Dear PoPville – New home-owner being smoked out

Photo by PoPville flickr user johnmcochran2012

“Dear PoPville,

I recently purchased a condo near Brookland. I’ve lived there for just about a month and this past weekend the new owners below me moved in. Great for them! However, they are both chain smokers. I live with my 9 year old and long-time partner who is asthmatic. The smell of cigarettes has taken over my home. We cannot eat at the dining table, we can’t turn on the heat because it makes the smell stronger, we wash up in the kitchen because we can taste it in the bathroom. My family is miserable.

My partner spoke with the lady in the unit who thinks that scented air-filters are a reasonable solution. She obviously is unaware of how pungent cigarettes are. I realize it is her property and she is free to do as she pleases but her actions are directly affecting my home; It’s an absolute nuisance. What can I do to make my condo board take action? Do I have any rights?

Please note that I have a HEPA filter and UV air purifier in addition to indivual filters on ALL of my vents. Also, air freshners on vents and in rooms. I’m not only concerned about the smell but my daughter’s health. She’s having trouble breathing and getting warm at night since we cannot use heater. They’re habit is costing me more than just money.”

121 Comment

  • Oy. I have no advice, and I hope someone else does. Because I would KILL.

    • Yeah, I wouldn’t advise someone to murder their neighbors, but if some unfortunate accident were to befall them…?
      Short of that, you could all decide to practice tap dancing between 2 and 5 in the morning.

    • I have no clue, but I will say that when I signed the lease on my current apartment ( a very old, rent-controlled building) one of the things that stuck out to me in the lease was that anyone who moved into the building after November 2012 could not smoke inside they’re apartment because the building was transitioning to a non-smoking building.

      Now I’m not sure if you all could implement something similar – I’m not sure what the requirements are for current vs. new occupants, and since your neighbor already lives in the building, not sure if this is a feasible option. But honestly if I were them, I’m not sure that I’d be so willing to leave the confines of my warm apartment to go smoke one outside if, when I moved in to/purchased the unit, I didn’t have to.

      Sucks, but hopefully you all find a workable solution.

      • justinbc

        This is a terrible situation to be in, exacerbated by the fact that it sounds like they own the place (as does the neighbor), and not just rent, which means they have a slightly different mindset towards what they should be allowed to do in their own home. If it were me, knowing how much I detest cigarette smoke (and I’m not even asthmatic), I would have made sure to move into a building that were already smoke-free as a requirement. Getting a condo board to retroactively ban smoking sounds like a terribly grueling task, and it’s not like she can even sell the place now because potential buyers would surely smell it upon walking in. Sucks all around, sorry to hear.

  • Have you talked to the condo association yet? Might want to start there….

  • damn , that sucks

    but this goes to show all of those wondering about the new grass laws changing that the same does in fact happen with cigs as well

    but umm yea, go to the building about it
    i think the strongest thing you can stand on is the health of your loved ones & how they compromise it

    • The difference is that most people who smoke weed do so a LOT less frequently than chain smokers lighting up cigarettes. A 2 pack per day habit is 40 cigarettes. Every day. You’ll never find a pot smoker who smokes that much.
      Cigarettes and weed are not really an apt analogy, IMHO.

    • Also the data has demonstrated that drug decriminalization/legalization in other countries doesn’t increase consumption much, if at all.

      Stop acting like this is some brand new frontier and we have no idea what’s going to happen now that it’s decriminalized.

    • Weed smoke doesn’t stick and linger like cigarettes do.. Cigarette smoke lasts for YEARS… Pot smoke lasts hours

  • First and foremost, is there anything in your condo bylaws/covenants regarding smoking?

    Second, are you sure you don’t have any legal recourse? It sounds like it may be worth consulting an attorney. There is some limited precedent:

  • SouthWoo10

    Check the rules that govern your condo or apartment. Many have “nuisance” clauses that prohibit residents from creating nuisances. Lodge a complaint with your management association or condo board. Contact an attorney. You may have a nuisance claim.

  • Look through the condo rules to see if there’s anything that can help. Even if there isn’t a clear no smoking rule, there’s probably something in there prohibiting actions that negatively impact other owners. Then go to the condo association and see if they can help. If they won’t do anything, you can always look into filing a nuisance lawsuit.
    Document everything you do. Maybe even send the neighbor a polite letter explaining how the smoke is harming your ability to live in the condo. Send it certified. Assume the worst and you’ll need documentation for a lawsuit, but hope for the best and it can be addressed more amicably.

