My wonderful apartment smells like smoke.
January 12, 2010 2:00 PM   Subscribe

A new neighbor moved in and now the hallway and my entire apartment reek of second-hand smoke 24/7. I live in Pennsylvania.

What can I possibly do? I have allergies and the apartment isn't really livable for me. Nothing jumps out at me in my lease.

Should I approach the smokers? Will they listen? It's cold outside.

Should I approach my landlord? Will they care? What can they do? The landlord handles safety issues within hours and is generally friendly, but minor repairs are never attended to, ever.

I really, really like my apartment, but if I want to break my lease, could I get away with it? What steps should I follow? What should I document?
posted by zeek321 to Law & Government (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Stupid question, but are the apartments non-smoking?
posted by craven_morhead at 2:06 PM on January 12, 2010

Stupid question, but are the apartments non-smoking?

Sadly, no. Thanks for the sanity check.
posted by zeek321 at 2:07 PM on January 12, 2010

Have you tried a good air filter? This can help significantly if you can't get anything else done about it. That said, it can't hurt to mention it to your landlord. Do you know if the smell is bothering any of your other neighbors?
posted by katillathehun at 2:10 PM on January 12, 2010

Have you tried a good air filter?

I already have a huge, hard-core HEPA thing going all the time in the corner. The smell waxes and wanes but is generally pretty strong 24/7. I don't even acclimate to it when I'm in the apartment for long periods of time.
posted by zeek321 at 2:15 PM on January 12, 2010

Is there anything in the lease that prohibits a tenant from smoking in their apartment?

...if I want to break my lease, could I get away with it?

IANAL, but I have been a renter before and my experience has been that breaking a lease usually entails a financial penalty of some form; sometimes so-many-days notice are required and so on. One guy tried to tell me that it was my responsibility to find a replacement tenant if I broke the lease early, which was 100% balderdash. I knew this because I checked with a lawyer, and ultimately that's my advice here: call a lawyer and know for sure what you can/can't do according to the terms of your lease.
posted by jquinby at 2:30 PM on January 12, 2010

This is purely anecdotal, but I once lived in a flat with smokers. When we got a new neighbor upstairs, she eventually knocked on our door and explained how much the smoke bothered her and everything she had already tried to combat it. She asked if we had any other suggestions but basically just politely requested that that the smokers go outside. The smokers stopped smoking in the house. To my mind, they did it because it was the only reasonable thing to do. There may have been one or two times where someone lit up next to a window, but they were (presumably) few and far between enough that she didn't complain again. Neighbor relations remained friendly.

I would start with asking them nicely. If they aren't receptive, let them know that you are considering going to the landlord. If that doesn't help, go to the landlord with notes on everything you've tried and your conversations. I don't think AskMe can weigh in on what your landlord might do from there, but that definitely seems like the next step to me.

But I wouldn't put it past people to find a way to cooperate with you. I've seen it happen and it's worth a shot.
posted by juliplease at 2:32 PM on January 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Ask nicely if they could also use a filter or crack a window when they're smoking and if that doesn't help (or they are not agreeable) ask the landlord if he could install a good air filter in the hallway and seal the doorjam of their apartment.
posted by banannafish at 2:38 PM on January 12, 2010

I don't know your situation, but you seem unwilling to approach them because you want to maintain amicable relations.

If this is making you consider breaking your lease, then a polite request to stop is the least you can try and worst case scenario, you'd end up moving out which would have happened anyways. If there's a fee for breaking your lease, perhaps it could be waived in light of this? I can't say for sure, it really depends on your landlord and your contract.

I think juliplease has it. Talk to them nicely, and then go to the landlord. It sounds like it warrants it.
posted by R a c h e l at 2:52 PM on January 12, 2010

Two ideas:

1. Could they put a towel under their front door? People do this in my building and it makes a big difference.

2. Could you ask them if they would mind smoking in only one room, and that one having a door between it and the front door?

Good luck.

Also, do you have a towel under your front door?
posted by fantasticninety at 2:53 PM on January 12, 2010

Talking to your neighbors, making it clear that you know they have the right to smoke in their apartment but that you're very sensitive to it would probably do the most good.

I've never had someone who smokes get nasty with me as long as I made it clear that I was the one who was asking for a favor. I did know someone who got told off by a smoker after she snapped at them so tone really matters. Just try to be nice about it and I think you'll have some sympathy.

