Ms. Demeanor's Vertical Etiquette

Dear Ms. Demeanor: My building has cigarette butts everywhere. It's disgusting. What can I do?

By Dianne Ackerman  | August 16, 2019 - 1:00PM

Smoke detectors, warnings, and even fines can help make people stop ignoring no-smoking rules.


I see cigarette butts everywhere in my building. They are in the stairwell, the roof deck, and the laundry room. It’s disgusting. What can I do about this? Signed, Burned Out

Dear Burned,

I feel your burn. A few years ago, the board decided to replace a large outdoor canopy. Those things cost a fortune, but we really needed a new one. Shortly after it was installed, someone dropped a lit cigarette from their balcony onto the canopy, burning it badly. It was incredibly maddening.

The city’s latest smoking law, which went into effect in August 2018, requires all multifamily residential buildings to simply have a smoking policy, but not necessarily ban it outright. Of course, under the city's Smoke-Free Air Act, smoking is not permitted in the common areas of buildings with 10 apartments or more.

There are two ways your building can go about dealing with this problem. One is to make the building a 100 percent non-smoking building. (In a co-op building, this would require a vote by shareholders and changing the proprietary lease and bylaws.) It means people would not even be able to smoke inside their own apartments. While that sounds a little too 1984-ish for me, there are many buildings in NYC that do it and some real estate brokers say it adds value to the building.

Non-smokers would certainly like it and some smokers may give up the habit. My guess, however, is that the current smoking population would go crazy.

My building just decided to be extra vigilant. There are signs all over the place telling people where they may not smoke. We have installed cameras and smoke alarms in the stairwells and basement. The doormen even remind people they are not allowed to smoke in front of our building. Before, we often found butts in our planters. People who have terraces are reminded again and again that they should not leave full ashtrays outside because the wind may scatter the ashes. They are also told not to throw butts on the ground below

If you decide to go this route, smoke detectors, warnings, and even fines can help make people stop ignoring no-smoking rules.

Good luck. I hope you can breathe easy.

Ms. Demeanor

Dianne Ackerman is the new voice of reason behind Ms. Demeanor. She has lived in her Upper East Side co-op for the past 20 years and is the vice president of her co-op board. She is filled with opinions that she gladly shares with all who ask—and some who do not. Have something that needs sorting out? Drop her an email.


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