleaners and hiring a specialist to try to seal off his apartment — neighbors Russell and Amanda Pose are suing him in Manhattan Supreme Court, accusing him of “maliciously” and “spitefully” trying to smoke them out.

Yeah, about that. You see, if you do something in your condominium that bothers someone in another condominium, you could face a lot of trouble. Usually it doesn’t end up becoming a lawsuit, but it might.

You see, you can actually be forbidden to smoke in your apartment or condo. Inside. Not just outside (although that’s likely, too). The condo docs can forbid smoking inside any units. Your apartment lease can forbid smoking anywhere on the premises.

And, in fact, even if the condo docs don’t mention it, they can be modified to forbid smoking, if enough other owners vote in favor. Voting rules and regulations can be found in the condo bylaws.

Hopefully, it would never come to that in your condo building. If you have a neighbor who smokes and you don’t like it, you should contact him or her to see if you can work out a compromise. Options are: smoking only on the balcony, smoking outside, or, if it would work for you, smoking only in one room (say, the bathroom, while the fan is going).

No one likes confrontation which is why things like this get out of hand. A simple conversation, in person, on the phone, or by email, can help. (No doubt, email is the worst way to do this; it leaves too much to interpretation.)

Threatening a lawsuit will do nothing more than inflame the situation. Same goes for threatening a change to the condo docs.

Still, keep in mind, those options do exist.

The obvious question is: what recourse do people have if a neighbor violates the smoking ban? For apartments, I would assume the landlord can kick out the offender. Better to lose just the one offender than losing other renters. For condos, I just don’t know. I would ask a lawyer. He/she would know. I bet you could fine the offender each month that it goes on. If the owner doesn’t pay that part of the condo fees, and eventually owes a significant amount, you could petition the court to force the owner to sell in order to collect the “past due” condo fees.

That would be a mess.

Would I do it? Yeah, if it went on long enough.

More: Couple sues neighbor over smoking in co-op, The Real Deal

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