Residents Complain About Smoking in Apartments and Condos
Special GASP Report
Since the Colorado Clean Indoor Act was passed in 2006, GASP has been receiving a growing number of e-mails and calls from residents of multiunit residences seeking advice on how to resolve problems with tobacco smoke drifting into their residences. The law prohibits smoking of tobacco and marijuana in the common areas of residential buildings and within 15 feet of the main entrance. It does not prohibit smoking in the units of a multiunit building, and such laws exist only in some local communities in California.
GASP provides a number of tips and resources to assist multiunit-building residents. Housing providers are not required to prohibit smoking in an entire building, so some residents are forced to move or continue to live in an unsafe and unhealthy environment. In this special report GASP shares a variety of the e-mails we have received from Colorado residents from 2007 through 2011. The names of the residents and the city they live in have been left out, as many residents are afraid to go public about their concerns. In addition, some e-mails have been edited for clarity and due to length.
Tobacco Smoke in My Apartment
“One or more people on my floor smokes very heavily. Most nights, the hallways of the building smell like smoke, and the smell seeps its way into my apartment unit. Some nights, it is hard to breathe in my own apartment. Some mornings, I wake up with phlegm in my throat, and when I cough it out, I discover that the phlegm is gray. Any clothing item not stashed away in my closet smells like smoke. I really want something to be done about this awful problem. I am going to approach the building manager about this issue, but I want to equip myself with resources before I meet with him. What can be done about this issue? I like my apartment and I want to keep living here, but this problem is endangering my health.”
“With the current hot weather, I have to have my windows open. Several residents, manager, and maintenance person smoke in the central outside courtyard. Some residents sit on the stairs and smoke every day. My whole apartment smells like an ashtray. The apartment manager has threatened me with eviction for simply calling him with maintenance requests. Therefore, I have to remain anonymous as I cannot afford to move out at this time.”
“I am very sensitive to smoke and the tenant below me smokes like a chimney. I feel unhealthy most of the time because of the filthy air I am forced to breathe. I don’t know what to do. I pay a lot of money for rent and I feel like I am being abused. Can you tell me what I can do? Can you at least point me in a direction to get out of this dilemma?”
“I recently moved into this facility and signed a lease that all smoking had to be done outside and at least 25 feet from the building. I moved here because I don’t smoke and never have, and I thought it would be a great place. However, I noticed the halls were full of smoke at times and it permeates the halls and under the doors. I have asthma and just had a bout with cancer. The people in the apartment below me smoke by the window and it rolls up into my apartment through the windows. I have spoken to the manager many times about this and she claims the people have the right to smoke because they were in here before the rule was put into effect. I don’t agree. If I signed a lease telling me not to smoke because it is a nonsmoking building, then everybody should not smoke.”
A Positive Outcome Thanks to GASP
“I have been working with another resident for several years to my apartment complex to become nonsmoking. Finally, both buildings are nonsmoking. Tenants are no longer allowed to smoke anywhere in the buildings, only outside. Thank you for all the help and information that you gave to us.”
“Thank you so much for the information at mysmokefreehousing.org and the resources it provides. I was able to make a case to our condo complex’s board, and the majority of residences voted to make the building smoke free. The building has 25 units and we are now fully smoke-free. Thank you so much.”
I am GASPing and I Need Your Help!
“I recently moved into a new apartment and I knew it was a smoking building but I have lived in smoking buildings before. This one is VERY different as my downstairs neighbor smokes and the building isn’t properly ventilated. My apartment is filled with smoke all the time. I am living in a cloud of smoke and it is uncomfortable and it is hazardous to my health. No one will help me. The landlord thinks this is not a problem and I should just live with it. Do I have any rights? Is there anything I can do to get out of my lease?”
“Thank God I found your Web site! I’ve been suffering from my neighbor's secondhand smoke for almost two years, and it has adversely affected my health. I even have a note from my doctor, which I gave to my landlord. I renewed my lease because on my extremely limited income I can't afford pay anymore for rent. Recently I inherited some money from a deceased relative and the first thing I wanted to do — after yet another miserable respiratory infection — was to remove myself from the situation and find a smoke-free place. My landlord does not want to allow me to break the lease and says I knew this when I renewed my lease. She says she’s powerless to make the building smoke-free while tenants’ leases are still in effect, and has made no efforts to investigate ways to alleviate the problem. Can you help me?”
“My neighbors smoke and it is getting into my apartment from the heating vents. The building will not take responsibility for the problem, and management says this was never a smoke-free facility. They told me to move at my own expense and to pay a fee to break the lease. There has to be legal rights for tenants and I need to know where to go for information and legal advice. Any information you could provide would be great.”
“Is it legal to write a lease that prohibits the tenants from smoking in or around the house? If the tenant violates the lease agreement what are the legal actions I can take for damage recovery?”
Problems in Town Houses and Condominiums
“We hate smoking and understand the effects it has on the environment and on a person’s health. What prompted us to look up help, find your group, and contact you now is because our family is severely suffering in our town home! Everyday cigarette smoke seeps through our walls, windows, vents, etc. We have contacted our landlord twice about the problem and have also explained to our neighbors, the smokers, that we are allergic and the health effects the smoke is causing for us. Our neighbors are getting very defensive about their habits and I am sure this is only the beginning of this. I am contacting your group to see what kind of information I can get about this issue.”
“I own my condo and have problems with the neighbor’s secondhand smoke coming from their front or back patio into my windows and back sliding door. I live in a small unit and there is nowhere to get away from it. The neighbor’s smoke also seeps into my fireplace and through my closet in my bedroom. I am not sure what to do or what can be done. I have a high sensitivity to smoke, my face swells, I choke, my lungs hurt, I vomit, and I get disoriented. It seems like my body reacts to smoke of any kind. It is horrible and I was wondering what to do.”
“We purchased a home in Colorado recently. It had new paint and carpet and looked great when we bought it. We received no report that the previous owners and tenants were smokers. One month into our new home we began to smell cigarette smoke. It has gradually gotten worse. We have closed off the worst-smelling rooms. What can we do? We never wanted a smoker’s house!” Can GASP Help Me?”
“Do you have a list of housing developments/ buildings in Denver that are smoke-free? My Realtor doesn’t know of any. Do you have any resources that might help me convince my current HOA to do some remediation (weather-stripping door jambs, air filter…etc.)?”
“Our downstairs neighbors smoke and the smell comes into our apartment every night. Our place is unlivable on weekends. In our lease agreement, it says no occupant may threaten the health, comfort, or convenience of another occupant. I think the landlords are violating this as we cannot even be in our living room for a large part of the day.”
“Hello! I am really hoping you can tell me when you will be updating your list of non-smoking apartments at mysmokefreehousing.com? I’m looking to move here in a couple months and would really love to live in a no-smoking building. All the places I’ve checked out allow smoking and pets. OK, some pets I can handle but not the smoke! Please let me know what you know or what you can tell me! Thanks for your help!”
This document is provided as a public service and is not intended as legal advice.
Please consult an attorney before implementing a smoke-free policy.
All Your Smoke-Free Housing Resources Under One Roof
• Tips on how to implement a policy
• Sample leases and resident surveys
• HUD toolkits and memos
• Enforcement tips, free signage
• Links to other web resources
• Health information about secondhand tobacco and marijuana smoke
• Lists thousands of multiunit residential buildings and properties in Colorado with no-smoking policies
• Offers a free listing to publicize your buildings