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Nina In New York: Apartment Hunting Just Got Even Harder

Cigarette smoking

Cigarette Smoking (file/credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

NYC Breakfast

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.
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By Nina Pajak

By now, most of you have probably heard that Mayor Bloomberg in all his infinite wisdom is proposing legislation that would require landlords and ladies to develop written smoking policies, which in effect leaves open the opportunity for them to ban smoking from individual apartment units. Cue angry mob of smokers storming City Hall with pitchforks and torches screaming, “Kill the beast! Kill the beast!”

See Also: NYC’s 5 Best Cigar Bars

But this initiative wouldn’t just infringe on the rights of smokers to smoke (a legal activity, after all) in the privacy and comfort of their own homes. As residents of New York, many of whom live in non-rent controlled apartments, this would spell bad news for us all.

I’m assuming Mayor Bloomberg hasn’t had to troll Craigslist for one-bedrooms anytime in the recent past. But let me tell you, buddy, it’s hell out there. Do you know how hard it is to find a rental that’s in my price range, in my desired neighborhood, has a kitchen with an actual stove and fridge, isn’t embarrassing to show friends and family, and has at least one of the following: dishwasher, elevator, more than one closet, laundry in the building? Then once I’ve found that chupacabra, I have to contend with whether the landlord accepts pets at all, let alone dogs over 25 lbs. This is a tall enough order to drive any sane person frothing mad with rental rage. Now, on top of all of that, we may now also have to contend with a smoking versus non-smoking decision.

If you’re a smoker, the onus will obviously be on you to find a place that suits all your apartment needs and allows you to smoke at home. And given the tendency of cigarette smoking to have a lingering smell and be a potential fire hazard, and cause other tenants to complain (and in one case, sue the landlord and win), it’s probably a safe assumption that many landlords may take this opportunity to be rid of the troublemakers once and for all. And if that’s true, I can imagine in five years that all the smoker-friendly buildings will be packed to the gills exclusively with . . . well . . . smokers, of course. And while I’m sure they’ll be happy to be allowed to smoke in front of the televisions in peace, I’m guessing there are plenty of people who enjoy cigarettes who do not exactly wish to live in the equivalent of an airport smoking lounge. So do you live among those who are like-minded at the expense of being choked out by dozens of neighbors smoking ’round the clock? Or do you submit to being forced outside every time you need a cigarette? And either way, your choice of rental units has just gone from a dietetic slice of the pie to an infinitesimal, gastric-bypass-sized sliver.

Tough break.

And if you’re a non-smoker, the apartment hunt just got that much more difficult for you, too. Sure, more buildings will probably wind up being smoke-free than the alternative, but what if a whole slew of formerly potential apartments just went smoking-friendly? Do you give up and keep searching the ever-shrinking pool of viable options? Do you take a chance and hope that living in a smoke-friendly building doesn’t mean having cigarette smoke seeping through every vent and heating unit in your pad every moment of the day? Life as a renter is difficult enough.

To me, it seems like it would be better to allow all those who smoke cigarettes to spread out evenly across the city rather than ghettoizing them into designated buildings. Sure, it sucks to have a neighbor who smokes indoors when you don’t. But it also sucks to have a neighbor who listens to loud music late at night, or who walks around in high heels early in the morning, or who leaves the door propped open or disposes of their garbage incorrectly or leaves their crap in the dryer for hours on end. Unfortunately, this are all disputes we have to resolve using our words, and if that doesn’t work, our landlord’s words, and if that doesn’t work, our fists. Noooo, just kidding. The point is, in rental apartments you’re going to be shoved together with a whole bunch of people who don’t share your values or habits. And while cigarette smoke is harmful to people and should not be foisted upon them, this type of legislation is only going to cause more problems than it resolves.

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Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

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