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Ask an Expert: Is it okay to smoke e-cigarettes in the lobby?

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By Teri Karush Rogers  |
August 20, 2013 - 1:58PM

Q. Since it isn't illegal (yet) to 'smoke' electronic cigarettes in New York City restaurants, bars or parks, is it okay to do it in the public spaces of an apartment building? What if the entire building is non-smoking--can you smoke one inside your apartment?

A.  Unless your building has a rule forbidding the use of e-cigarettes in common spaces, it's probably okay for now, say our experts.
"Given the complete lack of any type of governmental regulation the likely answer is that e-cigarette would be allowed in the public areas of a residential building," says co-op and condo attorney Dean Roberts of Norris McLaughlin & Marcus.  
In the absence of a law or regulation prohibiting "vaping" (as the the use of e-cigarettes is colloquially referred to), the activity would have to constitute a nuisance--either as defined in a lease or by law, says Roberts.
"To be a legal nuisance, an activity has to be extremely disruptive or seriously affect the health and safety of residents.   E-cigarettes"--which use nicotine instead of tobacco and emit water vapor, not smoke--"would not seem to meet that standard as they are fairly innocuous," says Roberts.
Furthermore, while a building could pass a rule "forbidding this activity in common areas, I do not believe it could ban the activity in individual apartments," says Roberts.
Property manager Thomas Usztoke of Douglas Elliman Property Management says his company hasn't heard any complaints yet, but "we’re aware of actions elsewhere [outside the apartment-building context] which have resulted in e-cigarette bans in public spaces, indoors and out, and expect NYC government will react in kind fairly quickly."
As to whether e-cigarettes can impair indoor air quality, "Unfortunately, there isn’t  yet much research available about the possible impact of these products and indoor air quality," says air quality specialist  Maria Vizzi of Indoor Environmental Solutions.

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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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