  • You have my sympathy, but I don’t have any advice. You’ve already talked to them. Their recommendation to cover it up with scented air fresheners is an idiotic suggestion. Smokers don’t get that it isn’t just the smell that is the problem- it is the cancer-causing chemicals in second-hand smoke. Adding more chemicals (gross!) to those already present doesn’t help anything. When will our society progress to the point where we say it is NOT ACCEPTABLE to pollute another’s personal living space with scientifically proven dangerous second-hand smoke? This public health issue should NOT be confused with individual rights, unless you want to discuss an innocent family’s basic right to clean air in their home. I say this as a conservative who has a healthy wariness of regulations and government interference in general. Your right to smoke should stop at my right to have clean air. I’m amazed that in 2014, most Americans take the side of smokers on this issue. Why do people refuse to see the other side on this issue- you know, the family unwillingly subjected to cancer-causing smoke? You can move, but not everyone is financially able to do that, and you run the risk of running into the same exact thing elsewhere. I don’t like regulations, but regulating multi-family housing when it comes to smoking seems like a no-brainer to me. [ok, off soapbox]

  • this really sucks, op. I was just telling someone the other day that it should be illegal to smoke in the same room as a baby. I know it’s not practical, but it is a serious hazard to others’ health. 🙁 so sorry.

    • I had the same exact thought yesterday, when I saw a guy driving while smoking a giant cigar that I could smell from the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street (he had the window open). And then I noticed the kids in the car seats in back. 🙁

      • Medical studies have found nicotine traces in the hair of babies whose mothers were exposed to second-hand smoke while pregnant.

        So yeah, it is a real problem.

        But I agree that there is no clear and reliable resolution but hope you will explore as many suggestions as you can bear.

        I used to smoke, and I had no idea how much I smelled; how much my clothes smelled; and how intense the effect was on those around me. I’ll admit I probably would have been suspicious of a neighbor who complained about it. I didn’t realize how much my sense of smell and taste – not to mention breathing! – was altered by my habit. This past year I had smoking neighbors and it was awful (especially as cancer had recently killed my mother).

        These issues are just going to become more fraught as the density of DC living increases….

  • If your condo bylaws do not offer any recourse, you might want to consider mounting an effort to amend them to make the building non-smoking. Our condo association is considering the same type of provision. The amended bylaws could benefit to preserve resale value, attract future buyers, and prevent additional new smokers.

  • You should check the codo bylaws. They may prohibit one owner from doing something that interferes with another owner’s enjoyment of the property or is a nuisance to another owner. Maybe advise that smoker that the air fresheners are working, but you should review the rights and responsibilities in the bylaws and be ready to go to the board.

    • *whoops, air fresheners are NOT working.
      And I second the recommendation that you send a letter documenting how this is impacting your family.

    • It’s immaterial whether the scented air fresheners are “working” — they’re just insufficient, period. The root problem is SMOKE, and adding an artificial scent on top of the smoke doesn’t solve the problem of the smoke.

  • Asthma is considered a disability under the ADA and the HOA is required to address the issue. If they do not, you can sue.

  • Welcome to condo living.

    I spent my 20’s living in a condo, and I would rather live in a cardboard box than do it again because of the numerous issues with it, like your neighbors smoking.

    Buy a hepa airfilter and run it 24/7. Thats my advice, because legally there is nothing you or your association can do. My old association spent an unhealthy amount of money trying to legally forbid smoking in the building (a few residents were having the same issue with their neighbors) and in the end, neither city law or condo law allows you to prohibit someone smoking in their own fee simple property. Common areas, sure, but not in their own condo.

  • Is the condo a converted row house with only a few units? If so, I would guess that the condo has very few rules, and there’s little you can do to fix your neighbors’ behavior.
    A row house condo would also explain why the smoke is spreading so easily. Only thing I can think of is to pay a lot to isolate your unit’s air from the unit below, and install an entirely separate HVAC system for your unit. Unfortunately, plugging large holes between units (e.g., around pipes, ducts, electrical work, etc) would probably not be sufficient—you may also need to insulate the floor and walls.

  • Buy them some e-cigarettes and hope they switch?

  • First step is trying to reason them, which unfortunately didn’t work (smokers suck)

    Second step as already said many times is your condo by-laws and condo association.

