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I’m Choking on My Neighbor’s Smoke. But She’s Rent-Stabilized. What Can I Do?

When it comes to rent-stabilized tenants, legal claims against co-ops are tricky. Ultimately, it’s the apartment’s owner who must take action.

Q: I’m a shareholder in a large co-op in Queens. The lease prohibits odors from traveling from one apartment to another, but doesn’t include a smoke-free policy. My elderly downstairs neighbor lives in a rent-stabilized apartment and can no longer go outside to smoke. My bedroom smells like her ashtray, and I have been sleeping on my couch. The co-op’s management has sent her notice after notice for four years, and recently reached a settlement with her after threatening to bring an eviction case. They agreed that the owner of her apartment would install a commercial smoke abatement machine, but it’s been 10 weeks with no installation. What do I do now?

A: You should be able to live without secondhand smoke, as described in your lease. However, the co-op has made some effort to abate the smoke and your neighbor has protections against eviction as a rent-stabilized tenant — both of which work against your chances of success in housing court.


Don’t bother pressuring building management to compel the installation of the smoke abatement equipment, said Adam Leitman Bailey, a real estate lawyer in Manhattan who has handled cases involving smoke odors. “That machine has never worked to solve any case,” in his experience, he said.

Having your neighbor open her windows while she smokes is another potential solution, even in winter. “This is usually a November-through-end-of-April problem,” Mr. Bailey said.

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