Smoker Rights in a Smoke-Free Building

smoke free buildingDear Apartment Guru,

I have been living in my Buffalo, N.Y. apartment for six years. I am, and have been a cigarette smoker the entire time. Lately several of my neighbors have been making such a big deal about those of us who smoke in the building, that our building management has decided to make the building smoke free.

Several of my fellow-smoking neighbors have received letters telling them that there have been complaints about the smoke coming out of their apartments and if they don't stop smoking they will take legal action. A few of them started smoking out front-which I'm sure people will start complaining about shortly.

Anyway, yesterday I got my letter from the management. I have always been on time with my rent and respectful of my neighbors. I open a window when I smoke and am careful about blowing it outside.

What are my options here? The building was not a no-smoking residence when I moved in. And if it was, shouldn't I have been told before signing the lease?


-Smoking in My Own Room

Dear Smokey,

Smoking is bad and stunts your growth. There I said it. But you already know that because you live in a country where smoking is nearly criminal -- people offer up the stink-eye freely these days in lieu of a citizen's arrest.

Now, I am not a smoker. I was. I smoked a lot of cigarettes for a lot of years (a guru knows better than to say just how many). By miracle, determination, and a cross addiction to Doritos, I was finally able to quit four-and-a-half years ago. But I quit because I decided I was ready. Not because my neighbors wedged themselves up in my business and started stomping on my cigarette butts.

The fact is, Smokey, chances are that even if your building does go "no smoking" it will be more a formality than a reality -- much in the same way I spent most of high school smoking in my parent's house-- which was decidedly "no smoking." Like the younger me, you will probably be able to figure out several ways around the rule.

I still believe that the American smoking ban is something of a witch hunt -- a controversial stance to be sure. But since all of us die, don't we get some say in how? Furthermore, I can think of thousands of things that make us sick, from Twinkies to oil spills, so I'm not sure why everyone is up the junk of cigarettes. (Ok, maybe second-hand smoke.)

Since we're having this debate, or at least I'm having this debate with myself, I'll add, because it's true, it is a really dumb, expensive and time consuming habit. Not to mention the fact that the heart and lungs are two of the most important organs a person has. So for their sake, keep trying to quit.

As for your neighbors and management having a leg to stand on in terms of telling you where and when you can light up? Well, it turns out, legally they don't really have one.

Gary Dunn, a lawyer in Garden City, N.J. says, "The management company does not have the right to enforce a no smoking policy against the tenant in question, since a new law regarding no smoking states that `notification must occur at the time the tenant signs a lease agreement.'"

So you are safe for now, my dear. Unfortunately, this law can't protect you forever.

"I believe, however," continues Dunn, "when the tenant signs a renewal of the lease it is possible that the smoke-free regulation could be enforced at that time."

So, unless you signed a multiple year lease, you might have to break out those old tricks from high school - the dryer sheet rubber banded over the end of a paper towel roll through which one blows the smoke comes to mind. Or a fan by the window.

Or just quit, save $8.00 a day and use the money to buy lots of music then play it loud and tell your neighbors at least you're not smoking.

Then take a deep breath, while you still can, and exhale slow.

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