By Bill Morris
September 11, 2012, Habitatmag.com
As Stephen Budow sees it, there are two kinds of people in this world. One believes a person’s home is his or her castle, sacred and inviolable. The other believes the health, comfort, and safety of a person’s neighbors are far more important than the sanctity of any castle. Budow, an attorney who has spent the past decade as president of a 65-unit Yorkville condo, used to be the former type. But that began to change about three years ago.
That was when a resident in his building complained about the cigarette smoke emanating from his next-door neighbor’s apartment. The co-op board asked the smoker to install a device to capture his cigarette smoke. But the neighbor was not mollified.
While this was happening, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was aggressively pushing smoking bans in public places, including parks and beaches, and a handful of buildings in the city were implementing smoking bans. When more smoke complaints arose elsewhere in the Yorkville building, Budow’s thinking on the issue of smoking bans began undergoing a quiet metamorphosis.
Breaking the Four Walls
“I started out, personally, in the your-home-is-your-castle camp,” Budow says. “I had a hard time with the idea of telling someone he couldn’t smoke inside his own home. But the more I talked to people, the more I realized that smokers cause something that goes beyond their four walls. Smoke travels all over a building.”
And so the nine members of the board started talking about instituting a smoking ban. The board’s lawyer, Aaron Shmulewitz of Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman advised them they had the power to amend the bylaws and impose fines for violations, provided a super-majority of two-thirds of the unit-owners approved. The board discussed a “grandfather” clause, allowing smokers to continue smoking inside their apartments but banning it in newly sold apartments, in effect waging a war of attrition.
But at a meeting late last year, the board decided against half measures. When a building-wide smoking ban was put to unit-owners in the spring, an “overwhelming” majority approved, according to Budow. The amendment to the bylaws also gave the board the power to fine people who continue to smoke in their apartments. In such cases, the procedure is clear: First the managing agent will send a letter, followed by a letter from the lawyer and then a series of escalating fines.
“Fortunately,” says Budow, “we haven’t had to enforce it yet. I think this is the future.”