Someone’s smoking in the apartment next door. You don’t smoke and don’t like it, but you can smell it. Who’s in charge? Turns out, the responsibility is on the building. On Wednesday, Habitat magazine reported that a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ruled that the co-op board is on the hook to pay a co-op owner more than $120,000 in back maintenance, interest, and insurance fees because smoke from other apartments had trickled into her own living room, making her apartment unlivable and affecting her health.
In his decision, Justice Arthur Engoron made it clear that he believes this is more than a quality-of-life issue: "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 that your tenants are not forced to smell and breathe carcinogenic toxins." Presumably, since the case he was ruling on was about a co-op, this also applies to proprietary leases and shareholders.
The tenant, Susan Reinhard, bought an apartment in the Connaught Tower, at 300 East 54th Street, in 2006. For the next nine years, she claimed the unit was unlivable because the smell of smoke was so pervasive that it left her coughing and watery-eyed and gave her headaches. Reportedly, when she complained, the building’s super told her to re-caulk troubled areas that were letting smoke in. A managing agent told her that the building bore no responsibility. The settlement in part reimburses her for repair work she did to try blocking out the stink.
Quite a few co-ops in New York have already gone smoke-free, in part to forestall such cases. In 2006, a judge in Manhattan ruled that if secondhand smoke is seeping into an apartment, the building owner is breaching its “warrant of habitability,” which compels him or her to maintain “livable, safe and sanitary” conditions. By legal precedent, that now means carcinogen-free.