    Third step is suing them. Get a lawyer. Yes it costs money but if it’s an untenable situation your only other choice is to sell. My guess is that unless there is anything specific in the bylaws that a judge can use to help you out, you might not be able to force them to stop.

    Another option could be going after them in small claims court for any costs. For example, if you need to stay in a hotel or get things cleaned, etc. Many years ago I know small claims was used a tool to get shady business owners to clean up their acts. If there are economic consequences to their actions maybe they will change (and unlike other court proceedings, I think small claims is relatively quick and the judgments can’t be appealed so it’s not like they just drag this out forever).

    • Sue them for what exactly, smoking in their own property?

      Think it through for a second. Can you sue your downstairs neighbor for cooking too much cabbage that stinks up your condo above it? What if they liked some obnoxious smelling air freshener? Could you sue them for that?

      In our litigious society, you could sue them, but you would lose. These are the issues, among many others one assumes with condo living.

      As I said above, my association spent a shiny penny trying to gain some legal basis, and none exists. Thats why I bought a house and never looked back. Now I don’t have to deal with my neighbors being seperated by a 2×4 and 3 quarter inch piece of drywall, don’t have to listen to their tv or music, don’t have to deal with them fighting, their partying, their cooking, smoking, pets barking 18 hours a day or crying babies.

      And my condo was concrete slab construction, I can only imagine how bad it is in stickbuilt multi-family.

      • The law firm Steptoe and Johnson sued the burger joint Rogue States on Connecticut for burger smell wafting into their office space through their shared building and were successful. Seems like they would have an even better argument with cigarette smoke.

        • How so?

        • Steptoe and Johnson had unlimited legal resources since they are……wait for it…..a law firm.
          They basically told Rogue States that they would bankrupt them via legal expenses. The proprietors might have eventually won that suit, but they would have had to put up tons of money to keep fighting the case. Rogue States eventually cut their losses and left.
          So no, they technically were not used and forced to leave. Rogue States was blackmailed into leaving on their own accord. Different situation.

      • you’re not a lawyer, but you play one on the internet. You sue them for nuisance, exactly.
        “you can try to get the courts on your side by suing your neighbor for private nuisance. A private nuisance is something that interferes with or prevents you from enjoying your own property.

        While few states officially list second-hand smoke as a private nuisance, many states recognize it as a toxin. As a result, courts are more sympathetic to arguments that second-hand smoke interferes with the enjoyment of life.”

        • FindLaw? Really? How do you Bluebook that?

          Paid by the word “maybe you could…” is a long way from “you win,” much less “you win at a reasonable cost.”

      • Lucky you that was able to buy yourself a single family home – not an option available to more and more of us (as any regular reader of this blog knows.)

  • pablo .raw

    With the information you gave us this is what I can think of:
    What you are describing means that your condo has air leaks, and the air of your neighbors unit is getting inside of yours. One idea of is to find a way to pressurize your unit so that is mostly pushing air out instead of getting air in; you’ll need a device to bring air from outside (from a healthy source not a crawlspace i.e.). This is tricky because you’ll be pushing away conditioned air, but it will hopefully be healthier air; overall for an asthmatic person it should be better.
    The other idea is to seal your unit as much as you can. A blower door test would be a way to show leak points in your unit.
    This is not the complete answer, but at least I think could help you in the right direction hopefully.

    • This sounds like great advice. I wonder if the OP will post what type of condo they live in. If it were a converted rowhouse and they live on the top floor, something like a whole house fan might work. I’m not sure what would work otherwise, but consulting an HVAC specialist would be worth it.

    • gotryit

      Yes – seal between the units and pressurize (you only need a little) from a clean source.

  • Bless you for what you have to go through. SO many people here live in the “me” world, nothing else trips my trigger harder that that. We were lucky enough to lobby our board / building to make it smoke-free recently, no smoking of any kind inside the building. Check to see if your condo docs say anything about a “nuisance” and try that route, you will have to get your Board to do this, they may not want to bother with it so keep on them hard about it.

    I am now reminded that I have some of the best neighbors in the world (even though they bug me sometimes lol). Thanks 6RIP CREW!!!!!!!

  • Run for Congress, get elected, stay elected there without the money of Big Tobacco for about 14 years while you work your way to a relevant committee. Then introduce legislation to ban the SALE of cigarettes. Because as far as I am concerned if they are on their property and smoking a legal substance then I must quote snotboogey’s friend and say “…It’s American Man.”

    Livin’ in da sitaaayyyy!

  • You are screwed. Move now.

