How to handle neighbor's nocturnal emissions (of cigarette smoke)?
May 21, 2012 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Should we ask our new neighbor to lay off smoking in her bedroom, or just do our best to ignore it?

My husband and I live in the top-floor apartment in a two-apartment house. A new neighbor moved in about a week and a half ago, and she seems really nice -- I haven't met her yet myself, but my husband has, and he said she's really friendly and nice.

The only issue is, she smokes, and her friends smoke. When they smoke out on her front porch, the smoke smell blows into our living-room windows, but that's not such a huge deal, since the living room is fairly large and airy. At night, though, and sometimes early in the morning, she smokes in her bedroom, and apparently blows the smoke out her window, so it wafts right up and into our bedroom. It's getting warm here, so sleeping with the windows closed isn't an option. The smell drives me nuts (my husband is more able to ignore it). Would it be weird and inappropriate to ask her to stop smoking in her bedroom? And if we were to ask, how can we manage it in such a way that we don't come across and bitchy neighbors? I certainly don't want to be all "you can't smoke in your own apartment!" but... gah, the stink. Help?
posted by sarcasticah to Human Relations (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you get a box fan and put it in the window to keep the smoke out?
posted by MegoSteve at 4:47 PM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

If she's as friendly and nice as you say, I think a simple, "Hey, your smoke is blowing into your bedroom window, is there possibly another place you could smoke?" might do the trick. If not, put a fan in the window blowing outside. We had to do this at my current apartment until a few weeks ago because our former (YES!!!) neighbor used to sit on her fire escape right outside our bedroom window and smoke at least fifteen thousand cigarettes a day. Even with the fan blowing out, it still sometimes smelled. City living...
posted by jabes at 4:47 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Would a fan help? It's definitely something you can broach with her, but it might be easier to just put a fan in that window pointing out. Either way, it's not at all out of bounds to tell her, "Hey, I don't know if you noticed, but when you smoke in your bedroom, it comes right up into ours." And then leave it at that.
posted by Etrigan at 4:48 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Since you're okay with her smoking on her porch, I would mention that - it shows her that you're not trying to just be an asshole about her smoking. Something like:

"Hey, ____, when you smoke in your bedroom it drifts right up into ours. Could you smoke somwhere else? It doesn't bother us when you smoke on your porch - it's just the way our bedrooms are so close that makes it especially strong."

If that doesn't work, then a box fan wedged in your window might help, but keep the bedroom door open so air gets sucked into the room from the rest of the apartment.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:54 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

A couple previous similar questions might have some helpful answers too.
posted by manicure12 at 4:55 PM on May 21, 2012

"Hey, we are unusually sensitive to cigarette smoke. It's not a big deal when you smoke on your porch, but when you smoke in your bedroom it is really problematic. It seems like the smoke goes out your window and straight into ours, and it is too hot to sleep with the windows closed. Is it possible for you to smoke elsewhere at night, or should we buy a box fan that blows out to see if it will keep the smoke out?"
posted by davejay at 5:05 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Asking this would be INCREDIBLY rude - and I say this as someone who would be just as upset at smoke-smell in the bedroom as you (probably moreso since I'm asthmatic and cigarette smoke is a trigger).

If smoking in the apartment is against the complex rules, then just tell the manager. If it is not against the complex's rules, it's more about the complex being a problem than it is this neighbor.

This woman should not be asked to smoke outside her apartment that she is paying for (again, provided there's not a complex rule that says no smoking).

My recommendations to you:

1) buy a fan
2) talk to the landlord about increasing the insulation
3) move to a new complex with better insulation/tighter restrictions on what tenants can do in their dwellings.

Please don't think I don't feel for you - I've been in a similar situation.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 5:07 PM on May 21, 2012 [12 favorites]

Unfortunately you have to deal with these kinds of things when you live in an apartment. She pays rent just as you do. I had a neighbor that cooked Indian food and I cannot handle that horrible smell. I just burned incense. I certainly wasn't going to ask her not to cook that kind of food.

There are lots of things that you have to deal with when renting an apartment: dogs barking, kids crying, hearing noise all night from someone who works night shift, all kinds of smells, dog shit, parking issues, etc.
Noise doesn't bother me, but I know of some people that lost a lot of sleep living in apartments.

Perhaps you can look into renting a house once your lease is up. Or burn some scented candles, use a fan, etc.
Of course, you could ask her to not smoke in her own bedroom.
posted by KogeLiz at 5:19 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

You could bring it up, but know that you have no real leverage if she doesn't want to change her behavior. Phrase it less as a request and more as a "hey, did you know that your smoke from your bedroom window goes right into my bedroom window? I wish the apartment were built differently..." She'll get the hint, though she may not make any changes.

Also, know that bringing it up will damage your neighbor relationship slightly so if you do it make sure to find some small nice thing you can do for her later, like maybe help her carry up some groceries if you see her bringing them in, or water her plants for her one time if they're near yours and they need it when yours need it.

