Second Hand Smoke Ruining Condo Life

E.G. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Second hand smoke is coming into our unit from our neighbors unit since they moved in over a year ago. I have personally told them it was coming into our unit and asked them to please smoke outside. This made the chain smoking of multiple chain smokers worse! My son and I presented our case to the board and in front of the board my neighbor challenged the board, stating “how do they know it’s from his unit?” then, later, offered to seal up and install an exhaust system in his unit. This never happened. I have to live elsewhere for the summer and have to come back for the school year with this issue. The board did a follow up to see where neighbor was with changes but his reply is he quit smoking (not true) and that it’s not coming from his unit (12 units have shared attic space). I knocked on his door when smoke was coming into my unit – he insisted he was not smoking even though he and his unit smelled like smoke when he opened the door. He complained to the board that he feels harassed. Now, it his word against mine. I have only been to his front door 3 times since September, per his request, in front of the board at the June, 2014 Meeting. I cannot sell since load is upside down and I do not want to foreclose or short sale at this time. What are my options?

Mister Condo replies:

E.G., I am sorry that you find yourself in this unpleasant situation. Battles over second hand smoke rarely go well as it brings issues into play that many community associations aren’t prepared to handle. At the very core is where does one unit owner’s rights end and another’s begins? The unit owner who smokes feels he is right to smoke inside of his own unit. The unit owner who doesn’t smoke feels he has the right to enjoy a smoke-free environment within his own unit. To some extent, both have valid points. However, most condo documents are silent on the particular act of smoking within units. For this reason, the many boards are uncertain how to protect the rights of both unit owners and what steps need to be taken to secure the peace and maintain decorum within the community.

I applaud you for trying to work out a solution with your neighbor. Clearly, those efforts have not succeeded and I recommend that you try a new strategy. The State of Connecticut Department of Public Health is going to be your best friend in this situation. They have published an excellent guide to help folks like you enjoy a smoke-free condominium living experience. Visit their website at http://www.ct.gov/dph/  and, in particular, their page at http://www.ct.gov/dph/cwp/view.asp?a=3137&Q=486714&PM=1 which is their page on Smoke Free Housing for Condominium Owners and Homeowners Associations. You and your Board can follow the guidelines for adopting smoke free policies which are fully enforceable. Both you and all of your fellow unit residents have the right to a smoke free environment. This guide will show you how to get it done.

If you do not seek relief from the board, you may need to escalate the situation by filing a lawsuit against the board for not taking action to ensure a smoke free environment. This will most certainly get their attention and keep the process moving forward. It may take some time and perseverance, but you should prevail and end up with the smoke free environment you are entitled to. All the best!

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