Dear Dr. Brian

Hi Dr. Brian,

I watch you on TV all the time and I’m a big fan. You seem like a very smart person, so I hope perhaps you can offer some insight regarding my question. I live in NY City, and new neighbors moved in next door who are massive pot smokers. The stench fills the halls and my apartment. The police aren’t interested because it is a landlord/tenant problem, and the landlord is passive/uninterested in affecting a solution. Do you have any suggestion of how to “pierce the haze” and get through to addicts that their behavior is crossing the line? What would you do to solve the problem? Spraying air freshener isn’t going to solve this. Thank you very much, 

Second-Hand Toker

Dear Second-Hand Toker,

I’m not surprised that the cops aren’t much help in this instance. In part, being that you’re in New York City, as annoying as your situation is to you, I imagine that they’re inundated with more dire situations. In addition, though, I think this is probably yet another negative result of our increasingly pervasive, albeit misguided, societal attitude that pot doesn’t hurt anybody. Sounds like you’ve attempted to politely reason with the neighbors, and I’m not surprised that that wasn’t much help either. You’re not likely to talk an addict into quitting, or even moderating, his or her addictive behavior, and you have to be careful here because a typically-docile pothead can turn into a hothead when confronted about his pot use.

You mentioned that the fumes pervade the hallway and permeate your apartment, which makes me wonder whether their primary point of entry into your apartment might be under your door and whether some weather stripping under there might be a practical stop-gap (literally-speaking) measure. If the fumes are entering your apartment another way, you might want to communicate with the landlord again – in writing – and perhaps mention that you’re wondering whether the building’s structural integrity and ventilation are up to code. Maybe the prospect of you calling the City’s building and/or public-health codes enforcement office(s) and requesting an inspection might prompt the landlord to get more interested in helping to solve the problem.

Although it would probably cost you some money, depending on how intolerable the situation is, you might want to consult a local attorney about your rights under the applicable landlord-tenant state statutes and local ordinances. Depending upon the jurisdiction, if your landlord owes you a “habitable” apartment (and landlords generally do), yet the landlord permits an intrusion that unreasonably interferes with the apartment’s habitability (e.g. noxious – not to mention illegal – fumes permeating the apartment), you may have the right, upon written notice to the landlord, and upon the landlord’s failure to remedy the situation within a specified period of time, to suspend or reduce rent payments or terminate your lease without penalty.

Sometimes, it’s amazing what a simple letter, arriving on an attorney’s letterhead, can accomplish for the price of just an hour or two of the lawyer’s time, and if not, some jurisdictions have “housing courts” wherein tenants can assert their rights, with or without legal representation, in relatively short order and at relatively low cost. Keep in mind, anything you do that puts you at odds with the landlord could come back to haunt you at lease-renewal time, even if the law prohibits such retaliation, but when that time comes, it sounds like you may not want to stay in that apartment anyway, especially if this situation persists.

In the meantime, thanks for watching, and I hope that whatever combination of steps you take will enable you to continue watching in your apartment without having to do so through a haze (cognitive or literal) and without having to run to the kitchen for a snack every few minutes!

Dr. Brian

(“Dear Dr. Brian” is published for public-interest and entertainment purposes only – it does not establish doctor-patient or attorney-client relationships, and it should not be used as a substitute for psychological, legal, or financial advice from a licensed professional in your area.)

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