I came in to suggest an outward-pointing fan though. I bet a little positive pressure would make a big difference. Make sure the fan fills the opening in the window completely though, and open the bedroom door to provide an intake. Otherwise the fan will just draft air in from the same bedroom window, swirl it around the room a bit, and blow it back out again; you'd see much less benefit.
posted by Scientist at 5:27 PM on May 21, 2012

Asking this would be INCREDIBLY rude

Possibly in some cultural contexts I suppose, but this is definitively not true in any universal sense. Everywhere I've ever lived, people understand that there are things people do "in their apartments that they are paying for" that intrude on others (noise, fumes, smells). I've never had neighbours who take polite requests like this as if they're insults, and I've never taken them as insults myself. (Of course,that doesn't mean the request will be respected, or that you necessarily have any right to a particular answer.)
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:41 PM on May 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

When I was a smoker, I was very sensitive to others when it came to my second-hand smoke, but a lot of times I just never realized that my smoke here could be smelled waaaay over there. If she's nice, then just bring it up with her, nicely, but firmly. She should have no problem going outside to smoke--for the last few years I smoked I only smoked outside.
posted by zardoz at 5:43 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think the fan would work better sitting in the doorway blowing into the bedroom. That puts the room on the high-pressure side of the fan, and hopefully causes all the air to flow in the door and out everywhere else (like the window.)

Putting the fan in the window blowing out puts the room on the low pressure side, and any leakage around the fan wants to go in.

For small fans though, it may not be much of a difference.
posted by ctmf at 5:45 PM on May 21, 2012

Asking this would be INCREDIBLY rude

I disagree wholeheartedly. If she is actually a nice and friendly person, and if you ask in an earnest, non-judgmental way, she will almost surely acquiesce. I am a smoker, and if someone told this to me, I would surely find a different place to smoke.
posted by King Bee at 6:15 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm Rob, and I could be your neighbor. First my story, and then my answer.

My crappy one bedroom apartment has one redeeming feature, I can smoke in it. I had been here about a month when I met my neighbor last October, who is just the super nicest woman you could want to meet. We got to talking, and she asked me if I was the smoker. Let me tell you, I. AM. THE. SMOKER. Smokers think I smoke to much, and I frakin' reek of cigarettes. So I said, "Why yes, I am the smoker."

She told me my smoking bothered her, and that she spoke to the landlord about it and the landlord was going to attempt to mitigate the problem. I was very apologetic, and I eagerly awaited any solution the landlord had, which was dick.

In December a nice lady from the leasing office stopped by my apartment and we had a civil discussion about my smoking. Her suggestion was that I could smoke on my balcony only. I reminded her that I pay frakin' rent to smoke anywhere in my apartment, and I even offered to move on my own dime. She would not let me out of my lease, and I agreed to try and smoke only on the balcony. Frak it, it's cold, I'll continue to smoke inside.

In January I received a notice of lease violation stating that my smoke that was seeping into my neighbor's unit could be construed as assault. (Close to 16 years of renting, and this is my first lease violation.) So I called a lawyer to discuss my situation, and he suggested I talk with the property manager.

I talked to the property manager and explained all the steps I have taken to mitigate this problem. I smoke less than I want, I have put activated charcoal in any area near my neighbor's apartment, I've put filters on my vents, I put the weather stripping that the landlord should have put around my front door, AND I smoke exclusively in my bedroom with the window open because that is the furthest I can be from my nice neighbor. And you know what? My smoking still bothers her. I can't win.

Here's my answer:

Based on your AskMe, you have not approached her about this, so she does not know her smoking bothers you. Yeah, she probably has an idea her smoking might bother the neighbors, but I assumed my apartment was well constructed enough that my smoking wouldn't be an issue, maybe she thinks the same thing.

Definitely speak with her about it in a friendly way. There are a couple great suggestions upthread.

"Hey neighbor! *small talk* You know, when you smoke on the porch your smoke comes right into my living room, and that's not such a big deal, but when you smoke in your bedroom the smoke comes right into our bedroom window and that's a problem, could you not smoke in your bedroom?"

If you said something like that to me, I would at least try to smoke only in certain parts of my apartment.

The end of my story in case you care:

Apartments suck and I've given up trying to find nice rentals that allow smoking. I'm going to rent a nice place where I can't smoke inside. I hope my outside smoking doesn't bother my new neighbors. Seriously, smoking is becoming such a PITA, I just might quit.
posted by Rob Rockets at 6:18 PM on May 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, I'd never try to tell her she can't smoke in her apartment, that wouldn't be right at all. It's not a non-smoking building (or a complex, for that matter -- it's a house, divided into two apartments, one upstairs and one down) so I wouldn't say anything about it to the property manager.

