New York City Council Introduces Bill Mandating Smoking-Policy Disclosure

Frank Lovece in Board Operations on May 1, 2012

New York City

Smoking-Policy Disclosure Legislation

May 1, 2012UPDATED 4:04 p.m. — A New York City bill requiring that landlords, including co-op boards and condo associations, disclose their anti-smoking policies to residents and prospective renters and buyers was introduced at an April 18 City Council meeting and forwarded to the Committee on Housing and Buildings for discussion.

The bill, Intro. 0833-2012, was not placed on the committee's agenda either for its meeting yesterday (April 30) nor its meeting tomorrow (May 2). Committee chairperson Erik Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn) is the bill's chief sponsor, with five Council co-sponsors, all by request of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"There are no hearings scheduled as of yet," his spokesperson told Habitat. "Usually there's some consultation between the chair of a committee and the speaker's office," he said, referring City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "He does have some concerns about the bill that probably will be addressed in the coming months."

Titled "A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to disclosure of smoking policies for class A multiple dwellings," the bill would require owners of residential buildings with three or more units to develop and disclose smoking policies to prospective tenants and purchasers, and to current tenants before those tenants renew their lease agreements or when adopting or making any material change to the building’s smoking policy. 

The policies would need to address all indoor and outdoor locations of the property, including balconies, courtyards, rooftops and apartments. The bill would not, however, ban smoking in private residences.

Smoke Gets in Your Ayes

There is no known safe amount

of exposure to cigarette smoke.

"Half of New Yorkers living in multi-unit dwellings report being exposed to secondhand smoke from neighboring apartments," Patrick A. Wehle, of the Mayor's office, said in a statement. "Even in apartments where tenants do not smoke or allow visitors to smoke, nicotine has been found in the air of 89% of the units.  Second-hand smoke is known to cause heart disease and cancer.  Households with elderly people, children, and people with chronic conditions would have a particular interest in knowing the building’s smoking policy, because these groups can be particularly susceptible to second-hand smoke."

He added that the bill's provisions are similar to the existing law requiring disclosure of  the presence of lead paint in apartments.

The bill does not prohibit smoking, Bloomberg told CBS News, but "just gives people the right to know before they sign a lease. Because of air circulation in buildings, if you smoke in one apartment, other people in the building do get some of that smoke."

"There is no known safe amount of exposure to cigarette smoke," Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs said in a statement. "This legislation gives tenants the information they need to make a decision about whether or not to reside in a building that permits smoking."

"We think that people ought to know whether they might be exposed to second-hand smoke in their apartment before they decide whether to rent or buy," Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Thomas Farley told The Wall Street Journal.

A Touch of CLASH

Audrey Silk, founder of the group Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (CLASH), objected to the bill, telling CBS it could eventually lead to the banning of smoking in apartments, which she said would infringe on individuals rights. "You cannot let them take the first step," she said.

Attorney Stuart Saft, a partner at Holland & Knight and a longtime activist on co-op and condo issues, also objected to the bill, saying, "The law is supposed to go into effect 90 days after enactment, which is too short a period because most buildings do not have a policy," and noted, "The law would require that boards must give their policies to the Department of Health, which is unnecessary and burdensome."

Saft -- who said the proposed law was similar to that of "bedbug disclosure [in that] the policy needs to be provided with a lease or a contract of sale" -- nonetheless believes, that "It is likely that this legislation will move forward very quickly and be enacted into law."

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) is neutral on the new bill.

According to survey results released April 25 by the Department of Health, 33 percent of New Yorkers who live in multifamily buildings are already covered by smoke-free policies. In his press conference announcing the bill, Bloomberg said this number would grow. "The trend," he said, "is nobody builds a new hotel and lets you smoke."


Pertinent links

Erik Martin Dilan (D - District 37)

Committee on Housing and Buildings


The story was updated to include a quote from Councilman Dilan's spokesperson.

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