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What's the best way to deal with neighbors smoking in an apartment building?
July 8, 2012 4:59 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to deal with neighbors smoking in an apartment building?

I live in an multi-unit building. On July 3 I saw some people moving in. Since then, I've noticed the stink of cigarette smoke in my apartment.

Is there anything I can do in this situation?

My city recently banned smoking in or near multi-unit buildings, for whatever that's worth.

I've considered these options:

- Knock on their door and ask them not to smoke in the building if they're doing so. (Maybe after I get done doing that I'll head downtown and politely ask some junkies to stop shooting herion.)

- Call the real estate management company and ask them to communicate with my neighbors.

- Hire a lawyer and have them send a letter.

Any other ideas?
posted by eeby to Human Relations (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
First step, I would talk to them. They may not realize that the smell is spreading and annoying. At minimum they could open a window and turn on a fan or something. If that doesn't help, second step, I would talk to the management company. It's their job to deal with it. Hiring a lawyer seems excessive at this point.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:08 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hiring a lawyer is way, way over the top in this situation.

Call the landlord.
posted by twblalock at 5:09 PM on July 8, 2012 [5 favorites]


You could speak to them, but likely they'll just laugh at you and or start making you miserable in other ways.

It's pretty hard to deal with, but people feel that they have the right to do what they want to do in the privacy of their own homes.

If I were a smoker, I'd expect to be able to smoke in my own home.

Why is it that you can smell it in your unit? Is there a way to keep the smoke from coming in?

I understand not wanting to be around cigarette smoke, but what you're describing sounds extreme to me.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:09 PM on July 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Have you noticed smoke consistently or was it just that one day? Have you seen anyone smoking personally? Do you know whether or not your new neighbors have guessed that may be staying?
posted by Hello Darling at 5:10 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


If there is a no-smoking rule in your building, complain to the landlord.
posted by elizardbits at 5:26 PM on July 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


I would go through your 3 ideas in order. Maybe don't play the "inconsiderate_assholes" card.
posted by caek at 5:34 PM on July 8, 2012


They won't welcome hearing from you about it, and you don't have any power over them anyway. You need to go through the landlord.
posted by hermitosis at 5:34 PM on July 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


I don't think you have a leg to stand on here unless smoking is banned inside your building entirely. People want to smoke in their own homes and if they're allowed to, then I think you're probably out of luck.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:37 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


If it's banned by your lease as well as your city, I'd start with the landlord. (That's what I did.) Maintenance was highly skeptical (they said "There's no possible way it could get into your apartment," which is BS), but went over on a routine visit, observed staining on the walls and smelled smoke, informed them that it was absolutely not OK, and it ended immediately. Problem solved, lungs and head happy!

If it's banned by your city but not specified by your lease, it seems to be a little trickier to me.
posted by wintersweet at 5:48 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


My, what a lot of comments that missed:

My city recently banned smoking in or near multi-unit buildings.

Yeah, I'd say talk to your landlord, let them know you're smelling smoke in your apartment, etc.
posted by Lady Li at 5:49 PM on July 8, 2012 [11 favorites]


I should add that your landlord probably hates the smoking even more than you do, because it will make it harder to find new tenants for that unit.

If the lease or city law bans smoking, the landlord will probably have grounds for eviction.
posted by twblalock at 5:54 PM on July 8, 2012


My, what a lot of comments that missed:
My city recently banned smoking in or near multi-unit buildings.


It would be nice to know the exact jurisdiction. From the OP's question history, I have an idea of where this is, but would like to see the specific local ordinance. Knowing the that would narrow the range of answers down quite a bit. It could be there are variations on the law.
posted by lampshade at 6:02 PM on July 8, 2012


I'm not very confrontational, and knocking on doors and asking people to tone down their noise/smoking hasn't ended well for me in the past. I'd probably go straight to the landlord/managing agents, myself. But if you're sure it's your new neighbors and you think they might be receptive, it's worth a shot.