  • This really sucks and I have sympathy for the OP……I am NOT a smoker….But if I were and I was buying my condo- I don’t think I’d like someone telling me I can’t smoke inside of my own condo. If the rules/law were NOT in place when I bought I’d fight this tooth and nai l or someone would have to buy me out for market value. I understand that this is affecting the neighbors- but it’s almost the same as burning “nasty” incense all day long minus the health implications/risks.

    • Burning incense all day long would have the same health implications/risks save for become addicted to nicotine.

    • Your point is where the problem comes in. Everybody knows about noise levels being an issue between units, and there are clear rules about that in almost every document, as are other nuisance rules. You can do what ever you want in your unit that does not adversely affect your neighbors and the same goes for them. Confine your life to your unit. Neighbors, as a given rule should not hear your TV or Stereo, Smell your …………. anything, or feel your vibrations from the wild sex parties you are having at 3am with the crowd from the bar. : )

      Following that general rule is what makes basic humans, human beings. You are at a higher mental and spiritual level when you consider the world around you. Look at house of cards, Clair and Frank live alone and THEY even open the window and sit on the sill when they smoke. : )

      • I would consider making noise and smoking are apples to oranges as far as right to privacy in ones own home. I’m sure smokers look for apartments/condos based on whether smoking is allowed etc.

  • I may have some advice. I use “Fresh Wave” brand air gel deodorizer. It was allegedly first developed for oil refineries, which are pretty stinky places. They claim that rather than mask the smell, the molecules actually combine with particles of stink, and make it fall to the ground. it has a very clean, non-chemical odor that is not very strong. I think it is really an effective product.

    It is expensive if you buy it in small quantities. However, I buy 2 gallon buckets of it from the manufacturer. To try it, you can pick it up in the household section of the 17 Street hardware store in the Dupont Circle area. I have also seen it in other stores as it has gotten more popular.

    Give it a try. It may help, and is cheaper than lawyers, emergency room visits, and anger management therapy..

  • Some folks seem to be jumping to the conclusion that the smokers are clueless, unreasonable, etc. The OP said s/he went to them letting them know about smoke. Neighbors suggested air fresheners. Did OP explain that air fresheners won’t work? It might be obvious to OP (and others here) that air fresheners aren’t the solution, but neighbors may think this is a workable solution.
    Echoing advice of others – make sure our condo is well sealed. Having someone come in and do energy audit can show where there is air movement (places to seal).

  • First, the suggestion to consult the condo association rules have been suggested. There is no need to continue suggesting it in the comments.
    Second, can people stop discussing this in the context of health risks? Because you can smell someone smoking does not mean you are actually inhaling anything dangerous. It’s called second hand smoke, not second hand smell.

    • Sam, I would seriously think about consulting the condo docs – maybe there’s something there that could help? Just one thought though… who knows…

    • Small point: the sense of smell does in fact work because small particles of whatever it is you are smelling are suspended in the air that enters your nose. So if you are smelling smoke (of any kind) then you are in fact inhaling it. But just because you can smell it doesn’t mean there’s enough of it to harm you.

      • Or maybe that’s what you meant and I just read it weirdly. Anyway, we agree on this.

      • Sure, but that is like saying if you walked into a room a day after someone has smoked and can still smell that someone smoked in that room that somehow, because you can smell it, you are being harmed.

        The point being that you can’t claim you’re being harmed if you can’t prove it. And I just do not think because you can smell someone smoking next door that means you’re inhaling carcinogens.

        The go to overdramatic reaction to everything when it comes to living in the vicinity of other people is often exhausting. I don’t think the OP was being dramatic at all, but the reaction in the comments…yeesh.

        • Wait, why should I have to prove what study after study already shows- namely, that second-hand smoking kills? Also, you might want to look up third hand smoke. Babies can have asthma attacks just by being near a smoker (who isn’t even smoking!) because the chenicals linger on their bodies and clothes. This is why a growing number of hospitals are now refusing to hire smokers. The onus to prove anything should be on the smoker. Why should the rest of us be forced to live with and suffer from their poor life decisions?

        • Re. “Sure, but that is like saying if you walked into a room a day after someone has smoked and can still smell that someone smoked in that room that somehow, because you can smell it, you are being harmed.”:
          Sam, looks like you need to read up on third-hand smoke:

    • C’mon man. THIRD HAND smoke has been shown to be dangerous (that stuff you smell when a smoker comes near you). Anyone in 2014 trying to claim that second hand smoke isn’t a health issue has the scientific understanding of the middle ages.

