Author Topic: My new downstairs neighbor smokes. Now my rental smells like an ashtray.  (Read 2306 times)

Heart of Tin

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I need advice about how to approach my landlord about this issue. Who better to ask than a bunch of landlords?

I moved in to a tri-plex with a 12 month lease at the beginning of April. The building was originally a duplex with full basements for the tenants on either side, but at some point one of the owners blocked off the back half of each basement, and converted the space into a third unit. I am renting a top level unit with the attached half basement.

When I began my tenancy in April there were no foul smells in the house. Three weeks ago my new downstairs neighbor moved in. She, her boyfriend, and her friends all smoke like chimneys which would be none of my business except that the second hand smoke has completely invaded my basement and is now making its way upstairs. My basement (where the clothes washer is located and where I used to hang dry my clothes) is completely unusable right now. I have moved all of my belongings out of the basement except a few pieces of furniture that simply won't fit upstairs. Luckily, it's spring and my furnace, which is located in the basement and thus pulls air from the basement, is off for the summer. I don't have central air, so I won't be running anything through the ducts until late fall. I have taped over all of my vents to trap the smell as much as possible, but it is now emanating from the basement door into the kitchen. I keep my windows open and fans on constantly when I'm home, but the smell is just getting worse.

How do I approach my landlord about this without seeming unreasonable? I will move out early if these conditions persist. I don't mean that as a threat, simply a statement of fact. All of my belongings will be ruined if I have to spend a winter cycling my filthy basement air through my house. Further it is a constant nuisance. I cannot use about 1/3 of my floorspace right now, and I don't want to be in my home with this smell. It's worth mentioning that I have talked to the new neighbors three times now about opening a window or smoking outside. Each time they are receptive and agreeable, but the smell just keeps getting worse. Talking to them has not worked. I want to stay in my house. I do not want to move again. How can I broach this with my landlord so that we can come to an amicable resolution? How would you want a tenant to approach you about this situation?

dreadmoose

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Sorry, this may not be too much help but in your lease does it mention anything about not smoking. In my area it is pretty rare to not have strict wording about smoking within units (fines and eviction).

After that you could have a look at current municipal acts in your area, they may have a standard of air quality that has to be guaranteed.

Unfortunately it seems tricky to be able to quantify the level of cigarette smoke coming in, so you'll have to hope your landlord can understand your aversion to the current amount. Having your furniture moved and ducts taped off may show him that you are serious, but it may help to start the complaint process now (so you don't let it build up and 'blow' at some point as that will come off unreasonable).
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Jon Bon

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Ok yeah so this kind of sucks. For sure read your lease backward and forward. Have you reached out to your landlord yet? If I for one found out some of my tenants were doing this I would be PISSED. For 1 this person is damaging my property, which pisses me off a lot. #2 he is pissing off my good lease following tenant (you) and ruining his possessions.

Check your lease, if you cant smoke he probably cant either and is breaking the lease. There is a good chance your landlord does not know, and would be grateful if you did let him know. Lord knows I would.

So yes check your lease and give your landlord a call. Approach it like you would a neighbor, "Gee Fred did you notice you were missing a few shingles off your roof?" You are on his side, you are helping him out by letting him know. I would probably also follow this up wtih an email so there is a written record.

If that does not go well, start to escalate. I have a very hard time thinking they would ever come after you for the rent. Unless your lease has some strange language about smoking.

Car Jack

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What "I" would do?  I'd go buy a bunch of cans of expanding foam.  I'd be sure that there's no way air can get from their side of the basement to my side.  Beyond that.....I don't know.  Kludge a system to take air from the roof into your unit to create positive pressure so that any possible smoke is kept out.

Heart of Tin

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Thanks everyone. I'm planning to talk to my landlord for the first time tonight after work. There is nothing in the lease prohibiting smoking directly, and my city/state ordinances are not very tenant friendly, especially in this regard. However, I went over my lease and found the following lurking in the midst of some totally unrelated rules and regulations:

Quote
No musical instrument, radio/stereo or television set shall be played or operated, and no vocal practice shall be carried on, and no noise shall be made in, nor shall any odor be allowed to emanate from the premises at any time in such a manner as to disturb the peaceful enjoyment of other occupants of the premises or adjoining properties.

Disturbed I am, so (assuming their lease has this same clause) they are in violation of their lease. I like Jon Bon's suggestion of phrasing my complaint as more of a heads up about damage to the landlord's property. That seems like a good initial tactic.

