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Smoking in Public Housing

Produced by Mariah Jennings-Rampsi for MassLegalHelp.org
Created April 2019

Are you being evicted because you smoke?

You may be able to make an agreement with your landlord so you can stay in your apartment. You may have to promise to follow your building's no-smoking policy.

Agreements can be tricky. Try to talk to a lawyer.

What can I do about secondhand smoke around my apartment?

State and Federally funded housing complexes have no-smoking policies. Many private apartment buildings do too. A smoke-free policy does not stop smokers from living in the building. It only stops you from smoking in the building or near the property.

Apartment buildings have different rules about the distance from the building you must keep when you smoke. Ask your landlord for a copy of the no-smoking policy for your building

What can I do if my apartment has a no-smoking policy?

If someone is smoking in your building or too close to it:

  1. Ask your landlord or property manager for a copy of the no-smoking policy.
  2. Keep a journal. Write in it every time you smell smoke. Write the date, time of day, where you were when you smelled the smoke, any health effects you feel, and other details like if anyone else was there.
  3. Write to your landlord about the smoke.
  4. If you talk with your landlord, write about it in your journal. Include everything you both said.
  5. If you smell smoke again, tell your landlord and write about it in your journal. Write another letter. Explain exactly when you smelled the smoke. If your landlord does not help, file a complaint with your landlord’s supervisor.
  6. If you need help call Massachusetts’ Smoke-Free Housing Project hotline 877-830-8795.

If the smoke does not stop you can:

  • File a court case.
  • If you have a disability like asthma or a breathing condition, ask for a reasonable accommodation. 

What can I do if my apartment building allows smoking?

Ask for a Reasonable Accommodation

People with breathing disabilities like asthma or other breathing problems have the right to enjoy their homes. If secondhand smoke is stopping you from using or enjoying your home ask for a reasonable accommodation. See a sample reasonable accommodation letter. Most landlords must make reasonable changes to the building rules to accommodate a tenant’s disabilities.

If you have problems breathing:

  • If the smoke is coming from common areas of the building, ask your landlord to make a rule that smoking is not allowed in those areas.
  • Ask to move to a vacant unit in the complex, away from the drifting smoke. The landlord must pay some of your moving costs.
  • Ask to end your lease with no penalty so you can move to a smoke-free apartment.

File a Court Case

You have the right to the “quiet enjoyment” of your home. If drifting smoke is stopping you from enjoying your home, you may have a claim against your landlord. You must tell your landlord about the smoke and ask him to stop the smoke from reaching your apartment. See a sample letter. If the landlord does not stop the smoke from entering your apartment, you may have a good case against him. If you win, your landlord may have to pay you 3 months’ rent or repay your actual losses. If you win, the landlord must pay you the larger amount.

Filing a court case can be hard. Talk to a lawyer.

Get a no-smoking policy put in place

Ask your landlord to make your building a no-smoking building. Contact these programs for information and help:

Find Legal Aid

You may be able to get free legal help from your local legal aid program. Or email a question about your own legal problem to a lawyer.

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