Every Tenant Has the Right to Be Free of ‘Dangerous, Hazardous or Detrimental’ Conditions

Written by NYPress on . Posted in Opinion Our Town, Our Town.


By Adam Steiner

I quit smoking in May 2002 and was diagnosed with first-stage emphysema in May 2004. I asked my doctor what the next step was to get rid of the disease; he said there was no known cure for emphysema and the most important thing I could do was not return to smoking. He also said that second-hand smoke exposure was just as dangerous to me as smoking my own cigarettes, and to avoid it in the same manner.

I was very fortunate to live in a smoke-free dwelling. My landlord at that time was a New York City fireman, and was completely opposed to anyone smoking in his four-unit home. In 2009, New York City fire marshals determined that 556 fires had been caused by careless smoking, so in the lease agreement that I—and the three other renters—signed was an addendum about the no smoking policy. I have since moved into a three-family house that also has a smoke-free policy in the lease.

At this time, most New Yorkers living in multiple dwellings are not as fortunate as I am. There is no safe level of second-hand smoke exposure for anyone. Even people who have never smoked a cigarette themselves are exposed to low levels of second-hand smoke and can have the same lung abnormalities seen in smokers.

In our city, 200,000 children are exposed to second-hand smoke in their own homes. I feel that smoke-free housing is vitally important—and according to a recent survey commissioned by the city, 64 percent of New Yorkers agree, saying they want to live in smoke-free housing. In fact, in another recent poll done by the Coalition for a Smoke-free City, 58 percent of New Yorkers questioned said they would shell out more money to live in a smoke-free environment.
I applaud the new legislation being proposed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration, which would require building owners and managers to disclose their buildings’ smoking policies. It is designed for informational purposes only and would not specifically state whether buildings should or should not allow smoking. The requirement would afford potential tenants and buyers, including the 86 percent of non-smoking New Yorkers, to make an informed decision regarding this issue.

It is also a great fit for New York State’s Real Property Law, which states that every tenant has the right to be free of “dangerous, hazardous or detrimental” conditions. It will not affect exiting leases, but renewal leases will be required to include the information about the property’s policy on smoking. In addition, all tenants will be informed of their building’s smoking policy once the new policy goes into effect.

Since quitting smoking 10 years ago, I have devoted my life to helping others quit, as well as advocating for policies that curb the public’s exposure to secondhand smoke. I feel that this policy makes good sense on countless levels. I urge you to support this policy, which will help improve the health and well-being of all New Yorkers.

Adam Steiner is the SmokeFree project counselor at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City.

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