The Smoker Next Door: Handling Unwanted Tobacco Smoke In Apartments And Condominiums

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Secondhand smoke seeping into apartments or condominiums from neighboring units poses both a health risk and a significant nuisance. The only fail-proof solution to this problem is for buildings to go entirely smokefree, either by a policy voluntarily adopted by building management or by local ordinance. Since personal dwellings are not considered public spaces, they are generally not covered under existing legislation regulating smoking in public places, but many states and municipalities prohibit smoking in common areas of multi-family housing. Additionally, some communities are now adopting ordinances to require no smoking in all or a certain percentage of the private units of multi-family housing.

While it is possible to file a lawsuit, the record of resolving drifting secondhand smoke conflicts in the courts is somewhat mixed. Nonsmokers have filed lawsuits against landlords or fellow tenants on the basis of nuisance, breach of statutory duty to keep the premises habitable, breach of the common law covenant of peaceful enjoyment, negligence, harassment, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress; courts have ruled for and against nonsmokers in individual cases.

Despite not always having a specific law to turn to, there are still a number of steps that you can take to protect yourself from secondhand smoke in your home. When weighing your options, keep in mind that air filtration and other ventilation systems do not eliminate the health hazards caused by secondhand smoke. Ventilation is not an effective alternative to creating safer and healthier smokefree living environments.

If you're sharing a building, you're sharing the air.

Visit to find additional resources about your options for protecting yourself and your family from drifting secondhand smoke.

Clarify your goals.

Do your homework.

Try to resolve the situation amicably.

A smokefree building is the best interest of both management and residents.
It protects the health of residents at the same time as protecting management's investment by saving money and reducing the risk of fire.

Find allies.

Get a note from your doctor and keep documentation.

There are always last resorts.

Help protect both yourself and others: Pass a local ordinance.

This information is not intended to serve as legal advice by the ANR Foundation; the law varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. If you intend to file a lawsuit, please consult an attorney who is familiar with the laws in your community.

© American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, 2004, 2009.