A Manhattan Supreme Court judge has awarded a co-op apartment owner more than $120,000 in maintenance and fees after she sued over damage to her place from people smoking in neighboring apartments, which she said also affected her health. Habitat magazine reports that Judge Arthur Engoron wrote in his decision, "This Court...is only saying that if you want to avail yourself of the right to rent out residences, you assume the obligation to insure [sic] that your tenants are not forced to smell and breathe carcinogenic toxins."
Susan Reinhard sued in 2008, saying that the apartment she bought in Connaught Tower on East 54th Street at Second Avenue in 2006 smelled terribly of cigarette smoke.
Real estate lawyers previously wrote in the magazine that Reinhard claimed she noticed the strong scent of cigarette smoke after renovating the apartment, and that it caused her to cough and suffer headaches and watery eyes. When she complained, the building's super reportedly told her that she should re-caulk certain areas, and a managing agent told her the funk wasn't the building's problem.
Thus began a nearly decade-long series of engineer and contractor consultations, arguments with the co-op board, and legal proceedings. Apparently a gap in Reinhard's wall was serving to channel smoke from elsewhere into her apartment and needed to be sealed.
Judge Engoron ruled that the co-op is on the hook for maintenance costs from June 2007 till now, plus interest and attorney fees.
Lawyer Robert Braverman told Habitat the ruling is "groundbreaking." He explained, "What the judge is saying is that landlords, including co-op boards, are going to be responsible that smoke doesn’t pass from one unit to another. I think it’s going to create a lot of discussion within the industry."
In a 2006 case, a Manhattan judge ruled that secondhand smoke is a breach of the "warrant of habitability," a provision of state law that also played into Reinhard's case. It says that landlords or building owners are responsible to maintain "livable, safe and sanitary" apartment conditions. In the years since, smoking bans in condo, co-op, and rental buildings have become more common, and New Yorkers, many of them residing on the Upper East Side, have made headlines by suing and haranguing neighbors over their smoking habits.
Last fall, City Councilmembers and the federal government proposed banning smoking in public housing, which might also provide fodder for the NYPD's stringent enforcement of New York City Housing Authority rules. Rule violations can result in residents' eviction, or provide pretexts not legally available otherwise for searches and questioning.