Unfortunately, what to do when your condo neighbor smokes is something that rarely crosses people’s minds, until they are unwillingly sharing in their neighbor’s habits. For some, it is a condo neighbor who smokes out on a balcony or in a common outdoor area. For others, it’s a condo neighbor who smokes within their unit, but the smoke carries through the building.
What Can You Do If Your Condo Neighbor Smokes? You have several options if your condo neighbor smokes:
- Check to see if the building is already designated as non-smoking.
- Try discussing it with your neighbor.
- Use an air filter.
- Cover up the smell.
- Ask for a smoke-free amendment to the condos rule.
- Look into a smoke-free building city ordinance.
None of these suggestions are guaranteed to work, either on their own or in combination. On the other hand, the further down the list you go, the more effective these options become.
However, the devil, as they say, is in the details. So let’s take a look at what to do if your condo neighbor smokes.
What To Do If Your Condo Neighbor Smokes
The most important thing to do before choosing what to do about your neighbors smoke is to decide:
“What do I want?”
This may sound like a no brainer but consider, do you want:
- To stay where you are and not have to breathe in secondhand smoke?
- Have your neighbor move out entirely?
- Your building to be declared a smoke free zone.
- The entire condo complex, including the grounds, to be designated as a smoke-free zone?
- Move elsewhere in the condo complex yourself?
- Move away entirely and have your moving expenses paid for?
On top of that you have to think about:
- Is my neighbor someone with whom I could solve this amicably?
- Are other people in the building bothered by second-hand smoke?
- Are the condo board members the type of people who are open to discussion and change?
- Do I feel strongly enough about this to risk alienating myself from other residents?
- Is this likely to turn into a battle?
- Do I have the time, knowledge, and energy to try to have a city ordinance passed?
That’s not to say you shouldn’t do everything you can to protect your health and that of your family. It’s just that sometimes this can become a long drawn out and contentious issue. The best way to deal with that is always to be well prepared.
Step One: Review The Lease And/Or The Condo Rules
Even if you are considering starting out with a quick neighborly chat you should, if you are in a rental, check out your lease and whether you are a unit owner, or a renter, the documentation of the condo and bylaws. This will give you an idea of what kind of basic leverage you have should your neighbor turn out not to be especially receptive to your requests.
In some cases, you may find that the building does not have any non-smoking provisions in their documents but that your lease agreement does.
But, can you see the flaw in this situation?
Your neighbor may or may not be renting their apartment. It might be that your neighbor owns the unit in which they live, in which case you have no direct leverage. Or it may be that both you and your neighbor rent privately, from different unit owners and have entirely different leases. Be prepared for this eventuality, and it won’t come as a massive shock if that is how the situation unfolds.
Step Two: Talk To Your Neighbor
(Feel Free To Skip This One If You Know You’ll Won’t Get Anywhere)
You’d be surprised at the number of people who smoke and have no idea that they are negatively affecting other people. If you are lucky, your neighbor may be one of those people. If that is the case, you may be able to come to some kind of arrangement which suits you both. Perhaps it is only when they smoke on the balcony that it carries up into your unit. In this case, they might only smoke inside.
I know of one condo owner who spoke with their neighbor and discovered they had wanted to give up smoking for some time. The smoke bothered neighbor helped the smoker give up, and now they are both happier – and good friends.
It would, of course, be fabulous if this could happen for everyone but, realistically, the likelihood is, you won’t get very far.
If There Is A Relevant, Documented No smoking Provision
Point out to your neighbor that smoking in their home is against the rules. Ask that they stop smoking in their home. Add that if they continue to smoke in the unit, you will speak to the condo board and/or the smokers landlord and ask them to step in.
If There Isn’t A Relevant, Documented Non-smoking Provision
Look for other wording in the documents. Is there anything that:
- Gives an “implied warranty of habitability.”
- Says that residents are entitled to the quiet and safe enjoyment of their home
- States that residents must not cause a nuisance
If there are any clauses like this, you may argue that your neighbors smoke is:
- Rendering your home uninhabitable
- Preventing you from experiencing quiet and safe enjoyment
- Causing a nuisance
This may give you leverage either directly with your neighbor or indirectly through the board.
Before The Next Step
Some people are not aware of the health effects of second-hand smoke, so now is a good time to arm yourself with information.
Not only that but many landlords and condo boards assume that it is illegal to prevent someone from smoking in their own home, but that is not the case. It is perfectly legal to change a condo’s rules and designate the entire complex no-smoking. In addition, there is no requirement to include a “grandfather” clause and allow current residents who smoke, to continue to smoke in their units. Nor is there anything to say that a condo must have a smoking area.
