A Smokefree Air Supporter Story

Luciana writes to us from Massachusetts: I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2016. After an emotional roller coaster, I thought it was best to leave our single-family home of 12 years and simplify by moving into a condominium community with a lot of amenities. However, it came with one amenity that I didn’t expect: secondhand smoke.

In 2018 I smelled cigarette smoke. I am very sensitive to secondhand smoke. It was hard to prove which unit the smoke was coming from. I alerted management and sent an email to residents, but the situation became worse over the course of the next two years. It became an ongoing back and forth of nothing to prove, no concrete evidence, he said/she said.

I contacted ANR and investigated Massachusetts laws on smoking and discovered that because Massachusetts has no jurisdiction for multi-unit housing/condominium living, I had no state support. I also did not have any support from the town in which I resided. I even tried to petition for an ordinance*, but the town would not get involved because condominium living is considered private property and we have our board/trustees to resort to. (See lists of places where multi-unit housing policies exist.)

Our condominium board did not want to pursue a smokefree amendment, and it was shot down without a survey being sent to residents. I did discover that a unit owner can pursue to create (or change) an amendment as long as 66.67% of the unit owners sign the petition. After consulting a real estate attorney, we drew up a smokefree amendment and distributed to all of the unit owners for a vote. This did take time and money. However, after finding that 75% of our community wanted our buildings that we call our home to be smokefree, it was worth it.

The hardest part is enforcement. Unit owners continue to smoke cigarettes and marijuana, but now we have an amendment to fall back on. If the amendment is not enforced, then you, as a condominium owner, have the right to pursue legal recourse.

The other moral of the story is that multi-unit housing living is not for everyone. There are rules to follow and some type of consideration to respect your neighbor. If this isn’t the type of person you are, then multi-unit housing living may not be a good fit for you.

At the end of the day, we all need to breathe cleaner air!

*Note: Advocating for yourself is hard work. And it’s much the same if you want to translate your advocacy to an entire community. Smokefree campaigns take a lot of organizing, preparation, and campaign consulting, all of which ANR/F can provide. We have a guide with tips and can provide technical assistance to help determine your community’s readiness for going forward on a smokefree ordinance of any kind.

Clearing the air: About campaigns | Clearing the air: Guidebook

More resources for smokefree multi-unit housing:

Getting Started on Smokefree Multi-Family Housing

Advice for Enforcing a Smokefree Policy

Enforcement Tips for Building Managers and Maintenance Staff

This story appeared in UPDATE, ANR’s newsletter.

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