Asking them to help come up with solutions is good. The idea of smoking in just one room might work or cracking the window if it's not too cold might help. If you really don't want to move, being willing to pay for an air cleaner for them would hopefully keep the smoke in their apartment. I've seen a post before about making a homemade air filter by taping a hepa filter to a box fan (This Old House mentioned making one too for construction dust so it's TOH approved) as a cheaper version.
posted by stray thoughts at 4:50 PM on January 12, 2010

If it is smoky in the hallways and your apartment that means that air is flowing from their unit into yours. This could be because you run (or have working) exhaust fans more so than they do. A well designed apartment building should not allow any odors from individual units out into the hall, but I have no idea how likely you are to get building changes, a big landlord expense, to happen (although you could always ask I suppose).

If you have bathroom or kitchen fans that exhaust to outside your unit, it is possible that you run yours and the smoker doesn't (or you run yours more). That would pull the air from the smoke filled unit into yours. It is also possible any exhaust fans in the smoker's unit aren't working well or properly.

I'd suggest talking to the smoker about your problem and explore whether they have any means of exhaust directly in their unit, that it is working well, and whether they are willing to do the towel at the door thing. If you like your apartment it is definitely worth at least attempting a discussion with them and the building owners before jumping to the break your lease stage.
posted by meinvt at 8:24 PM on January 12, 2010

I had this problem in an apartment of mine, but I was able to isolate the source of the smell to just one wall (the one adjacent to my smoking neighbour.) Caulking up the baseboard actually pretty well eliminated the problem.

But, before I hit upon that solution, I was really frustrated and did some research about this kind of thing in my city, and found this info. Maybe it will help you. Example:

If there are problems such as damaged walls, ceilings or floors or a ventilation system that is not working properly which permits smoke to enter your unit, there are Municipal Standards by-laws in place to help.

Even if you live in a building that allows smoking, the building should be ventilated -- or your unit should be sealed -- in such a way that second-hand smoke doesn't get in. There might even be a law on your side in your area.
posted by Ouisch at 6:37 AM on January 13, 2010

Oh, and, an alternative to a towel under the door is good weather-stripping. This is another thing we did that helped.
posted by Ouisch at 6:39 AM on January 13, 2010

Most air purifiers are real need one which actually works. HEPA filtration alone won't do a thing for smoke vapors and its smells. For an air purifier to combat smoke, it needs to possess a significant amount of activated carbon (at least 5 lbs or preferably more). It's the carbon which absorbs and neutralizes smoke..not a HEPA.

IQAir air purifiers which are made in Switzerland are the best. You can see their demo here where smoke (equivalent to 200 cigarettes) is released into a chamber. Then the IQAir is switched on and all of the smoke is captured and retained.

The model which is specifically designed to combat smoke is the IQAir GC MultiGas.
posted by orehek at 7:03 AM on January 13, 2010

Positive air pressure in your apartment might help too. Seal up your door to the corridor and your windows as well as you can, then install a in-window heater/AC. It will introduce a slight positive pressure to your apartment, which should help keep the smoke out of your living space.

This is the method used in hospitals to protect isolated immunocompromised individuals from the general hospital air.
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 10:44 AM on January 13, 2010

I run, a website for NYC apartment dwellers, and secondhand smoke is a huge concern over here. I agree with much of the advice above--especially the part about HOW to approach your neighbor (as though he or she is doing you the favor).

Also, a superintendent for one NYC's most highly regarded landlords recently posted a detailed explanation on our forum of the measures he takes to stop the spread of secondhand smoke, starting with:

1) Remove all electrical face plates and spray foam insulation on the inside. Such as Great Stuff- by Down 12oz Great stuff Gaps and Cracks Insulating Foam Sealant. Could be found in any Home Depot or local hardware store.

2) Remove all exhasut/fresh air supply grills usually loacted in bathrooms and kitchens in newly erected buildings. Cut to size of the grill a piece of charcoal filter. It will filter any odors.

(click here to read the entire thread)

Good luck - hope this helps.


posted by BrickUnderground at 6:44 AM on January 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

Call the Clean Air Council or stop into their offices on 19th and Walnut in Philadelphia (135 S. 19th Street; The Wellington Building; 215-567-4004), tell them Patrick sent you and explain your problem to them and ask for suggestions.

When I worked there, one of their major program areas was smoke-free apartment buildings. At the very least, they can suggest ways for you to talk to your neighbors and your landlord. But they will also be able to explain some of the bigger guns you can pull out, including filing an air pollution complaint with Air Management Services.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:15 AM on March 14, 2010

« Older WHERE'S THE GREEN WHAT?   |   A scared, sort of anxious feeling Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.