Apparently, it’s better to be a pothead than a cigarette smoker in a NYC co-op or condo these days.
“There are a hell of a lot of complaints about cigarette smoke now,” says Aaron Shmulewtiz, a real estate lawyer whose firm represents 300 co-op and condo boards mostly in Manhattan.
Shmulewitz says protests over secondhand tobacco smoke outnumber grumbling over marijuana use by about 10 to 1, and he's not aware of any recent lawsuits over marijuana-smoking.
“People are complaining about a gas that causes cancer and they go crazy about it," notes the attorney. "But with pot, people chuckle, they giggle, they say, ‘Come on, try to keep it down.’”
He says pot is viewed as less annoying than cigarettes.
“Frankly, if one smokes tobacco cigarettes, the odor just hangs there and maybe they smoke two to three packs a day,” says Shmulewitz. “Pot smokers aren’t doing it as frequently. It’s more expensive and if you smoke too much you put yourself out of commission.”
When neighbors do complain, a letter from the managing agent or lawyer usually does the trick of encouraging better ventilation if nothing else—but the verbiage is a delicate matter.
“You can’t say ‘pot’ because it may not be true and then you’re accusing someone of a crime,” says Shmulewitz. “So the magic words are ‘the acrid, pungent odor of a non-tobacco product.’”
Real estate lawyer Steven Sladkus favors the words “odor nuisance” and “objectionable conduct.”
Shmulewitz says police are usually only called when the sale of drugs is suspected—or when “it’s not just pot smoke—it’s other odors, like chemical odors from crack cocaine that was so pervasive five or ten years ago.”
But in New York, “the police won’t be bothered about an occasional odor of pot,” says Shmulewitz.