  • Buy a freestanding house. If you live in a condo then these are the issues you have to deal with.

    • The OP deserves more sympathy, especially given that much of D.C.’s housing stock consists of condos and attached rowhouses. There aren’t all that many semi-detached or fully detached houses in the District, and many of the ones that exist (like in upper NW) are prohibitively expensive.

      • Or, they could buy one in a condo building that forbids smoking. I’m sorry, but this is not a pervasive issue in the city. I’ve probably lived in 10+ different condos in DC and have never smelled a neighboring smoker. The percentage of people who smoke in 2014 is smaller than it has ever been and most smokers I know do not smoke in their homes. Move. To another condo where smoking in the building is prohibited.

        • I’m glad that Sam has been so wise such that he always had the foresight and financial and other abilities to buy/rent more than 10 condos in DC (really?) in which he has never had to suffer living amongst smoking neighbors. If only we could all be so choosy and smart as you Sam. The fact that you’ve never suffered this issue must be, as you imply, 100% attributable to your shrewd decision-making. It couldn’t possibly be the case that you have lived in places where your neighbors had a RIGHT to smoke in their home that was above, below, or next to yours but just happened to be non-smokers. Nope, this one is all because of you. You’re awesome. So awesome that if you had ever made the unthinkable mistake of living somewhere where your neighbors could smoke and drive you nuts, you would have immediately broken your lease or sold your home and moved somewhere where all your fellow tenants were as smart and smoke-free as you.

          I understand that people need to take responsibility for their choices and be more careful in making them–this sentiment is one I feel often when reading the stories of people who write in to PoP. But this blog also gives the opportunity to a lot of sad trolls to engage in holier-than-thou replies to people whose problems aren’t that crazy or unreasonable or 100% explainable by a simple, “This is all on you, you should have known better!” Ugh. This woman’s neighbor also chose to live in a condo. A condo is a SHARED living environment. Perhaps she purposely selected one that would allow her, legally, to smoke in her condo. But even if the neighbor (unbelievably) thought that she wouldn’t bother any non-smoking neighbors by smoking in the condo, she has now been told just how bothersome it is. And there is also a child involved. Despite this, she is unwilling to change her behavior at all. And yet, people like Sam are so quick to say that the OP is the one being unreasonable, got themselves into this and should therefore continue to suffer or bear the expense of moving. Really? When did we all become such assholes? When you live in a shared living space, such as a condo, human decency seemingly requires you to consider both your own needs while also being reasonably considerate of those who share the space with you. When neighbors have issues, usually the fair and correct response is some form of compromise. This isn’t just about legal rights all the time. Is the OP really so crazy to think that maybe her neighbor would have the decency to understand the OP’s misery and that they could meet at a reasonable compromise in the middle? I live in a condo and I am legally allowed to turn my sound system up to full volume and run it 24/7. My condo allows dogs, so I could get one that just barks and whines all day long. I could cook curries and onions and on and on and on–I could legally do things that would bring my neighbors to the brink of insanity, and this could all happen even if I live in a condo that has very restrictive by-laws. Your neighbors can always be a terrible, selfish nuisance. The point is that the mature, right way to behave in these shared living situations shouldn’t be 100% dependent on law–you should be a decent human being who isn’t completely self-involved.

          I’m a cynic at heart but jeez, after a while all of these shitty responses to people like the OP just get old. The OP isn’t the unreasonable one in thinking that maybe her neighbor could be a little more considerate of someone other than herself.

  • Smokers maintain that they get enjoyment out of burning leaves and that it is their personal right to do so where they choose, despite whatever displeasure it gives you. I say you light a small fire out of wet leaves outside their apartment and when they complain, tell them about how much you enjoy it, and how they have no right to complain.

  • Why, exactly, do people have sympathy for the OP?

    If you hate the smell of smoke so much, why would you move into a building that allows smoking? Even if there was not a smoker in the building when you bought, that’s still your own fault.

    Second, the health implications of second-hand smoke are VASTLY overblown. Does it suck? Yes. Is it annoying? Absolutely. But will you die from your neighbor’s smoke wafting into your apartment? No. No, you won’t.

    All that said, as an ex-smoker, I do find it kind of rude to smoke indoors in a multi-family residence. It wouldn’t be that hard to use an e-cig indoors and smoke outdoors. But that would be too respectful, obviously.

