Concern over health and an evolving legal landscape has prompted a number of condo and co-op boards in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, as well as communities across New England to ban cigarette smoking in individual smoking units. This restriction has ignited a debate over health/nuisance versus individual rights, and both sides can be vehement in advocating for their position.
Harbor Towers on East India Row in Boston, the city’s largest condominium complex, is the latest condo community to amend its bylaws and go smoke-free. The twin, waterfront 40-story luxury high rise buildings’ residents voted to ban smoking in all common areas, outside areas and within each unit. The new amendment went into effect in March. The new clause contains a provision that will allow current residents, both owners and renters, to continue smoking in their units. When a unit is sold or rented to a new tenant, the smoking ban will kick in for that space. The condo’s trustees and unit owners voted 80 percent in favor of the new rules. Penalties for violators are being worked out.
“When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing to get 80 percent of people to agree on anything,” says Richard M. Atwater Jr., general manager of Harbor Towers Condominiums. “A very small percentage of people voted against it. If people voted against it, my sense is that either they were current smokers and they felt strongly about their right to smoke or if they were a non-smoker, they may have felt that this was too over-reaching to go into people’s residences. That’s my guess; I can’t go inside of people’s heads.”
Last year, the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton Towers, Boston Common, went completely smoke-free with no grandfather clause for any of its 132 units of the north high-rise tower. Rule-breakers will get a written warning following the first infraction, a $500 fine for the second and the Ritz-Carlton condo association will pursue court action after that.
The debate over public health and property value versus individual rights is ongoing with no immediate end in sight over this pervasive, volatile issue.