Secondhand Smoke in Apartment Buildings: Can You Make Your Neighbor Stop Puffing Inside?

Secondhand smoke in apartment buildings
Secondhand smoke in apartment buildings

Just because you keep your own apartment smoke-free doesn't mean that you're not still breathing in secondhand smoke from your neighbor. Cigarette smoke can easily seep into next-door apartments in multi-unit buildings, and millions of Americans are affected by this every day, according to a new study. But is there anything you can do to keep your neighbor from puffing inside? Well, there are a few courses of action you can take -- even suing your neighbor, if it comes down to it.

As many as 29 million Americans living in multi-unit buildings who don't smoke in their own apartments are affected by secondhand smoke from somewhere else in the building -- either neighboring apartments or common areas -- according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study was published in the Nicotine and Tobacco Research journal.

"It's a big deal. ... There's air seepage between one unit and another," Tim McAfee, director of CDC's Office on Smoking and Health told USA Today. Smoke from one apartment can get into others via insulation, cracks and power outlets, McAfee said.

Smoke-free laws are commonplace in public areas, but there are few rules on the books keeping people from smoking in their own homes. Though more and more individual landlords are adopting smoke-free policies in their apartment buildings, such laws are still rare.

If you're worried about the effects of your neighbor's cigarette smoke coming into your apartment, here are a few things you can do:

Make Your Apartment Airtight

Try to pinpoint the sources of where the smoke is coming from. Often, these will be small gaps around electrical outlets, under doors, light fixtures, pipes, etc. You can use silicone caulk or insulating foam to close gaps and keep the smoke out. Vents are another big source of smoke seepage, and in older buildings especially, they often are no longer in use. Fit a sheet of plastic inside the vent (behind the grate). Door draft excluders will keep smoke from coming in through doors.

Remind Building Management of the Economic Costs

You might be able to get your landlord to institute a smoking ban in the building, but they're more likely to respond if you talk less about why you're upset with your neighbor's smoking and more about what's at stake for the landlord. Cigarettes pose a very real and significant fire hazard to the building. Smoking is the leading cause of home fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, which causes billions of dollars in property damage every year. That's likely to get your landlord's attention.

Last Resort: Sue

Every single renter has what's called the right to "peaceful enjoyment" of an apartment during the term of occupancy. It may be possible to prove that secondhand smoke is keeping you from this right, and building management may be on the hook for this. But though many apartment dwellers have sued over secondhand smoke on the basis of nuisance, the building becoming uninhabitable because of the smoke, negligence and other causes, there have been mixed results for the plaintiffs. Not all cases have gone in their favor.