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Ask an Expert: Almost pregnant and up to here with the neighbor's pot smoke

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Q. In our UWS high rise apartment, we have neighbors who really, really enjoy marijuana. As soon as we get off the elevator, we are bombarded by the smell in our hallway, and it frequently wafts its way into our apartment. 

My husband and I don't want to be complete squares, but it's getting worse and worse, and we're trying to get pregnant (so a contact high is not a good thing!).

Should we narc on our neighbors? To who? And we don't know for sure whose apartment it's coming from - could be one of three. What should we do?

A.  Let's start with the fact that it's no use calling the police unless you suspect your neighbors are pot dealers as well as consumers.

"Absent a well-founded allegation of selling drugs from an apartment, the NYPD does not generally have much of an interest in casual usage," says real estate attorney Eric Goidel of Borah Goldstein Altschuler Nahins & Goidel

Fortunately, note our experts, New York courts are increasingly putting pressure on landlords and co-ops to correct secondhand smoke issues.

"New York courts have recently found that secondhand smoke constitutes a breach of the warranty of habitability, which is a non-waivable obligation imposed on all residential landlords [including co-ops] to insure that the premises are fit for human habitation and do not contain any conditions that would be dangerous, hazardous, or detrimental to tenants' life, health or safety," says Ian Brandt, a real estate lawyer at Braverman & Associates in Manhattan. "The threat of habitability violations might be sufficient economic incentive for a landlord to begin eviction proceedings."

Eviction is the most severe resolution--there are plenty of other ways to clear the air.  A letter from management can be enough to change a neighbor's smoking habits. Sealing up airways between apartments and/or improving ventilation can also bring relief.

"Do the apartment kitchens and baths have windows or vents?" asks Maria Vizzi of Indoor Environmental Solutions. "If there are roof fans to pull up air through vents, are they working? Is the hallway air conditioned or served by fresh air intakes?"

Notify your landlord or co-op board about the problem and give them an opportunity to correct it, providing "detailed information about its regularity and impact," says Brandt. 

If more prodding is needed, says Goidel, "speak with neighbors and try to get a petition together requesting that some action be taken."

It's up to your landlord, board or management company to figure out where the fumes are coming from--and to be discreet about the source of the complaint.

"Professional management companies are experienced in handling delicate matters like this and can generally keep those who file a complaint anonymous," says Dan Wurtzel of Cooper Square Realty.


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