Can I Stop My Neighbor From Smoking?

Last Updated Aug 5, 2009 9:17 PM EDT

When it comes to cigarettes, I am pretty much a "live and let live" kind of girl. I spent maybe one year in college smoking because I thought it looked cool, set my hair on fire, got bored and quit. As far as other people's smoke, well, my Hollywood real estate clients smoke, and I tell them that it's not healthy, and then we agree to disagree and move on.

But two things just happened to push me farther into the anti-smoking camp. One was a quick hotel stay in San Francisco, where the neighbors in my hipster hotel were getting baked pretty much constantly, and the secondhand smoke annoyed me. The other was reading Christopher Buckley's dashing-yet-wrenching memoir, "Losing Mum and Pup." Both the author's parents, the icons Pat and William F., were glamour smokers, and Buckley sympathetically describes their smokers' ends, which included emphysema for him and three amputated toes for her.

So today's news, which brings notice of a Manhattan lawsuit about secondhand smoke from the Metro chain of newspapers, seems as good a time as ever to consider the question, "Can I Stop My Neighbor From Smoking?"

The answer is generally "no," but the exceptions are becoming more numerous. In January, a law was passed in Belmont, California (a city in the San Francisco area) that prohibits smoking inside apartment complexes. Calabasas, California, prohibits smoking in 80 percent of the city's apartments.

In Utah, secondhand smoke that recurrently drifts into your home can be classified as a "nuisance," giving you the right to sue the offending smoker, the legal website Nolo.com notes.

In most places, though, if your neighbor does smoke, the courts are going to uphold his/her rights. So it's best to start by having a non-threatening conversation about the fumes drifting and how to stop them, rather than by shaking your fist and yelling for the law. (Also note: It's never good to start a neighbor-to-neighbor relationship by leaving anonymous notes.) If a heart-to-heart talk doesn't work, start to document in writing to the appropriate entity (the landlord, the property manager, possibly even the municipality itself) every time you complain.

Smokers, for your part -- please try to be accommodating. "It's my castle, deal with it" may have been an attitude that worked a generation ago, but attitudes are changing -- even attitudes of people like myself who didn't used to care one way or the other. A Gallup poll from June found that 17 percent of Americans are in favor of a total smoking ban, up from 12 percent just two years ago.
  • Alison Rogers

    Since graduating from Harvard summa cum laude, Alison Rogers has been a reporter, an editor, a real-estate agent, a Wall Street desk jockey, a columnist, a failed flipper, and a landlady. A member of the National Association of Realtors, she currently sells and rents luxury co-ops in Manhattan for the Chelsea-based firm DG Neary. (If you've got $27,500 a month, the firm has an apartment for you!) Her book, Diary of a Real Estate Rookie, was called "a valuable guide for rookie buyers" by AOL/Walletpop, "beach-read fun" by the New York Observer, and "witty" by Newsweek.

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