Q&A: No Escape from Smoke

Q. We live in a 60-unit condominium in Massachusetts and share a common balcony with our next-door neighbors, divided by just a short railing. I have a sensitivity to cigarette smoke, and I don’t think it’s fair that the building allows smoking on the balconies. I have my door and windows open when It’s nice out, but I have to close them when people go out and smoke on the neighboring balcony. To make matters worse, when it rains, they smoke inside and the smoke comes through the walls. Is there anything we can do to ban smoking on shared balconies? If so, how would the association go about doing that?

                          —Looking for Clean Air

A. “Based upon extensive research available on the subject today, it is clear that smoking presents a serious health concern and nuisance,” says Scott Eriksen, partner at Perkins & Anctil, PC in Westford, Massachusetts. “Secondhand tobacco smoke contains dozens of compounds which are known to be or are probable human carcinogens, and is itself classified as ‘Class A’ carcinogen by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. In light of this information, over the last two decades, there have been many changes to both public and private policies in regards to smoking. From the workplace to airports to restaurants and other gathering places, many government entities and public and private organizations have introduced a ban on smoking.  

“How to handle smoking at condominiums, particularly apartment-style or townhouse buildings, has also been a hot topic of late. Secondhand smoke can drift through common walls and ventilation systems and contaminate air in common areas and individual units.  In addition to the health issues, a number of our clients have sought to implement smoking bans to reduce the risk of accidental fires and/or to eliminate waste from improperly discarded and unsightly cigarette butts. One of our larger association clients, an apartment-style community in the Boston area, cited the cost benefits of reduced maintenance of common area air ducts and ventilation systems as a reason for imposing restrictions.  

“Based on our experience, we believe that in order to implement an effective and enforceable no smoking policy, the board (or concerned owners) should take the following steps:


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