    • But to the point others have made, if the new owners specifically sought out a condo where smoking was allowed, why should they now expect to have to not smoke? Isn’t it as reasonable for them to assume the others who bought condos there knew smoking was allowed? I mean, I think we otherwise agree really.

      If you don’t have the right to smoke in your own residence, they honestly might as well ban tobacco entirely.

      • Sam, a condo owner is subject to condo bylaws. Condo bylaws are amenable and are not cemented the day you purchase. The owner has every right to fight against an amendment, but has to live in accordance with the current condo bylaws.

  • Just wanted to leave this here for those questioning the health effects of second hand smoke:

    The latest research is also showing that third hand smoke (the smell that lingers after a cigarette is extinguished) can be harmful.

  • I seem to remember someone on another thread similar to this talking about having a handy man or contractor come in and seal all the cracks around the baseboards and look over the apartment for air leaks/badly insulated walls. Might be worth it to see if that could solve some of the problem.

  • Did you actually read the article. It states there is no condo that he knows of that’s been successful outlawing smoking within the units.

    Yes, it is “possible” to amend the bylaws, but doing so requires a supermajority vote, which depending on unit size and percentage of ownership would be impossible to do in a fictional condo association if 10 units with 2 holdouts. Then, IF you got it amended, the rule would have to apply to future ownership, (smoker would sue and win if you tried to make it retroactive) so you are still stuck with the smoker below you.

    • Just because passing an amendment is difficult, it does not make it an impossible solution. Also, the article states sometimes people negotiate to grandfather in current owners, but that is a negotiation chip to getting it passed, not a requirement.

  • I’ve known a couple people with the same problem. They basically broke down into two groups:

    Group “Solution” had a requirement in their condo docs / leases that prohibited smoking in the unit. They complained to the condo board / landlord, and while one of them did end up having to take the adjacent smoking owner to court for violating the condo docs, they all ended up victorious.

    Group “Screwed” had no such requirements in the condo docs / leases, and had to either try to peacefully negotiate with the smoker or they had to pass new regulations in the condo docs, which, depending on how they were written in the first place, would either take effect immediately for everyone or would take effect immediately but only for all new residents from that date forward.

    Hopefully you’re in Group Solution on this one! Either way, find a friend who went to law school and ask them for advice. You’ll probably get something a lot more valid and actionable than the average internet message board.

  • I miss smoiking 🙁

  • I miss smoking 🙁

  • Sublet and rent.

  • I had a friend in this situation and he removed the quarter round and discovered huge gaps between the wall and the floor. He spray-foamed between the floor and the baseboard and that has helped immensely.
    Do you know, did they purchase the condo or are they renting it? If they are renting it, you could possibly get the landlord involved.
    Best of luck, it’s not a great predicament to be in.

    • gotryit

      Yes! Spray foam is your friend for larger cracks, and caulk for smaller cracks. Seal everything!
      If you’ve never used spray foam before, it is kind of evil – very hard to remove from hands,so be careful with it. But it’s a great way to fill a gap.

    • Agreed on spray foam insulation helping.

      Some friends had the same problem in their place. They had an energy audit, which revealed that the issue was that the downstairs neighbor’s HVAC leaked, so all the cigarette smoke in the ducts got pushed out behind my friends’ walls/floors and entered their place through any openings. They figured that out because the energy audit showed much higher air pressure around outlet plates when the neighbor’s HVAC was turned on. The smoke smell was worse when they did anything that decreased the pressure in their unit (e.g., turning on our HVAC or having a fire in the fireplace). My friends were not able to get the downstairs neighbor to get the HVAC ducts sealed, but I guess doing that could be an option.

      They ended up using spray foam insulation to close gaps behind the quarter round molding, behind outlet plates and switch plates, around appliance hookups, and around the HVAC duct behind the vent grates. It was apparently quite a time-consuming process. They also bought a pretty serious air purifier. I gather that many air purifiers don’t actually remove particles as small as cigarette smoke (which can be <0.1 micron), but there are quite a few that do. A purifier with an activated carbon filter seems to be the preferred way of capturing cigarette smoke. The combination of insulating and the purifier seem to have made a pretty big improvement.

      In case it's helpful, here's a website I found that discussed some purifier options:

  • It could also be worth your while to investigate whether there are any interventions that the owners who smoke could make to their apartment that would remedy the situation. It might be that if you were willing to pay for some sort of air filtration system, or to seal baseboard leaks or whatever, that they might be amenable to doing this. In the end, though, I agree that as awful as this situation is for you, if it’s your priority to live as smoke-free a life as possible, it’s up to you to make choices about your own living arrangements that support this.

