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First Steps


Is Tobacco Smoke Drifting into Your Apartment or Condo from Another Unit or Tenant?

Here are the first steps in clearing the air:

Here are some additional suggestions to consider:

1. Where is the smoke coming from? Try to identify the source so that you can communicate effectively with the manager or owner. If the smoke is coming through a ventilation system, perhaps the problem can be corrected.

2. When did you move in? When did the offending tenant move in? If you were there first, the owner or manager may consider that your complaint has more status than the offending smoker.

3. Is the smoke bothering anyone else? If you were to send a polite letter of complaint to the manager or owner (use certified mail, return receipt requested), and another neighbor were to do the same, the manager or owner might decide to evict the offending smoker because of the nuisance he or she is creating. Explain to management that the smoke is a risk to your health and that it is a breach of the covenant for quiet enjoyment. Explain that your apartment is not habitable.

4. If you are living in your own condo, and the offending smoker is a renter, communicate in writing with the owner of the condo. Remind him/her that there is a right to designate the unit as a "no smoking" unit. Again, check to see if the smoke is bothering anyone else. Check the CC & R's to see whether any of the rules could be applied to this situation. The condo association has the legal authority to regulate tobacco use in the complex.

5. If you are living in an apartment complex, inform management that they have the right to designate an entire building as smokefree. Investigate which building has the fewest smokers and ask to be moved into that building under the condition that the building will become totally smokefree as smokers move out and new tenants move in.

6. Management may not believe that smoke can drift into your unit. Get a blood test or a urine test to check for levels of cotinine in your body, Cotinine is a marker for exposure to nicotine. There are medical laboratories that will do this test and interpret it for you without a doctor's order. Or you may have to go to your doctor and ask that he order this test. The test can be a proof that you are being exposed to secondhand smoke in you own home. Cotinine breaks down very quickly in the body, so try to have the test as near as possible to the exposure time.

7. Try to get a friend or neighbor in to smell the smoke so that they can be a witness for you.

8. Keep a diary of the days and times that the smoke is most annoying. Keep a record of your communications with management and other people or agencies that you talk to about this problem.

9. If you have a chronic illness like heart disease (even high blood pressure), respiratory problems, or any illness which is aggravated by secondhand smoke, you may be eligible for protection under the Federal Housing Law of 1998. In California you can file a complaint with the California Fair Employment & Housing Commission, 322 W. 1st Street, Room 2126, Los Angeles, CA 90012, 213-897-2840 or 1-800-884-1684 (Oakland).


Contact your local Fair Housing organization. The smoker is not protected by anti-discrimination laws, but if you have a chronic illness, the Fair Housing organization may be of some assistance to you.

11. Is the smoker smoking on a balcony or patio with the smoke blowing into your apartment? You might want to look into trying to get a temporary restraining order from your local superior court. This can be done without the assistance of a private attorney but it does require the expenditure of several hundred dollars. (Based on your economic situation, there may be no charge.) You will need to bring as much proof as possible to explain the situation to the Judge.

12. Call your local health department and the local department of building and safety. There are new laws and protocols being enacted all the time. Perhaps a law or policy is now in place which can provide you with some assistance. See the Links to local ordinances page here.

13. Communicate with your local city council person and/or your representative in county or state government. A law was passed in 1998 in the State of Utah which begins to regulate this problem of drifting smoke in apartment buildings and condo complexes. Suggest that it is time for a law like the Utah Law in your jurisdiction.

14. All of the above suggestions take a great deal of time. If the smoke is making you or a member of your family ill, the very best thing for you and your family's health may be to move as quickly as possible. Educate and negotiate with your prospective new landlord about the problem of drifting secondhand smoke. Inform them that it is legal for them to have a smokefree building. If you have a lease at your current residence, bring a note from your doctor which states that you cannot be exposes to secondhand smoke. Ask to be released from the lease.

15. If you move, keep a record of the costs. You might want to try to recover the costs of you move from Small Claims Court. There are books available which can provide you with information about how to use Small Claims Court. (Nolo Press publishes an excellent book.)


Reprinted by permission of SAHR
Smokefree Apartment House Registry