Kind of related: I know for a fact that they still haven't paid May's rent ($425/month) and neither of the adults (only one of whom is on the lease) has a job right now. Their trash has been piling up outside their door since they moved in, and the other tenant in the building has complained about their noise level. I have a feeling the landlord might want them out sooner rather than later.

Carless

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It's worth mentioning the trash too.  That can attract vermin which the owner definitely won't want.

Car Jack

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I had a funny thought.  You know that expanding foam I talked about?  Well, you're probably going to have extra and using it to seal all their doors from the outside would keep the smoke in the place.  So the doors don't open any more?  Ah, just a detail.

adamcollin

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Let us know what your landlord has to say about this problem.
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Dicey

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I actually live in a city that forbids smoking in any multi-family unit and within 25' of any entrance. What a Godsend!

OFTEN, landlords are unaware of the problems that other tenants are causing until someone tells them. Document everything and go speak to the landlord. Politely remind them of that phrase in the lease. (Shocker Alert: Not every LL knows every single word of the lease form they use.) Also, keep track of the neighbor's peak smoking hours and invite the LL to visit your place then, so they have first-hand evidence.

Finally, it sucks to have to move, but it could be grounds for breaking your lease if the LL fails to act.
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Dicey

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P.S. Forget the expanding foam. The smoke can come through the vents and the walls. I owned a condo where the downstairs neighbor didn't smoke inside. He would have friends over and they smoked cigarettes and hookahs on the patio. It filled my house with smoke from below. I finally sold and moved to the fabulous city with the Non-Smoking Ordinance. We have heavenly, sweet clean air now.
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Heart of Tin

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Small update: before I took any further action my gardens were vandalized,  and I had a small, strange confrontation with my neighbor's boyfriend. The garden was vandalized again today. Now I have a police report to bring to my landlord. Crappy, crappy situation. Multiple friends have offered spare rooms in case I need a place to stay.

Missy B

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They've done this before. They will escalate the harassment until you are either afraid to confront them about their garbage, smoking, noise, or lose your shit and do something that makes you look bad, so they can tell the landlord that you are the unreasonable one.
You and your neighbor might also complain together. If the landlord is given to understand that he could lose two solid tenants at once, it could be quite motivating.

BAMxi

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had this situation when i was renting an apartment (before I was a property manager). We ended up convincing the landlord to let us out of our lease because she was unwilling to ask the people that lived a floor below us to stop smoking in the home. It made our whole house stink like cigarettes and we would go to work smelling like we had been at a bar all night. Gross. Through the course of fighting that fight, we found out our landlord was also a smoker and "didn't smell anything" when entering our home. We also later found out she had been entering our home on a regular basis without advanced notice and was violating her own lease by doing so and not giving us advanced notice. That made it easier for us to ultimately get out of the lease.

Now, as a landlord, we always include a strict non-smoking clause in the lease and anyone caught smoking in the unit faces eviction or at the very least heavy fines. Look up health ordinances in your area and see if there is anything there. You may be able to come up with something to stand on that the landlord is not upholding their duty to provide you with a safe living environment. Honestly your best bet is going to be trying to be let out of your lease and moving somewhere else unless the landlord happens to side with you and takes action against the smoker. It always baffles me that there are landlords out there who are totally fine with people smoking in and basically damaging their property with smoke, making it harder to rent to the next person.

the_fella

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I live in a 4-plex, and afaik, my mother and I are the only non-smoking apartment in the building. The neighbors across the hall smoke pot in the hallway, as well. It's annoying, but the LL doesn't give a fuck, so long as she gets her rent.

Blonde Lawyer

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I'm enjoying this thread thinking about how far we have come as a society.  I remember when it was SO difficult to find a non-smoking unit.  When I started college we could all smoke in the dorms.  Now it is difficult for a smoker to find a place to rent where they can smoke inside.  People at my work now complain about third hand smoke.  (That's when a smoker's clothes smell of smoke that they can smell.)  I'm not a smoker and fully support having clean air -- it's just interesting how far we have come.  I can recall my Aunts and Uncles being so offended because my dad made them smoke outside at OUR house because I had asthma.  It was allegedly the epitome of rude to not allow your guests to smoke in your house.  I never imagined as a kid that I would see the day that a landlord would be telling people they couldn't smoke in their apartment. I hope your situation gets better soon OP!