How Do I Get My Landlord to Stop Smoking Under My Window?
September 11, 2017 9:22 PM   Subscribe

It sucks, literally.

I rent in a brownstone owned by a family who lives in the building. My window looks out over the front stoop, where my landlord regularly smokes. I'm not able to open my window in case I inhale secondhand smoke, but with my window AC unit in, it seeps in anyway.

I've broached the topic before, but my landlord was sort of a dick about it. Basically, it was -- "If you don't like it, you can leave."

I've been here two years--I know, a long time. It's an affordable rental in a nice part of an expensive city, and in any case, I'd nested, so I just dealt with it.

I've been back burnering it and back burnering it, but I'm tired of not having my rights recognized.

Can anyone help me hammer out an effective, diplomatic--but firm--script/figure out what my rights are?

So far, I have, "I have a right not to have my health endangered by breathing in your secondhand smoke. Please stop smoking under my window."

Any suggestions would be much appreciated. Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would find out what the tenant laws are where you are.
posted by brujita at 9:25 PM on September 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Can you email mods with your location? It's entirely possible that this is not, actually, within your rights.
posted by lalex at 9:28 PM on September 11, 2017 [21 favorites]

You probably won't get your landlord to change his behavior especially if you're paying "reasonable" rent. I'd focus on mitigating the smell in your own apartment - can you get a window fan that blows outward? I have one that has intake/exhaust settings.

I'm not really sure how window ACs work. Can you add some kind of filter to it?
posted by bendy at 9:31 PM on September 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yeah, not so sure you have any rights. He's smoking outdoors. And it's his property. You can say whatever you want to him, but I wouldn't expect him to offer you a lease renewal when the time comes. So either you move now or within the year whenever your lease is up. I would try to mitigate the smoke smell as best you can on your end with a filter or something else, or find a new apartment that has a 'no smoking within 50 feet of entrance' rule or something like that.
posted by greta simone at 9:45 PM on September 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

I've been back burnering it and back burnering it, but I'm tired of not having my rights recognized.

You may not actually have any "rights" here; no one can tell you for sure without your location (the mods will update the thread if you contact them). In the vast majority of cities in the United States, however, your landlord has correctly stated your choices: 1) like it 2) lump it.

That's not to say that you can't ask him nicely. Are you willing to leave at the end of the lease if you don't get your way? I think your leverage is that you are a reasonable, low-maintenance tenant who pays his rent on time, which is a pretty great thing. If you tell your landlord you love the place and would really like to renew but can't deal with the smoking under the window, it's possible he might change his behavior to keep you.

Zero chance this works, though, if you are paying under market and it would be easy to find a replacement who doesn't complain, or if you aren't actually willing to leave if the smoking continues.
posted by charmedimsure at 9:52 PM on September 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Even if the law is on your side and you present that law to him, don't expect to be living there after your lease is up. It sucks, but that's the position you're in. It's his house, and he'll smoke outside if he wants. And if your landlord was a "dick about it" when you brought it up conversationally, he'll be even more of a dick if you start talking about tenants' legal rights.

And two years is not a long time to rent an apartment. Especially a nice, affordable, good-part-of-town apartment. Nowhere near a long time. Something like that would be snapped up the day it went back on the rental market in most cities.
posted by tzikeh at 10:15 PM on September 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

In some cities, there's no smoking in the public areas if there are 10 or more units.

How often do units come available? Perhaps you can move to another unit?

To hammer out a script/figure out your rights, google "smoking tenant rights $yourCity".
posted by at at 10:20 PM on September 11, 2017

Seal that window, use a portable ac that only blows air outside.

Don't die on this hill. Or move. I'm sorry, but you can't get your way here. If you try it will create an ugly relationship and you will need to move anyway. Seal the window, move the AC or get a portable one. It's OK.
posted by jbenben at 10:32 PM on September 11, 2017 [17 favorites]

I'm not able to open my window in case I inhale secondhand smoke

My two cents: smoke in your place from a smoker outside (and maybe a floor below?) is about as minimal as secondhand smoke gets. I'm not sure I'd even count it as a health risk so much as a nuisance, and I'm sensitive to smoke.
posted by zippy at 1:05 AM on September 12, 2017 [12 favorites]

As someone sensitive to smoke, I sympathise. However I would say there's every chance you actually don't have the rights you think you have.But! That doesn't mean there's not a solution. I would try the kill them with kindness tactic. Turn up with a bottle of his favourite bourbon/red wine/methylated spirits and say that you're sorry about how you came across earlier and you wonder if it's possible to come to a compromise?

