The Smell of Cat Urine From Next Door


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Michael Kolomatsky/The New York Times

Smells From Next Door

In recent months, an overwhelming smell of cat urine has been seeping into my co-op apartment from the adjacent one. I can smell it emanating from the floor in every part of my space that shares a wall with the neighboring unit. I can also hear a cat crying all day. I warned the neighbor twice, in writing, to rectify the situation, but received no response. Eventually I’d like to sell the apartment, but I can’t until this situation is resolved. So I need to build a case against the neighbor to bring to the co-op board or to initiate a lawsuit. How do I begin? What sort of professional could give me an estimate for the damage done to my wood floors? Should I call the Queens County health inspector?

Rego Park, Queens

You should not be able to smell urine through your floor. If your apartment smells that bad, imagine what it must be like next door. Your neighbor has a major hygiene problem — there could be more than one neglected cat in that apartment. Until the underlying problem is addressed, you likely will not be able to repair your floors or sell your apartment.

But this is not your battle to fight. From what you have described, your building needs to intervene to protect you, your neighbor and whatever pets are living inside that apartment. “Clearly, something is very wrong here,” said Paul Gottsegen, the president of the Halstead Management Company.

Rather than building a case against your neighbor or getting quotes from cleaning companies, look for allies. Contact other tenants who share walls (or a ceiling) with the offending neighbor. Do any of them smell something funny? The odor must be in the hallways, too. Maybe other people on the floor are offended. As a group, write to the managing agent and the board, demanding that the building inspect the apartment and investigate the situation.

You do have rights. Most proprietary leases prohibit shareholders from allowing unreasonable odors to emanate from an apartment. Leases also prohibit shareholders from doing anything that would interfere with the rights, comforts and conveniences of others, said Phyllis H. Weisberg, a Manhattan real estate lawyer who represents condominium and co-op boards.

If the building fails to intervene, you could call 311 and report the situation. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene could issue a violation against the building, which might spur management to action.

But first try to get the building to step up. And prepare for a long slog. It can be very difficult to resolve a situation like this. Often buildings need to ask relatives or city agencies like Adult Protective Services to intervene.

“The bottom line here is this person needs help,” Mr. Gottsegen said. “Family members really have to come to the aid of this person.”

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Workers Crack a Window

My co-op recently hired a contractor to waterproof one side of the building, and the workers cracked a window in my apartment. I noticed the broken glass the day they finished the job. The workers now say that they are very busy and cannot fix the glass for three to four weeks. I requested that the co-op board withhold a small portion of the balance owed until my window gets fixed. The board president, however, said he is going to pay the workers in full now and if they don’t come back to fix the window, we can “deal with the issue then.” Is this fair? I am concerned that the cracked window might become my problem. Shouldn’t the board withhold some of the payment to ensure that the repairs get done?

Park Slope, Brooklyn

Whether or not the board pays the contractor, your window should be fixed and the building should pay for it. Your board president might have a good reason for paying the contractor now. Perhaps he is concerned that the contractor might file a lien against the building for failure to pay, said Peter I. Livingston, a Manhattan real estate lawyer. But that is not your problem. Your window is.

Contact the managing agent. Explain what happened and insist that the building repair your window, as it is required to do. Ask for a timeline for when the work will be complete. “Whether it’s done by a vendor for the co-op or the contracting company is really irrelevant,” Mr. Livingston said. “At the end of the day, the matter should be resolved to the shareholder’s satisfaction.”

Facade Repairs

My small co-op in a historic district is having work done on the building’s facade. The contractor submitted plans to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the building has a permit to do the work. But I’ve noticed that the work the contractor is doing doesn’t seem to reflect what is specified on the contract — including where he is permitted to paint, the paint finish that should be used and the special paints needed for stone. What should I do?

NoHo, Manhattan

The Landmarks Preservation Commission must approve plans and issue permits for renovations done on the exteriors of buildings in historic districts, even those that are not individual landmarks. The commission reviews and approves details down to the color of paint and types of finishes used, said Howard L. Zimmerman, an architect.

Ordinary repairs or maintenance, like repainting the building exterior to match an existing color, are an exception: They would generally not require a permit, said Caroline G. Harris, a Manhattan land use lawyer who specializes in historic preservation and zoning.

If you suspect that the contractor is not following the plans submitted to Landmarks, you could photograph the work and report the problem, either by calling the commission directly or by calling 311, said Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council. The department could issue fines against the building or even a stop-work order.

But before you report your building to the city, try to deal with the problem internally. Contact your building’s managing agent and the co-op board. Tell them, in writing, that you believe there is a discrepancy between the work being performed and the work that was approved. Remind them that work subject to a permit should be done exactly as outlined in the approval, otherwise the building risks getting a violation, Ms. Harris said.

Insist that the contractor stop the work until any possible discrepancies can be reviewed. The architect involved in the project should be able to confirm whether the contractor is working with the appropriate paints and following the approved plan, Mr. Zimmerman said.

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