More Momentum for Smoke-Free Co-ops and Condos, with Help from HUD

By Lisa Magill
July 6, 2012, Habitat Magazine

Hate dealing with secondhand smoke in your co-op or condominium? As an attorney I often hear complaints from co-op board and condo association members about the extra costs incurred as a result of heavy smokers. Staff sweep up cigarette butts day after day, boards hire outside vendors to steam clean upholstery, curtains and area rugs and the windows must be washed more frequently. The problems are even worse if smokers throw cigarette butts off the balconies.

Costs aside, condo and co-op board members are feeling pressure from residents about secondhand smoke permeating a building, especially where there is a central heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) system. In one recent example I learned of a lung cancer survivor that resides next to a heavy smoker — the secondhand smoke presents a very real threat to his welfare.

And residents are not just annoyed, but justifiably worried about fire risks as well.

Since smoking cigarettes is perfectly legal, many board members simply shrug their shoulders and say, “What can we do? It’s the owner’s apartment and they are allowed to smoke.

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Ire

Well … that answer is not exactly true. Courts across the country are addressing nuisance claims brought by non-smokers and more and more of them are ruling in the non-smokers’ favor. In some cases the court requires the smoker to install ventilation systems and extra insulation to prevent smoke from entering other units. Some communities are voluntarily becoming “smoke free” through amendments to their governing documents.

Smoking bans initiated by condominium owners through amendments to governing documents have been upheld in New Jersey, Colorado, California, Hawaii and other jurisdictions.

The government is jumping on this bandwagon, too. There is a combined effort on the part of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and others to advocate and encourage co-ops, condos and other multifamily buildings to adopt smoke-free policies to protect residents from the dangers of secondhand smoke and to reduce property maintenance costs.

They have jointly published a new, 63-page manual, Smoke-Free Housing, that provides eye-opening facts for co-op and condo boards and property managers.

  • Over 140,000 fires were started by cigarettes, cigars and pipes in the U.S. causing $530 million in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
  • Twenty-five percent of people killed in smoking-related fires are not the actual smokers, with many being children of the smokers, neighbors or friends.
  • Smoke-free housing saves on property maintenance costs from cleaning and painting stained walls and ceilings and repairing burn marks; and
  • Secondhand smoke is also associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

You have real and viable options and facts at hand if your co-op or condo wants to do something about the odor, adverse health impacts, costs and annoyances caused by second-hand smoke.

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