Brooklyn group pushes for smoke-free apartments

February 8, 2013 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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First, cities across the U.S. cracked down on smoking in offices and office buildings. Then, at least in New York, smoking in bars and restaurants was forbidden, putting an end to the familiar “smoking areas” and “no-smoking areas.” Then, Mayor Bloomberg forbid smoking in New York City beaches and parks.

Now, there’s a growing movement to ban smoking in apartment houses – not only in lobbies or hallways, but in the apartments themselves. In Brooklyn, it’s being pushed by the Brooklyn Smoke-Free Partnership, headquartered on Throop Avenue.

When the idea first surfaced, it was considered somewhat edgy. In 2003, the board of one co-op building at 180 West End Ave., Manhattan, voted not to approve any apartment sales unless the buyer agreed that neither the buyer nor any visitors would smoke in that apartment.

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The next day, according to a 2010 article in the Cooperator, a publication for co-op and condo board members and managers, “There were dozens of news trucks outside the building, interviewing people.” Eventually, the board suspended the rule.

Since that time, more and more people have quit smoking and/or become aware of the dangers of second-hand smoke. However, some people still feel such a move would be a violation of civil liberties, or that “a man’s home is his castle.”

Perhaps for these reasons and others, the Brooklyn Smoke-Free Partnership is looking to establish voluntary, not mandatory, bans on smoking in buildings.

Why have such a ban at all? “There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke, and it cannot be isolated,” says Rachelle Rochelle, borough manager of the partnership. “Lots of times, people can smell smoke coming from the next apartment or the apartment downstairs, coming through vents or through the pipes.”

She adds that “Children, the elderly and chronically ill, all who spend more time at home, are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of secondhand smoke exposure.” In addition, she points out that apartments where smokers live are more vulnerable to fires and property damage such as cigarette burns on rugs.

Having smoke-free buildings, she says, will “give New Yorkers, including the 86 percent who don’t smoke, a choice.”

Two community groups that manage apartment buildings – the Cypress Hills Local Development Corp. and the Bridge Street Development Corp. — have taken steps to make buildings smoke-free.

Douglas Bouyer, project manager for Bridge Street Development Corp., told the Eagle about the organization’s new building, Noel Poynter Court in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Poynter Court, named after a famous jazz violinist, was advertised as a smoke-free building, and agreeing not to smoke inside was a condition of their moving in.

“They can’t smoke anywhere on the grounds, like the yard, either,” he said. “They have to go on the sidewalk. It’s clearly stated in their leases.”

Bouyer himself is no fan of smoking in general. “We have another property, a large building where a smoker had lived. Three of four months after he moved out, even after it was painted, it still smelled like smoke,” he says.

“That smell gets into the walls, furniture, floors, it deteriorates appliances and actually travel through the walls.”

At the Cypress Hills Local Development Corp., Shai Lauros, director of community development, says the group is working to make its entire 30-building portfolio smoke-free.

Recognizing that there are still die-hard smokers out there, Lauros says, “No one would be kicked out because they are smoking in the building.” However, tenants renewing leases would have the option to sign a smoke-free rider.

As for tenants who don’t sign such a rider, she adds, the organization would “work with them” and perhaps have them meet with health professionals who would talk to them about the dangers of second-hand smoke.

“Second-hand smoke is a hazardous substances,” she says, and when residents are exposed to it, it is not a positive for the building.”

She adds that the low-income Cypress Hills and East New York areas that the corporation serves have asthma rates of more than 10 percent.

Whatever one thinks of this movement, it is unlikely to go away soon. Now, the city, under Mayor Blomberg, has gotten involved: the Department of Health has put out a brochure for landlords and managing agents called “Make Your Building Smoke-Free.”

In addition to the obvious health factors, the brochure puts the idea of going smoke-free in business terms: It will be perceived as an “attractive amenity” by tenants and unit owners; it will minimize property damage; and it will keep the units in better physical condition, making them more attractive to future buyers and renters.

Still, the brochure is honest about the risks involved. For example, if a condo or co-op board votes to implement a non-smoking policy, a dissident unit owner could conceivably take them to court.

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