Smokefree DC is a citizen-based group whose goal is to promote smokefree environments in Washington, DC.

D.C. woman wins court battle with smoker

We’d like to tell you about a D.C. woman had so much secondhand smoke in her apartment that she hired a lawyer. The tale could be helpful to those of you who are dealing with smoke coming into your dwelling from another unit.

The case went through the condo board and then to court. In what is believed to be a precedent-setting case in the District, the woman won. The parties settled the case upon the smoker’s promise – enforceable by the court – to not smoke in her apartment or on her balcony ever again.

“This case represents the first known recognition by a District of Columbia condominium association of a non-smoker’s right to be free from the unhealthy effects of secondhand smoke in a multi-unit dwelling,” said J.P. Szymkowicz, the attorney who handled the case. ”It’s been a long fight, but it ended well, with the right to breathe clean air trumping the right to smoke.”

No money changed hands, but under the settlement, the smoker risks monetary penalties should she smoke in her unit or on her attached balcony in the future.

The case began in October 2008, when the resident filed a complaint with
her condo board, saying that her neighbor’s practice of smoking cigarettes in her unit and on her attached balcony caused secondhand smoke to enter her unit and constituted a nuisance in violation of the condominium’s rules and bylaws.  In December 2008, the resident filed a complaint for monetary damages in the District of Columbia Superior Court against the smoker.

In February 2009, the board held a hearing and decided that the smoker
had violated the nuisance section of the condo bylaws.  After the board rendered its decision, the smoker refrained from smoking in her unit or on the attached balcony.

After the judge declined the smoker’s request to dismiss the Superior Court case in November 2009, the parties agreed to settle the case in order to foster good neighborly relations after the smoker promised to abide by the condo board’s decision. Had the case not settled, it would have gone to trial in February on the issue of the resident’s monetary damages.

If you are having a problem with secondhand smoke in your apartment, you can try to work it out by talking to the smoker (I did this once and the woman was really accommodating and started smoking outside), going to the condo board or apartment management, invoking the nuisance clause in the rules governing your apartment or condo, and finally going to court.

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