In the same way, there is nothing to stop a landlord changing the tenancy to a smoke-free one. The only hurdle with this is that a change cannot be made mid-lease unless both parties are in agreement. If not, the landlord must wait until the end of the lease in order to make the unit smoke-free. If the lease has lapsed and the tenancy is month-to-month, the landlord must give one full calendar months notice for the change of term to take effect.
Compile Some Health Information About Passive Smoking
If you want to present some basic facts about passive smoking, you can share the following points from The American Lung Association:
- Secondhand smoke causes approximately 7,330 deaths from lung cancer and 33,950 deaths from heart disease each year.
- Between 1964 and 2014, 2.5 million people died from exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the 2014 report from the U.S. Surgeon General. The report also concluded that secondhand smoke is a definitive cause of stroke.
- There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke, and even short-term exposure potentially can increase the risk of heart attacks.
- Secondhand smoke contains hundreds of chemicals known to be toxic or carcinogenic, including formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide.
- Secondhand smoke can cause heart attacks; even relatively brief exposure can trigger a heart attack, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine
Put Together Some Economic Impact Information
While the health impacts of passive smoking may not sway some landlords, boards, or property managers, they will definitely care about any possible financial consequences.
Point out that smoking increases:
- Maintenance costs due to smoke residue
- Unit reno costs between tenants with the need for repainting, new carpets, new curtains, etc.
- Fire risk and associated insurance premiums
Not only that, there is a higher demand for smoke-free units. Therefore, if your building is non-smoking, it is immediately more marketable.
Research Your Local And State Regulations
Contact your local tenant’s rights or housing organizations and ask if there are any state, county, or other laws or regulations which can help you. These could be specific to smoking, but they do not have to be. Some rules around nuisance or health may apply to your situation.
Landlords, property managers, and condo boards may not be aware of the legal protections for non-smokers, or the legal remedies they can pursue, especially if the non-smokers have health conditions which are exacerbated by smoke.
You may even be able to get someone from a local organization to come and speak to the board at the next meeting.
Step Three: Talk To Other Residents
Before moving forward and approaching the board, it is often worth soliciting the opinions and experiences of the buildings other residents. If you are in the minority then you will have an uphill battle on your hands having the entire complex declared a non-smoking zone.
There may be an opportunity to have a portion of the property as non-smoking and create a smoking area, or smoking floors.
Step Four: Go To The Condo Board
Speak to the board about your concerns, preferably before the next meeting, and there is a possibility that they will be immediately on-board with the concept of a smoke-free condo complex.
If not, you can bring the idea before the board at the next meeting.
The procedures vary from condo to condo, but most boards have the option to either ask for an item for discussion to be placed on the meeting agenda or have an open question segment at the end of every session.
If possible, you should ask for an agenda item. That way, residents will be alerted before the meeting that smoking is on the agenda. It will usually allow more time for discussion as “Question items” are often shut down quickly and deferred to the next meeting.
Be specific in what you are asking the board to do. Are you requesting a complete smoking ban? One smoke-free building in the complex and a voluntary relocation for those who request it? Whatever it is you want, don’t leave it to someone else to specify the details.
If the board or the other meeting attendees are blocking the motion, ask for it to be put to the vote of the entire condominium.
Step Five: Pass A Local Ordinance
If you are unsuccessful in having your condo made smoke free, you could join the growing number of people who are changing local laws. A local ordinance could require that all multi-unit housing be made smoke free and that a declaration be made that designates smoke as a legally actionable nuisance.
More and more people are on board with having a smoke free environment. There is no legal right to be able to smoke in your own home, so there is nothing to prevent a landlord or condo board, making your building a non-smoking building.
If they do not have the will to do this, you can research your local legal regulations covering not just smoking but also a tenants right to a healthy environment, free from nuisance. If there are such rules, there may be room for you to “persuade” the board to take steps.
If not, try to have a local ordinance passed that will prevent smoking in all multi-unit housing. You’ll not only be helping yourself, but you’ll also be helping others.
About The Author
Geoff Southworth is the creator of RealEstateInfoGuide.com, the site that helps new homeowners, investors, and homeowners-to-be successfully navigate the complex world of property ownership. Geoff is a real estate investor of 8 years has had experience as a manager of a debt-free, private real estate equity fund, as well as a Registered Nurse in Emergency Trauma and Cardiac Cath Lab Care. As a result, he has developed a unique “people first, business second” approach to real estate.
This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policy.