Landlord Takes Legal Action Against Unlicensed Smoke Shop Tenant

  Last modified on March 19th, 2024

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The battle against a recent uptick in illegal smoke shops has taken on a new front after a local landlord sued its tenant to obtain the proper licensing.

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Sackman Enterprises is deeply entrenched in Upper West Side real estate and has been since launching its now international business in the neighborhood in 1969. The family-owned company has ties to over 45 properties on this side of Central Park, including ownership of 100 West 87th Street. According to a lawsuit filed by Sackman last week, tenants of part of the first floor and basement units at the commercial address at 550 Columbus Avenue have been reportedly selling “tobacco and tobacco related products as well as cannabis without the necessary licenses.”

The alleged unlawful operation in question is Convenience of Columbus, where the defendants have been tenants since March 2022. Since then, authorities have issued 54 violations for unlicensed tobacco and c-cigarette activity at the store, according to city data. Zaza Waza was first raided by the Sheriff’s Office in January 2023, when deputies seized all of its inventory. It was back open two days later.

A January 9, 2024 letter from the NYC Sheriffs’ Office warned of fines and informed Sackman that it must take action “to ensure the premises are operated in accordance with applicable law” or that the city would do so in its place. This letter was received on January 12, according to the lawsuit.

Council Member Gale Brewer also sent Sackman a letter on Feb. 15 which stated in part that the building owner is “potentially liable for legal and financial penalties for this conduct, including increased fines following the cannabis policy reform legislation enacted in 2023, which included specific provisions to address the proliferation of illegal shops.” 

The smoke shop was issued two “C” summons and seven notices of violation based upon the unlicensed “sale of tobacco and cannabis products from the Premises” on January 5, 2024. Said violations include the sale of improperly stamped cigarette packages, approximately 3,000 illegal cigarettes, and unlawful possession of cannabis. A hearing date is scheduled for these alleged violations on April 5 with the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH).

Sackman’s suit, which is separate from the OATH matter, claims that its tenants breached the lease by selling tobacco and cannabis without the proper permissions and that the tenants agreed to obtain the proper licensing before selling tobacco products. It is seeking money damages for the lease violation, related fines, and fees in the amount of $75,000.

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Landlords being forced to answer and pay for their tenant’s unlicensed smoke shops is a new tool the city is using to shutter the ever-growing number of these businesses, Patch reports. “In November, the city announced they would start sending a form letter from the sheriff’s office warning landlords of building home to illegal smoke shops that they will face fines, including up to three times rent being charged, and their tenants could be forcibly evicted if legal action was not taken by the landlord.”

Notably, Sackman is not seeking to evict or prohibit Convenience of Columbus from selling the products in question. Instead, it is seeking the issuance of an immediate court order compelling its tenants to gain the proper licensing to sell tobacco and cannabis products or that the business be prohibited from any further sales until the necessary licenses are issued.

The court denied this immediate relief on February 28 and calendared the matter for April 4.


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