Is there a Tenant's Advice or Renters' Rights organization in your city? They may have useful advice for you, including how best to escalate things if needed.
posted by Someone Else's Story at 6:12 PM on July 8, 2012


You pay a premium on your rent for the services of the real estate management company. Make them deal with it. That is what they are there for.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:15 PM on July 8, 2012 [10 favorites]


Yeah, go to your landlord, particularly if you can confirm that they're banned from smoking by the ordinance.

My landlord just sent round a letter to my building saying "You're allowed to smoke in your apartment, but you're not allowed to smoke on the back stairs, so cut it out. Oh, and while you're at it, stop hanging out on the stairs and making a racket." I assume someone complained. We've had 'Hey, don't leave cigarette butts on the stairs' notices before, but I'm assuming we too got some new neighbours on July 1st (I've been out of town) and that they suck, so someone complained and the landlord cracked down. (The previous notices never said don't smoke on the stairs, only don't make a mess, so that's why I'm assuming complaint, plus the reference to noise.)
posted by hoyland at 6:24 PM on July 8, 2012


Go to the management company. It's really your only option here.

1 -- Talking to them will only make them defensive and mark you as the asshole neighbor. Either they're ignorant of the law and won't believe you or they just don't care.

2 -- Make the management company do their job. They get to be the asshole, because they're the ones who get paid to be assholes. If landlording were easy and fun, you wouldn't have to pay people to do it.

3 -- You may or may not have any actual standing here, so I suspect any lawyer would tell you that it's far, far easier to go to the management company.
posted by Etrigan at 6:26 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


It’s probably smart not to confront them yourself, but I have done that twice in my time as a tenant in my current building and had pretty good results. I just tried to strike a conciliatory tone and explained how their choice to smoke affected me. I approached it as I would if they were taking my parking spot or throwing out my mail.

It’s tough in AC season because they probably smoke in their apartment and that horrible smell gets pulled out and expelled upward by their inevitably filthy window fans or loud AC units.

Definitely make use of your management company. You might want to document your communications with them about this in case you feel you need to break your lease and use something like a quiet enjoyment clause of your local landlord-tenant law.
posted by vkxmai at 6:34 PM on July 8, 2012


If you can present yourself as non-judgmental, I would suggest talking to your neighbors first. They honestly may not realize that it is affecting you at all, and there are modifications they could make (such as an air purifier, closing vents, smoking outside & no, not near your balcony/window/whatever). The one time a neighbor approached me about noise late at night from a TV when I fell asleep, I was grateful she rang my doorbell rather than just complained to my unpredictable landlord. If you don't notice a change after that or doubt your ability to approach them in a neutral, friendly fashion, then go to your landlord/management company.
posted by katemcd at 6:51 PM on July 8, 2012


Dudes, not all smokers are assholes. When I was a smoker, if someone nicely, politely asked me to refrain from smoking, I would do my best to accommodate them. So yeah, try that first.
posted by greta simone at 6:53 PM on July 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


When I was a landlord/property manager, taking care of issues like this was the reason I got paid. Talk to the people who are being paid to talk to the tenants. Good luck!
posted by cyndigo at 6:58 PM on July 8, 2012


My, what a lot of comments that missed:
My city recently banned smoking in or near multi-unit buildings.


I imagine many other commenters were, like myself, confused if this meant it is only banned in the publicly accessible areas of included buildings or if it is banned within individual apartments in the included buildings.
posted by elizardbits at 7:03 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think the OP's wording is ambiguous.

Why is it that you can smell it in your unit? Is there a way to keep the smoke from coming in?

Not the OP's problem if smoking is banned in multi unit buildings. Also it's not extreme to be bothered from a cigarette smoke in an adjacent apartment. Cigarette smoke permeates more than some people realize. It also wouldn't be banned if it were never a problem.

The OP needs to contact he landlord and work it from there. Smokers don't realize how much the smoke affects other people.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:20 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would probably go to the landlord first (unless I had at least a friendly nodding acquaintance with the neighbors). Something similar happened this summer to a friend of mine when his city outlawed smoking in multiunit buildings just AFTER they got new smoking neighbors. The landlords apologized and said they had to wait for the year of the smokers' lease to run before they could require them to smoke outdoors, because one-year leases signed before the law passed get to run out before tenants must comply (so people have time to change housing if they desire). But they gave my friend a discount on the rent until the NEIGHBOR'S lease runs out, so at least there's that. They also spoke to the neighbors, who have been more considerate now that they know which specific windows are a problem, etc., though the problem isn't totally gone.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:53 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


My friend, who is one of the politest, most conflict-averse people I know, asked his neighbors if they could stop smoking in their apartment.