  • Just remember, if you are able to somehow get them to stop smoking inside, when you go to open your windows in the nice weather, you will probably end up getting their smoke. It is going to be a lose/lose situation in the end.

  • I have a additional angle: Building code. Each unit must have a minimum 1hour fire rating. In other words, if there’s a fire, the drywall has to keep the fire contained in that unit for 1 hour. If the fire is inside the wall, ceiling, or under the floor, the fire has to be prevented from going to the next floor or next apartment for an hour.

    If you can smell cigarette smoke from the unit downstairs, then the units do not have that 1 hour fire rating. If cigarette smoke can get in your unit so could a fire. I would speak with DCRA (DC’s building inspectors) and tell them that you think it’s a fire hazard and that MAYBE the building wasn’t built to code. Tell you condo board what they say. The entire building might be able to go back to the developer to fix the problem.

    • You clearly don’t know what you are talking about. A fire rating doesn’t equate to hermetically sealed, it mandates a minimum combustion resistance for a stated period of time.

      • gotryit

        It’s not exactly equal to, but being plugged up well enough to mitigate the spread of fire would go a long way to preventing air (and smoke) from flowing up.

  • I also think it’s appropriate to question if the OP is being reasonable here. I remember what DC bars used to smell like (and what YOU smelled like after you’d been in one for a couple hours) when we were allowed to smoke in bars. That is an unreasonable circumstance to ask someone to live in.
    However, I have also had friends over to my house a week or more after I last had a friend smoke a single cigarette indoors. One of those friends promptly exclaimed “ewww! who’s *smoking* in here?!?”. Everybody else kinda looked around confused and said “what are you talking about?”. She said the place *reeked* of cigarette smoke and that she couldn’t stand it and had to leave. It had been eight days since anybody smoked at all, that guy had exactly one cigarette, and the windows had been open while he was smoking and several times since then. The last time before that had been my previous poker game a month before. Nobody else but her smelled anything at all.
    So, just because someone claims to be able to smell something does not mean that an average, reasonable person would be able to smell it at all, or would care if they could. That would be critical in any court case. However, it is important to note that previous court cases against HOAs or buildings about pet allergies have failed, because the courts have ruled you were responsible to find out what was and was not permissible in the community you bought in before you bought there, and that you have to accept as an existing condition that your neighbors were allowed to, and may now choose to, partake in a legal activity unless they had willingly forgone that right when they purchased their unit. Smoking would probably be considered in a similar way.

  • Why not treat cigarettes the same way we treat marijuana? If your neighbors had to pay a fine every time you smelled smoke, I bet they’d kick their habit awfully fast.

  • Hi everyone! Thanks for your feedback. Most of it has been very helpful. I do love the idea of supplying extra cigarettes in hopes they will die. Lol. Just to give an idea of how bad it is: People have started to ask if I am a smoker because they can smell it on me.

    -I have spoken to building management who,without so many words, told me it’s not their problem. There is a clause in the condo docs that speaks of nuisance behavior and how it’s defined. When I mentioned the clause he kept referring back that cigarettes are not against the law.

    -I cannot simply move. As stated, I PURCHASED my unit. I don’t have equity in it yet and if I rent it out, I’d be paying as much somewhere else as I would charge my tenant. This unit cost me less than what I was renting for so the hope was to save money. DC is a tough market.

    -I’m not expecting them to go outside and smoke. I do however expect them to have common decency and smoke at the window sill.

    – My daughter is suffering from their nasty habit. Say what you want but I firmly believe second hand smoke is the worst. Like Chris Rock said, cigarettes are so bad, they kill people who don’t even smoke them. (I think that was him so said it).

    -I’ve offered her to split the cost of whatever she needs to keep that habit from leaking out of the condo.

    -I like the idea of fire code. It is an old building so many codes are not up to date.

    -I called a handy man who is coming Monday to seal up as much as he can. An additional expense I am paying for their habit.

