STAMFORD – The baby was a few months old when the strong smell of marijuana began to permeate the family apartment from a neighboring apartment in a Harbor Point high-rise.
The heavy smell came repeatedly, at all times of day, the baby’s mother said. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, she took the baby to a common area down the hall while her husband tried to clear the smell using two HEPA filters and the air conditioner.
Sometimes, she said, the smell was so dense that her head pounded and she felt nauseous, the woman said. At such times she left the building with the baby and went to stay with a friend.
That was November.
Eight months later, it’s still happening, said the woman, whose family lives in the 22-story Allure building on Pacific Street.
“I’ll be getting ready to put the baby down for a nap and the apartment will become engulfed in marijuana smoke,” said the woman, who wants to remain anonymous to avoid a dispute with her pot-smoking neighbor. “You love this baby more than anything on this planet, and you’re paying close to $5,000 a month to live in this building, and then you have to deal with this.”
She contacted Building and Land Technology, the developer that is building the massive Harbor Point apartment project on Stamford’s South End.
Managers for BLT, which owns and manages Allure, sent out policy reminders to all tenants, the woman said. One dated May 21 reads, “Dear Residents … our property is a non-smoking environment.”
All residents signed a “smoke free agreement” before moving in, it reads, and “anyone that does not abide by our policies is subject to a lease violation.”
But the marijuana odor kept coming. Allure managers knocked on the pot smoker’s door more than once and asked him to stop, but he didn’t, the woman said.
She found a phone number for Ted Ferrarone, co-president of BLT.
“I called him. He said, ‘I believe there’s something I can do about it.’ Then someone from BLT called us and said, ‘There’s nothing we can do about it,’” the woman said.
She called Stamford police.
“The officer was very nice, but he said there was nothing he could do because marijuana is legal now,” the woman said. “I told him about my baby and he said he was really sorry, but it’s a building issue and management is supposed to take care of it.”
Her husband called the Stamford Health Department.
Contacted this week, Health Director Jody Bishop-Pullan said her office has jurisdiction only over multi-family dwellings operated by the housing authority or regulated by the Health Department.
Allure is “a private building,” Bishop-Pullan said. “The policy is with the building, between the tenant and the landlord.”
That relationship appears now to be strained.
“Several weeks ago management said they would send us a list of other available BLT apartments,” the woman said. “We found one in the Opus building, for a little less than what we pay at Allure. We filled out the application, and the leasing person said the apartment is yours. We sent the $800 fee to hold it for 30 days, then we got a notice saying the move is not approved. They didn’t give a reason. They just gave us our $800 back.”
This week the couple found a note tucked in their door.
“It says we are harassing management, so we are in some kind of violation,” the woman said. “The person smoking is in violation of the lease, not us. I don’t understand.”
Such a document is called a KAPA notice, said Mark Sank, a Stamford attorney with decades of experience in tenant-landlord cases.
A landlord issues a KAPA notice before initiating eviction proceedings, Sank said.
“In the event that a tenant breaches the terms of a lease, the landlord has to first serve them with a KAPA notice to try to remediate whatever it is they are doing wrong,” Sank said. “It’s usually for things like refusing to stop playing loud music. I’ve never heard of a KAPA notice being written about a tenant who is complaining about other tenant violations. By sending a KAPA notice, the landlord is taking a really hard stance.”
BLT did not respond to specific questions such as whether the company evicts tenants for smoking, and whether proceedings begin after a certain number of warnings.
Instead, a BLT spokesman emailed a statement:
“Building and Land Technology is committed to a 100 percent smoke-free living environment, and smoking is not permitted in any of our residential buildings. Residents who choose to live in our buildings commit to this as part of their lease, and those who don’t comply with the terms of their lease can face potential eviction. We take the health and well-being of residents extremely seriously, as we do their concerns.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, second-hand marijuana smoke warrants serious concern.
Marijuana smoke contains many of the same cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke, some in higher amounts, the CDC reports. Marijuana smoke also contains tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the compound that creates the high feeling.
THC can be passed to infants and children through second-hand marijuana smoke, according to the CDC, and people exposed to it can experience the high. Children are potentially at risk for negative health effects that require more research, the CDC reports.
Landlords are “trying to figure out how to address marijuana use” in their buildings, Sank said.
“Right now it’s on a case by case basis,” he said. “It’s difficult for landlords because they have one tenant who is entitled to do what they want to do in their apartment, but they also have to worry about the other tenants. Some have put in HEPA filters. Some have said tenants can smoke on a balcony. Some move tenants within a building.”
Landlords have to be mindful of tenants who are licensed for medical marijuana use, he said. They have the same protection to smoke as others have protection from second-hand smoke.
“Everyone is entitled to ‘peaceful and quiet enjoyment of the premises;’ that is by statute and is written into most form leases,” Sank said. “Landlords have to work with both tenants to come to a solution.”
If not, the result may be a “constructive eviction,” he said.
“That’s a tenant saying to a landlord that, by your action or inaction, you have constructively evicted me and I have to move,” Sank said. “Tenants can then seek compensation for moving expenses, medical expenses, and any damage they can attribute to the landlord not protecting their interests.”
That may be where things are headed for her family, the woman said.
“At this point, what do we do here?” she asked. “How can we stay?”