Condo smoking bans catch fire around Chicago

By Dennis Rodkin
Chicago Real Estate Daily, July 2, 2015

A handful of Chicago condo buildings have recently decreed that smoking isn’t allowed anywhere indoors-no ifs, ands or butts-even in a resident’s own home, and several more buildings are considering similar prohibitions.

“No unit is an island,” said Laura Slubowski, who manages the 200-unit building at 2000 N. Lincoln Park West for properyy manager FirstService Residential.

Members of the building’s condo board are exploring an in-unit smoking ban but have not yet made a formal proposal, she said. At least five buildings in the city have imposed similar bans, and several more are mulling them over.

“Tobacco smoke is a big issue in condo buildings because the standard condo declaration says that no one may engage in activities that pose a nuisance to any fellow unit owner,” Slubowski said. “It’s almost impossible to stop smoke from traveling from one unit into another and becoming a nuisance.”

Smoking has been prohibited in common areas such as lobbies and hallways since 2008, under the city’s Clean Indoor Air Ordinance. The latest round of bans goes further, forbidding smoking within private residences.

Patti O’Connor, a partner at law firm Levenfeld Pearlstein in Chicago who works with condo and co-op boards, said she knows of six more condo boards in the city that are exploring bans.

“It’s an issue that’s coming to a head as more people become aware that there’s not much you can do to contain smoke in the unit” where it originated, she said.

Chicago isn’t the only place where nonsmokers are trying to clear the air. New York newspapers reported this week that Mayor Bill DeBlasio is planning to fund health advocacy groups in a push to get landlords and developers to voluntarily enact in-unit smoking bans.


O’Connor worked with boards on the in-unit smoking ban that took effect in January 2014at 2626 N. Lakeview and at 1418 N. Lake Shore Drive. This year, similar bans have been adopted by three more condo associations, at 416-22 W. Deming Place, 2650 N. Lakeview and ParkView at RiverEast, the building at 505 N. McClurg Court.

“You’re going to see a lot more condo boards going this route,” O’Connor said. She knows of only one, Hemingway House at 1850 N. Clark St., where a group of board members was working toward a smoking-ban proposal but backed off when they discerned that it wouldn’t get majority support.

Smokers scoff at the bans.

“It’s unconstitutional to tell somebody they can’t smoke in a unit they own,” said Steve Hamburg, a retired trader and smoker who’s a 26-year resident of 2626 N. Lakeview. “But nobody challenges these things, and I’m not going to challenge it.”

Hamburg is selling his 38th-floor unit-not because of the smoking prohibition but to move to Las Vegas, he said-and notes that it’s smoke-free. His late wife never allowed him to smoke in the condo, he said.


The best solution to smoke-creep isn’t a ban but tighter building standards, said David Kuneman, St. Louis-based Midwest regional director of the Citizens Freedom Alliance, a smokers’ rights advocacy group.

“If condos are being constructed so loosely that smoke could diffuse from one unit into another, then pathogens and cooking odors and cat hair and fleas and any number of other things could also diffuse into neighboring condos,” he said.

“If you’ve got a problem, fix it by building tighter, but don’t pick on smoking as the only cause of indoor air pollution,” he said.

Three of the Chicago condo boards that have enacted in-unit bans are in vintage buildings where a thorough retrofit would be needed to meet Kuneman’s call for tighter construction.
In the real estate marketplace, in-unit smoking bans “have been invisible,” said Darlene Leoni, a Baird & Warner agent who has represented several condos for sale at 2626 N. Lakeview, where she lives, since the smoking ban went into effect.

She rarely includes a mention of the building’s smoke-free status in her listings, and sellers “don’t ask me to,” she said.

Numerous Chicago-area apartment buildings already have in-unit smoking bans, including Presidential Towers in the West Loop and buildings owned by Amli Residential. But the trend has been slower to develop in condo buildings.

There’s no solid count of how many condo or apartment buildings have banned smoking within private residential space, said Liz Williams, spokeswoman for Americans for Non-Smokers Rights, based in Oakland, Calif.

But “what you’re seeing in Chicago is becoming common,” she said.

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