    My new happy home is miserable. 🙁

    • Sounds like you are taking steps that may mitigate the smell. Not to knock the handyman but you might be well served to have someone come check for leaks before handyman comes to seal. I had an energy audit and they came with a giant fan-like thing that sucked the air out of the house (well, not all the air as we could still breathe!). And then we walked thru the house to feel where the air was blowing- indicating leaks. Lot of obvious places but also many not very obvious places where air was coming in. Good luck

    • gotryit

      Sealing is a good first step, but it will only slow the rate that their smoke is seeping up. What type of HVAC system do you have? You may want to talk to a professional about an HVAC system that can bring in outside air (and heat / cool it) so that you’re pushing your air down to them rather than letting their air seep up to you. If you have forced air for heating and cooling that might be a reasonable simple add-on.

      • Does that require an outlet to outside? I’m not entirely sure what my HVAC system is but I know my washer/dryer closet doesn’t have ventilation so I had to get a self-venting dryer.

        • gotryit

          Similar – it would require an inlet from outside. Even if you don’t have one, they can be made. It’s just a hole in the wall with a duct going through it. You may need to check with your condo about any rules on things like that, but in a case like this I hope they’d be helpful.
          Do you have air conditioning? If so, are they units in the window? Or just vents in the room that cold air comes from?
          When you turn the heat on, does it come through vents (maybe the same vents)? Or are there radiators?
          Do you know if you have a heating / cooling unit in your condo (generally in a utility closet) or do you share a system with the whole condo?

          • I have my own heating/cooling system in a closet. Each room has individual vents, nothing in windows. It comes through the vents even when everything is off.

          • gotryit

            So you would be looking for a piece to add onto the unit in the closet that brings in outside air. How close is the closet to an exterior wall? I think that an HVAC (focus on the Ventilation part) professional can help you.

      • You can check your home inspection report to see what kind of HVAC system you have.

    • – You’ve offered to “split the cost of whatever she needs”. If you are asking the owner of the other apartment to make changes solely for your comfort — I’d think that “splitting the costs” would not be a great offer. Offering to assume all of the costs related to any changes as well as doing something to mitigate the other owner’s difficulties (i.e. taking time off from work, etc.) at least in my mind, would be a much better offer that is more likely to be accepted by the other owners.

      – I think most posters realize that you PURCHASED your unit. Most of us also realize that the other owners — or their landlord — PURCHASED theirs as well. Your additional expenses are not “paying for their habit”. Your expenses are paying for your comfort and your daughter’s health.

    • I don’t have any advice to offer. The only thing I can offer is emotional support. We had a nuisance issue with our condo a while back and tried every avenue to remedy the situation with a neighbor. It was extremely stressful on my family. In the end, solution wasn’t possible, and we ended up moving (after 3 years of trying to fix it). All i can say is do the best that you can with your available resources and what is best for your family. Many of the trolls on this blog will tell you it was your fault, but seriously, you cannot anticipate every problem. I wish you the best of luck.

  • I’d find a way to encourage them to switch to the e-cigarette. It’d be a huge mess to get them to quit smoking in their own condo. Either you deal with a big mess and neighbors who hate you, or you end up leaving yourself.

    Just a fairly wild idea.

  • Maybe the smokers want to stop just as much as the OP wants t hem to stop. Perhaps in as pleasant and straightforward way the first step might be to offer to pay for their smoking cessation therapy. It would be cheaper than buying expensive air filtration systems; hiring a lawyer; emotionally waging psychic war with them, etc.

    Worse they could say is “no”…best they could say is “yes, I’ve wanted to stop but don’t know how or need support.

    Reading your plight has made me initiate a “smoke free” amendment to the board of my small condo building.
    Good luck to all parties concerned…sounds like a nightmare

  • Bleh – chain smokers are absolutely disgusting. There were people who lived below me for a year in college that smoked on their balcony. It always drifted up to us and we had to always keep windows closed. MISERABLE!!!

  • i thought someone would have brought this up sooner but i couldn’t find it in any of the other comments. you have a right to what’s called “quiet enjoyment” and this is in violation of that right. you need to report it and soon. they aren’t allowed to do something in their property that harms your ability to live in and enjoy your property. look it up. consult an attorney.

  • Smoking is a very hard habit to quit. You telling them to just quit smoking, is like them telling you to stop doing something that you enjoy and need to do everyday but bugs them (lets say aerobics every morning at 7am). It might seem strange to you that something that you love irks the hell out of others, just as smokers can’t understand why people get so upset about their habit/addiction.

    If you want the problem to stop sooner, look into ecigs. Smokers need nicotine. If you can get them to switch to a new nicotine delivery system (ecigs), they get their nicotine, you get fresh odorless air.

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