Making a Building Smoke-Free
My co-op is considering making our building nonsmoking, both in the common areas and inside shareholders’ apartments. The rule would apply to all residents, even those who have lived there for years. While I am not a smoker, I am concerned that this might negatively affect resale value. I am also concerned about how this rule would be enforced. Is a rule that prevents smoking in your own home legal? Is it enforceable?
Upper West Side, Manhattan
Secondhand smoke poses serious health hazards, including the smoke that drifts from one apartment to another. This might help explain why more than 60 percent of New York City voters would prefer to live in a smoke-free building, according to a Zogby survey commissioned by NYC Smoke-Free at Public Health Solutions.
“As people learn more about the dangers of secondhand smoke and how it travels, they want to do something about it,” said Patrick Kwan, the director of NYC Smoke-Free.
If your building has 10 or more apartments, smoking in common areas like the hallways, lobby or laundry room violates the Smoke-Free Air Act, a 2002 city law. The law does not apply to outdoor areas or individual apartments. Your co-op could enact stricter rules that prohibit smoking anywhere on the property — including inside apartments. To do this, it would probably have to amend the proprietary lease, a change that usually requires a supermajority vote, like two-thirds of the shares of the corporation, said Robert J. Braverman, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.
If the rule is changed and a shareholder complains to the board about a neighbor who still smokes, the board could inspect that apartment, as most proprietary leases give co-op boards this kind of authority. If the board finds evidence of smoking and the shareholder refuses to comply with the ban, the board could terminate the lease and start eviction proceedings, Mr. Braverman said.
As for sales in your building, a smoking ban might actually help. Fewer than 14 percent of New Yorkers smoke, according to the Health Department. So most buyers are nonsmokers, and many are reluctant to make an offer on an apartment that smells like an ashtray. Smelly hallways could also be a deterrent. Lisa Rose, an agent at Halstead Property, said prospective buyers “get a teeny whiff of the smoke smell and they actually walk out.”
Locked Out of a Building
I live in a doorman co-op building. When the doorman takes a break during the day, a porter steps in for him. But at night, the doorman is alone. So if he needs to step away, he locks the door and leaves a sign that says he will return soon. I understand that the co-op board is concerned about security, but this is our home. Shouldn’t residents be given keys to the building so we can get in and out, if necessary?
Murray Hill, Manhattan
There is a nifty device designed to solve this very problem: It’s called a key. Hand some out and the building will no longer have to go on lockdown every time the doorman needs to use the bathroom.
The current setup is inconvenient, dangerous and potentially illegal. What happens if there is an emergency while the doorman is taking a break? Emergency medical workers could be locked out, or anyone needing to rush out of the building could be trapped inside. The situation might violate a city rule that requires building entrances to be equipped with doors that can be opened from the inside without a key. “It is typical that residents have keys to the front door,” said Jacob Sirotkin, the vice president of Century Management, a property management company.
Write a letter to the board and the managing agent demanding a key. Ask your neighbors to do the same. If your complaints go unanswered, circulate a petition insisting that the board president call a special meeting of the shareholders to address this situation, said Ron Kaplan, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. (Your co-op’s bylaws should explain the procedure.) “I can’t imagine that this shareholder is alone” in being concerned about the situation, he said.
Your building could also upgrade its security system. Many buildings use electronic systems with key fobs or key cards. Some even employ facial recognition technology, said Brian McLaughlin, the president of the SecureCom Group, which installs surveillance systems. “It’s amazing,” Mr. McLaughlin said of the new technology. “It virtually stops unauthorized entrance into the complex.”
A locksmith could find a reasonable option so your doorman no longer has to hang a sign on the door whenever he needs to take a break.
Where a Sidewalk Ends
The sidewalks that run along two luxury high-rises in my neighborhood are split so that the residents of those buildings have what appears to be their own private sidewalk: Planters and fencing separate the public portion of the walkway from the private one. Recently, I was walking my dog along the public sidewalk and had to step onto the private part to avoid a group of schoolchildren. A doorman came outside to tell me to get off the property. Do these buildings really have the right to tell the public to keep off sidewalks?
Turtle Bay, Manhattan
The mysterious sidewalks you described could be privately owned public spaces, commonly known as POPS. The most famous of these is Zuccotti Park, the 2011 birthplace of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
New York City makes deals with developers to allow them to construct larger buildings in exchange for adding a public amenity, like a plaza or an expanded sidewalk, said Deborah B. Koplovitz, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. “POPS are desired by the government as a means to increase light, air and open space for the public in our concrete jungle,” she said.
The public is supposed to have access to these spaces. But many such areas do not feel very public. Property owners are not allowed to prohibit normal use of the area, like walking. They can, however, enforce their own rules.
These rules could restrict activities like dog walking. Such rules should be posted publicly so you can see them. If you think you are being unfairly restricted from use of the walkway, report the situation to 311, and the city could potentially issue violations against the property owner.