They keyed his car badly enough that it needed to be refinished.

I'd get the property management people to send out some kind of "friendly reminder." You probably don't want the tenants to know that you're the one who complained, just in case.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 7:58 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do you keep your windows open? Is it possible that the new neighbors are smoking out the window (or maybe just smoking near an open window), thinking they're doing the right thing by avoiding getting the building all smoky by simply smoking wherever? Maybe they don't know that the smoke is going out the window and directly into the apartment below?

If this might be the case, I don't think it could hurt anything by talking to them about it. Not in a complaining way, just, "Hi, there, neighbor! I'm not sure if you know this is happening, but your cigarette smoke* is filtering down into my apartment. Could you guys not smoke out the window, please?"

*I mean, assuming that you are 100% sure that it is their smoke, and not just a coincidence.
posted by Sara C. at 9:08 PM on July 8, 2012


You don't know it's your new neighbors: probably it's them, but you don't know. There is even a (slight) possibility that what you're smelling isn't cigarett smoke but some other kind of burning. But you don't know.

Those "you don't knows" provide your answer. You don't have the resources to question everyone int he building about whether they're smoking, and you don't have the authority to remove anyone from the property from breaking a lease.

Your landlord or your management company not only have the authority and the resources, they also most likely don't live on the premises and thus won't have to share an elevator with what will likely be disgruntled residents (or non-residents, depending on how this shakes out).

Talking to the neighbors about this would be a good idea only if you had a pre-existing cordial relationship of some standing. In your case, the very first contact you would have with these strangers would be to knock on the door to say, "Would you please stop smoking; you're making my home stink."

The upshot of this will likely be that the new tenants didn't realize their smoking was penetrating the walls and will more or less pleasantly adjust to smoking outdoors. But, on the other hand, they might be jerks.

So: pass the buck.
posted by La Cieca at 9:52 PM on July 8, 2012


"My friend, who is one of the politest, most conflict-averse people I know, asked his neighbors if they could stop smoking in their apartment.

They keyed his car badly enough that it needed to be refinished."

Yeah, well there you go.

Thanks for the advice and answers, everyone.

I had to move out of my last place because of cigarette smoking neighbors. The stench got in my clothes and I'd smell it throughout the day, regardless of whether I was home or not.
posted by eeby at 11:56 AM on July 9, 2012


Do you keep your windows open? Is it possible that the new neighbors are smoking out the window

It sounds like that's still illegal in eeby's area, and possibly forbidden under their lease.

As a former smoker myself who would return to smoking in a second if my health (and my husband) could stand it, I sympathize with smokers, but the thing is that if eeby chose to live in a non-smoking building (as specified by local ordnance) then the management company has to enforce the non-smoking law that's on the books.

So I am on Team Talk With The Management Company. If the management company gives you slack, go to the municipality and inform them that this law isn't being enforced in your building.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:26 PM on July 9, 2012


The point which I failed to make is that eeby doesn't need to talk with them to convince them to smoke differently in order to accommodate eeby's particular needs. They aren't allowed to smoke in a multi-unit building at all.

eeby's talking to them isn't going to accomplish anything that the management company's talking to them isn't going to accomplish.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:28 PM on July 9, 2012


I live in a city where smoking is banned in or near apartments, and when we signed our lease, that was part of it. It should be in the leases in your building as well if they are up to date, so talk to your manager or landlord.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:38 PM on July 9, 2012


Do you keep your windows open? Is it possible that the new neighbors are smoking out the window

In many places with smoking ordinances, that does not make it legal. Where I live you are not allowed to smoke within 25 feet of doors or windows. Not that that's generally enforced, but a landlord can enforce those sorts of things.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:40 PM on July 9, 2012


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