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Condominiums CAN Go Smoke-Free: Two Condo Boards' Instructive Efforts

Bill Morris in Board Operations on August 28, 2012

Astoria, East Harlem, E. 110th Street

Condominiums Can Go Smoke-Free
Aug. 28, 2012

In response, the board sent a letter reminding all unit-owners that smoking was forbidden in common areas. But the complaints didn't stop.

When Bilodeau and his fellow board members saw a news article about a building in Manhattan that had successfully banned smoking, they began airing the idea with their neighbors. In February, the board distributed a six-point questionnaire, hoping to learn how unit-owners felt about this hot-button issue.

"What we found was that even smokers were receptive to a ban on smoking inside the building," Bilodeau says. "Support was overwhelming."

Bye-Bye-Laws

So with the help of its attorney, Abbey Goldstein, of Goldstein and Greenlaw, the board proposed a change in the bylaws at the annual meeting in April 2012. Goldstein advised the board to be very specific in defining what constitutes "smoking." In the end, the board defined it as "any lit or smoldering substance."

When the votes were tallied, the two-thirds supermajority was met by a whisker — with 67.68 percent of unit-owners voting in favor of a ban. Now comes the sticky business of enforcement.

"If someone breaks the rule, they'll receive a warning," Bilodeau says. "If they continue to break the rule there will be a monetary fine, which will be attached to the monthly common charges. If they ignore the fine, they'll be in arrears and the board would consider filing a lien. But the board will be judicious about filing a lien over a small fine. The bank is in line in front of us and it doesn't look good for the building, either to potential buyers or lenders."

The smoking ban went into effect in July.

Libertarians Butt In

At a 68-unit East Harlem condo that opened in the summer of 2008, however, attempts at going smoke-free are proving trickier. In June 2011, Habitat reported that the condo board had begun discussing a smoking ban. The big question was how should the board go about imposing it — with an iron fist or kid gloves? More than a year later, they're still discussing it.

"As more units sold and the building got more occupied, the issue gained more traction," says board president Evan Gillman. "We had a few new owners come into the building last fall, and they started pushing the issue forward. Unfortunately, smokers got careless. They're not mindful of their neighbors. They smoke on balconies and throw butts off the rooftop terrace.  There was a fire in the garden next to our building, and there's reason to believe it was caused by smokers in our building."

The pro-ban forces also got a push from the eight-story building's commercial tenant, the East Harlem Asthma Center of Excellence, which has been working to carve out a "smoke-free zone" on East 110th Street between Third and Lexington Avenues. But there were also anti-ban forces in the building, a somewhat libertarian group that asked what would be banned after smoking. Smelly cooking? Drinking?

The discussion continues. One possibility is to flatly outlaw all smoking anywhere in the building. Another is to allow the handful of smokers to continue to smoke but ban it in newly sold or rental apartments. A third course would be to designate a smoking area on the rooftop terrace.

"That third option," says Gillman, "might be the concession we need to make to get it to pass."

 

Illustration by Marcellus Hall

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