The window fan is a great idea, except we can't sleep with our bedroom door open -- our two cats dance jigs on our heads all night long if we try to do that.
posted by sarcasticah at 6:46 PM on May 21, 2012

Do you really want to start off the relationship with a new neighbor, in a 2 party house, by complaining about her? I'd find it weird and yes, rude, if I just moved somewhere and the first thing I heard from my neighbor was a complaint. About something that isn't breaking any rules of the lease, no less. Get a fan.
posted by MinusCelsius at 6:52 PM on May 21, 2012

we can't sleep with our bedroom door open -- our two cats dance jigs on our heads all night long if we try to do that

We bought a baby gate to stop Puss stealing the covers in the night. Works well.
posted by flabdablet at 7:49 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry, I think it's incredibly rude to ask someone to not smoke in their own apartment. I'm not a smoker, but I have friends who are, and the places they CAN smoke decrease by the day. If a person cannot smoke in their own apartment (and she may need to smoke to help her sleep), where will we ask them to not smoke next? I certainly would never ask someone to stop smoking in their own private area.
posted by patheral at 8:49 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Would it be possible to get a portable air conditioner and keep the windows closed?
posted by Bokmakierie at 9:44 PM on May 21, 2012

While I agree that it's too bad (for smokers) that fewer places are smoking-friendly, I think it's less offensive to be unable to smoke in your private space than it is to be unable to avoid smoke in your private space. Yes, you could shut your windows, run a fan non-stop, or move, but if she seems like a nice person and you don't mind her smoking in other areas of the apartment, it doesn't seem unreasonable to me to mention it.
posted by 0127661 at 11:41 PM on May 21, 2012 [9 favorites]

Get a box fan and point it so that the fan is blowing out. Then open up a window in another room in your appartment(as long as its not the same side of the building as your bedroom). This should give you the airflow you need to keep cool and keep out the smoke at the same time.
posted by majortom1981 at 6:18 AM on May 22, 2012

The window fan is a great idea, except we can't sleep with our bedroom door open -- our two cats dance jigs on our heads all night long if we try to do that.
I have a twin window fan that has a reverse feature, I think I got it from Target. You can set one side to "intake" and the other to "outtake." This would eliminate needing to keep the door open.

I personally think it would be difficult to phrase "even though you are allowed to smoke in your space, can you please stop smoking in your space that drifts up into ours?" in a way that wouldn't make her feel at least a bit defensive and put upon. I think at least try the window fans and if that doesn't help, then perhaps you could politely request. But if she doesn't want to stop smoking in her bedroom, it's unfortunately kind of tough tits.
posted by sm1tten at 9:26 AM on May 22, 2012

I think it's rude of the neighbor to smoke with her window open, letting the smoke just drift into other people's spaces. I think smokers don't always realize how much their smoke impacts other people. I mentioned to a smoker acquaintance once that I often had to roll up my car windows on nice days because a smoker was in the car in front of me, just puffing his smoke right into my car. The person I was talking to had no idea that smoking in their car with the windows open made other people feel sick.

On the other hand, I'm not a confrontation person, so I probably wouldn't mention it to the neighbor. Instead, I would get a window air conditioning unit and secretly dislike the smoker, while remaining polite to her when I saw her in the hallways.

I just wanted to say that your neighbor is already being rude by smoking with her windows open, so I wouldn't be too concerned about being polite to her in return.
posted by parakeetdog at 2:28 PM on May 22, 2012

Best answer: I am a smoker, and I would be horrified to know I was fouling up the non-smoking neighbour's bedroom - if she is nice, I am sure she will be too.
If you approach her with parakeetdog's attitude you would be guaranteed to cause offence!
posted by Catch at 2:49 PM on May 22, 2012

Response by poster: I did actually meet her today, briefly, and she is very, very nice. I didn't mention the smoke because, well, I chickened out. I wouldn't dream of being rude to her about it, at all! Since it doesn't happen all the time, I think I'm just going to ignore it. Thanks for the input!
posted by sarcasticah at 4:29 PM on May 22, 2012

Best answer: I think it's incredibly rude to ask someone to not smoke in their own apartment.

It is definitely rude to ask someone not to smoke in their own apartment. It is NOT rude to give someone the information that when they smoke in this exact spot with the window open, the smoke drifts up into another unit and that the tenants find that bothersome. She probably has no idea that it's a problem.

Make the comparison to sex noises: yeah, occasionally hearing your neighbors' intimate details is part of apartment living, everyone understands that. But let's say that your neighbors are fond of noisy morning shower sex, and it just so happens that this noisy shower sex is INCREDIBLY audible at your kitchen table, where you and your spouse and your kid are eating breakfast. It would be rude to ask someone not to have sex in their own apartment, but it would not be rude to let them know that this particular arrangement of places and times has a greater impact on their neighbors than might be apparent.
posted by KathrynT at 4:37 PM on May 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

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