My neighbor is smoking, and it’s drifting into my apartment. What can I do?

You could pursue some or all of the strategies described below:

  1. Encourage your landlord to adopt a smokefree policy
  2. Urge your local elected officials to adopt a law to restrict smoking in multi-unit housing
  3. Create a voluntary agreement with your smoking neighbor to limit where he or she smokes
  4. File a lawsuit against the landlord and/or your smoking neighbor based on legal grounds such as nuisance, interference with your right to enjoy your home, and/or trespass

(Note that this information is specific to people living in an apartment in California. If you live in a condominium or a private home, or if you have a medical disability, and are affected by drifting secondhand smoke, see the questions that address those situations.)

Smokefree Policy

In most cities and counties in California, a landlord has the legal right to prohibit smoking in indoor and outdoor common areas of an apartment complex and to restrict smoking in individual units. For details on how a landlord could adopt such a policy, see our publication, How Landlords Can Prohibit Smoking in Rental Housing. Also look at the model lease amendment from Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR), which can be used to help implement a new smokefree policy.

If you live in a city or county with a rent control law, see our fact sheet, Smokefree Multi-Unit Housing in Jurisdictions with Rent Control, for information about how rent control laws affect landlords’ ability to create a smokefree policy.

Smokefree Housing Law

Dozens of local governments in California have adopted laws requiring some portion of multi-unit housing to be smokefree. To see if your community already has such a law, see the list from the American Lung Association in California Center for Tobacco Policy & Organizing. If your city or county does not have such a law, you may wish to contact a local elected official about your problem, and suggest the local government consider passing a law to protect people living in multi-unit housing from secondhand smoke.

Voluntary Agreement

If your landlord and your local government are not willing to adopt a policy, you could try to reach a voluntary agreement with your smoking neighbor. The neighbor could, for example, agree to limit where he smokes or the times when he smokes. Such an agreement is not legally binding. ANR has a publication called The Smoker Next Door: Handling Unwanted Tobacco Smoke in Apartments and Condominiums, which can be useful for pursuing a voluntary agreement.

Although you and your neighbor may be able to work out an agreement on your own, there are mediation and dispute resolution programs that can assist people with disputes like this. 

Lawsuit

Another option is to bring a lawsuit against the landlord and/or the neighbor. Our publication, Legal Options for Tenants Suffering from Drifting Tobacco Smoke, provides information about this option. However, ChangeLab Solutions does not provide direct legal services to clients, so we would not be able to represent you in a lawsuit.

Another avenue you might want to pursue is filing a lawsuit in small claims court. In this case, you would represent yourself and not have to hire an attorney. The California Department of Consumer Affairs has developed a helpful website, The Small Claims Court: A Guide to Its Practical Use, to answer questions about the process of resolving a dispute in small claims court. Whatever course of action you take, consider your health. You may even think about moving to get away from the secondhand smoke, if that is a possibility. We wish you luck with this difficult situation.

Additional Resources

For more information, see all our smokefree housing resources.