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My high-rise windows only open a few inches. What gives?

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Q. I just moved into a rental on the 16th floor of a new luxury building, and I was dismayed to realize that none of my windows open more than a few inchesa big problem for me because I cook every night, and I have no way to vent the smells and smoke. Is this normal? Is there any kind of fix?

A. Self-locking windows are meant to protect children from dangerous falls. “Many high-rise buildings implement a window security system to protect children and occupants from the pitfalls of the danger of having too large a window opening in a high space,” says attorney Terry Oved, who heads up the real estate department at Oved & Oved. But they aren't the most desirable apartment feature for amateur chefs (or those keen on fresh air), and if you don’t have kids, you should be able to get the locks taken out, our experts say.

Under city law, owners of buildings with more than three apartments must install proper window guards on all windows, including those overlooking balconies, in apartments with children 10 years and younger, so that there’s no more than 4.5 inches of open space. (The only exception is for windows that open onto a fire escape or other fire exit, but it sounds like that’s not the issue in your apartment.) Rather than window guards, your building may have internal child safety locks, notes real estate attorney Jeffrey Reich of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz. “Such locks are required in apartments where a child under the age of 11 resides,” he says.

It’s possible to disable the security system if you ask for it, as long as you certify that no child 10 years or younger lives in the apartment, Oved says.  

But keep in mind that not all landlords will comply and, as Reich notes, it wouldn't be a breach of the lease or the so-called warrant of habitability (a legal requirement to keep rental apartments livable) to decline your request. "For safety reasons, most landlords will not be too open to the idea of removing them, especially on a higher floor, but the tenant can discuss with the landlord," says Dylan Pichulik, CEO of XL Real Property Management, a property management company. 

You'd probably be within your rights to disable the lock yourself, Reich says. But regardless, a simple call to the building’s management to see if they can remove the lock is your best bet here, our experts advise.

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