You'll leave your window open whenever you want, and on the occasion that he happens to smoke out there, he just pulls it shut from the outside or gives a little rap on the window to let you know it's time to close it for the whole seven minutes that he's there and switch of the AC. That way, most of the time you're enjoying having it open and it's only shut when it needs to be.

This is your landlord and you are lucky enough to score a place you love for a reasonable rate. It's worth playing nice to keep it.
posted by Jubey at 1:43 AM on September 12, 2017 [8 favorites]

If all else fails, is there any possibility of hinting about this to his family members if you happen to bump into them? Like, if you see his spouse standing outside, strike up a conversation, and let it slip that this is really affecting you. S/he might be willing to pressure your landlord.

Alternatively, is there something you can do to prevent his AC from venting into your apartment? I'm not construction-savvy at all, but this might be a potential solution if your landlord refuses to budge.

i went the chocolates route with a downstairs neighbor with a cigar habit. Our ACs were connected somehow. I knocked on his door with a nice box of chocolates. He subsequently took pains to block the conduit between our apartments. I lucked out, but I try to go the sweets/politeness/kill em with kindness route in difficult situations nowadays.
posted by aquamvidam at 5:14 AM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

don't expect to be living there after your lease is up

In some places you have a right to continue living in a place after your lease is up, too. Even if the landlord decides he doesn't like you anymore. All depends on where you live.
posted by grouse at 5:17 AM on September 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

But a plastic lawn chair, put a pillow on it, and set it somewhere comfy looking away from your window with an ash tray or bucket next to it. Give him a better alternative.
posted by mulcahy at 5:58 AM on September 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

Fortunately you can pick your battles, and this is one you should bow out of. I agree with the people above who stated you may have no rights here, and making it an issue will almost certainly not get you a lease renewal.
Get an exhaust fan and blow the air out. Problem solved.

ps: he's not looking in the window, is he?
posted by james33 at 7:17 AM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Check if your city has a law banning smoking a certain distance from an entrance to a building.
posted by Automocar at 7:20 AM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Even if the law is on your side, your landlord has already made clear that he has no intention of stopping. Seal the window or move.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:10 AM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I recall multiple questions in the New York Times real estate section about second hand smoke, and this is an extremely common tenant complaint. In NYC a tenant and landlord who knows the tenant smokes can be held responsible for smoke/smell seeping between apartments, and mitigation can be forced. Yours is obviously a much more specific and easily remedied complaint, but this guy - your landlord - knows it bothers you and he DOES IT ANYWAY! Not sure if you're in NYC or in a building that might be exempt from these rules because it's a smaller building, but maybe this info helps.

I agree with many other posters, though, that you probably won't resolve this dispute in a way that enables you to have a good landlord/tenant relationship and stay in your apartment. You would be in a much stronger position if the smoker was another tenant. You should probably plan to move and take this time to hone your search. You can be completely right on an issue and still not get what you want. It sucks.
posted by citygirl at 8:31 AM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've been back burnering it and back burnering it, but I'm tired of not having my rights recognized.

What rights is it you imagine you have here? A party is smoking out doors.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:51 PM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

People are being unduly harsh on the poster here. In some places tenants do indeed have a right to a smoke-free apartment, including many localities in California (Berkeley, Burbank, etc.) and the whole of the state of Utah.

I agree that politically it might be a bad move to try to force the landlord to stop smoking if it's important to keep the below-market rent. But it's not unreasonable to be irritated by the secondhand smoke, and in some places it is in fact a right.
posted by crazy with stars at 3:28 PM on September 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

What rights is it you imagine you have here? A party is smoking out doors.

If you're lucky, OP, you live in a city like Oakland, in which smoking in all indoor and outdoor common areas of a building is prohibited. You might find something helpful in the links on this page of smoke-free housing organizations by state, if you're in the U.S. Still, landlord/tenant stuff can always get dicey.

You might want to find out if your AC unit can be fitted with a carbon filter like this. I also like the idea of making a nicer place for your landlord to smoke that won't get sucked into your unit.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:51 PM on September 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I second the carbon filter. Very effective.
posted by ethical_caligula at 3:24 PM on September 16, 2017

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