The jury might need a smoke break after this one.
The condo board at the Touraine, a 22-unit luxury highrise on the Upper East Side, is suing one of its own residents for smoking too much tobacco, according to a complaint filed on July 7.
Jonee Sopher, the wife of parking magnate Jacob “Hank” Sopher, allegedly smokes so prodigiously that the fumes climb all the way from her third-floor unit to the 15th-floor penthouse.
The board says the issue has gone on since at least 2015, when it asked Sopher to either purchase an air purifier or install a door sweep at the entrance to her unit. Two investigations and a grab-bag of complaints later, the Board claims it has spent more than $50,000 on renovations and contractor fees to prevent the odor from seeping into neighboring units.
In February, the condo board banned smoking inside the building, in both common areas and private units, after a previous bar that only applied to new residents failed to temper Sopher’s intake. Undeterred, Sopher allegedly told the condo manager she would not stop, and her upstairs neighbors moved out, complaining of eye pain and a smell so strong it seemed someone in their own apartment were lighting up.
Now, the board, which did not respond to a request to comment, is seeking a formal court order barring Sopher from smoking within 25 feet of the property, as well as repayment on legal fees and the estimated $50,000 it spent trying to mitigate the odors.
“They have an uphill battle,” says Emanuela Lupu-Ferrante, a partner at Smith Buss & Jacobs who specializes in co-op and condo law.
“In co-ops, there’s a landlord/tenant relationship,” she says. But in a condo, since residents own their units, it’s harder to compel people to change. The key for the Touraine lies in whether it can prove the smoking has caused a nuisance and that Sopher has continued to do it even after being asked not to. While the lawsuit takes these steps, Lupu-Ferrante doubts that the court would outright force Sopher to stop smoking. It’s more likely to just require Sopher to take some kind of action to mitigate the odor escaping her apartment, she says.
The changes made to the bylaws could provide a path for the board to obtain a court order forcing Sopher to comply. Should that succeed, and Sopher remain non-cooperative, she could face damages and even criminal penalties, according to Lupu-Ferrante.
Sopher, who couldn’t be reached for comment, purchased the condo for $4.9 million in 2014 in an all-cash deal. In addition to the family’s parking business in New York and Miami, the Sophers also own an eponymous commercial real estate business spanning 40 properties and 300,000 square feet in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan, according to the firm’s website.
Now, the board awaits Sopher’s response. If it’s still looking for a smoking gun, it should check her ashtray.