Ask an Expert

Your neighbor's soot

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By Teri Karush Rogers  |
January 13, 2010 - 6:39AM
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Q. This is my first winter in my new apartment on West 142nd Street.  Ever since the weather has turned cold, black smoke has been pouring out of the roof of a residential building outside my windows.  

It had been occasional before then, but it is now constant. Watching pollution being generated in front of our eyes is bad enough--we also have to keep the window closed all the time to keep out the black soot.

Is there anything I can do to get the building to stop polluting my air beyond kindly asking the owner to spend more money than he has to?

A.    This is a no-brainer, according to our BrickTank experts: Continuous black smoke isn't normal and probably just means the boiler needs to be tuned correctly.

“Usually, the boiler needs to be cleaned or the oil is not warm enough prior to being fired,” says managing agent Michael Wolfe.

The fix is often as simple as a small adjustment to make it burn oil more efficiently, says managing agent Paul Gottsegen:  “The adjustment will actually save the owner money even if he has to hire a professional burner company."

Call 311 to report it, and the Department of Environmental Protection will send an inspector.

“The city is vigilant about this and used to take aerial photos of the whole city, just looking for black smoke,” says Gottsegen.

The height of the smoke stack may also be a violation regardless of whether black smoke is pouring out, points out real estate lawyer Steven Wagner of Wagner Berkow: "The responsiblity for raising the height of the stack, assuming it is too low, will depend on the location of the stack relative to your window, the age of the buildings and which building was constructed first."

Strategically speaking, you might consider informing the building's super or managing agent that inspectors are “on their way” and they may want to get the problem fixed, suggests guest expert Isabelle B. Silverman, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund.

It is true that some types of oils (sadly, the cheaper ones) burn dirtier than others, and Silverman urges New Yorkers to email the mayor urging him to phase out dirty oil by 2020.

Trouble at home? Get your NYC homeowning questions answered by an expert!  Send us your questions via our feedback form.    

Related links:

Map of shame: Is your building a filthy, dirty air polluter?


Teri Rogers Headshot - Floral

Teri Karush Rogers

Founder & Publisher

Founder and publisher Teri Karush Rogers launched Brick Underground in 2009. As a freelance journalist, she had previously covered New York City real estate for The New York Times. Teri has been featured as an expert on New York City residential real estate by The New York Times, New York Daily News, amNew York, NBC Nightly News, The Real Deal, Business Insider, the Huffington Post, and NY1 News, among others. Teri earned a BA in journalism and a law degree from New York University.

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