There is No “Right to Smoke” at the Condo!

H.S. from Washington state writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have an owner who is objecting to his neighbor below, who smokes while sitting on her back deck. She even has a fan going outside to blow smoke away, so it does not go upstairs. We have rules saying no smoking within 25 feet of bldgs. But smoking is allowed on back decks. We only added in rules years back about 25 feet so not to put out cigarettes on flooring or drop onto walkways so not to burn coating. The property manager and president now want to have a lawyer draw up an amendment to prohibit smoking outside because of one owner whining. I feel they are taking away someone’s rights. I do not care for the smoke either, but I also hate having to close my windows when neighbors light up barbecues. That is more annoying to me, and lasts longer. I said maybe we should ban barbecues. I was only making a point about taking others rights away with barbecues. I believe we will have 4 against out of 7 on the board for having an amendment, but I will be gone this next meeting, so who knows? What is your feeling? It just seems like more, silly liberal “must not offend, take away rights, nonsense.

Mister Condo replies:

H.S., I can understand both sides of this issue quite well and while I agree with you that “less rules” is a simpler solution, nuisance-free living is a staple of most condo governing documents and the issue of smoke and foul odors needs to be taken quite seriously be condo association Boards unless they would prefer to defend their lack of action against such complaints in court by unit owners who wish to exercise their rights. Speaking of which, you use the word “rights” to describe smoking. There is no such right. Smoking is not constitutionally protected so no one has a “right” to smoke anywhere on association property. They also don’t have a “right” to barbecue and you have a right to claim the odor is a nuisance to you. The real question here is how far are the unit owners willing to go to protect their right to nuisance-free living. Non-smokers have the upper hand here although, their initial action is to ask the Board to restrict the activity. If the Board refuses, their only option is a lawsuit. If they are serious enough about protecting their own rights, they may just sue the association and they will likely prevail based on the current legal climate. You can search for local court records to see how the battle is going. My guess is you will see unit owners prevail against allowing smoking. Also, many state public health agencies are also encouraging smoking bans in all high-density housing (HDH) areas, of which your condo is likely one. With both condo governing documents and state agency policy on their side, non-smokers will likely prevail, in my opinion. Good luck!

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