Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Smoke gets in my eyes (literally)

It turns out that air fresheners in the hallway were the least of our problems. :( 

The condo directly across the hall from ours was sold earlier this fall and the new owners took up residence in early October. It was mid-late October when the air fresheners were installed (and then removed, a few days after dh moved the one outside our door further down the hallway).

It soon dawned on us that perhaps the air fresheners were being used to mask another smell. Several times, in late October/early November, I thought I smelled smoke. One night I actually woke up;  I could smell smoke very strongly, and I couldn't figure out where it was coming from. One night, when we were sitting in the living room, dh asked me if I thought I smelled smoke. I said yes, and I'd smelled it before too. It got stronger & stronger, to the point where we were both coughing. My eyes were stinging & my nostrils and throat were raw. There's a strong air current around the door frame of our unit, and when we sniffed around the frame, we could distinctly smell the smoke outside.

So it looks like we have some chain smokers living across the hall from us. (As someone said to me when I told them about this, "How much must they be smoking if it's bothering you that much from across the hall, with two closed doors between you??"). GREAT.  :(  Some evenings have been better/worse than others, but there have been a few evenings now where I've been sitting on the couch with my T-shirt pulled up over my nose because the fumes are so strong. We generally sleep with the bedroom door almost fully closed;  the other morning I opened the bedroom door & the stale, burnt smell of stubbed-out cigarettes hit me like a brick in the face. :(    Pretty awful when neither of you smoke yourselves, right?

To say the least, this has been incredibly frustrating & disappointing, because we've really been enjoying condo living until this point. Unfortunately (as at the house!), we can't choose our neighbours.

The effects of second-hand smoke on bystanders' health has been well documented. I was tested for allergies as a child and told tobacco smoke was one of them (although my father continued to smoke in our home -- things were different in the 1960s...!);  dh had asthma when he was growing up, although it hasn't bothered him in years. Beyond health concerns and just plain old discomfort, I am furious at the thought of my nice new furniture (not to mention my many books, & my clothes) absorbing and stinking of smoke.

(My mother hasn't permitted smoking in the house for many years now -- besides my dad, my sister & her boyfriends both used to smoke -- but before she implemented the ban, dh & I would arrive home from a visit and open our suitcases to the smell of smoke. I would have to toss everything into the laundry whether it had been worn or not, because it reeked so badly.)

We've tried a number of different things to alleviate the situation. We've kept the balcony door open for as long as we could in the evening to air the place out -- and thank goodness the weather has been extremely mild -- although I am sure we are not going to be able to do this much longer...!  (One night we opened the door to let in some fresh air & instead let in the distinct aroma of a skunk outside. Yikes!!)

Last week, we bought a diffuser and some essential oil blends, which add a pleasant natural scent while helping to cleanse the air. I figured they would be less irritating than commercial air fresheners (full of chemicals), and so far, so good, from that perspective at least. Re: the smoke, it's helped a bit, but hasn't eliminated the smell, which can be pretty overpowering at times. 

Today, we bought & applied weatherstripping around the doorframe, which has eliminated the draft and will hopefully eliminate, or at least help to minimize, the smokey smell. If that doesn't work, our next step will probably be to check out air purifiers. (Any thoughts or recommendations on those?) 

So why don't we just speak to the neighbours directly? (1) I am probably the most non-confrontational (cowardly??) person you will ever meet. The very thought makes me cringe. (2) We aren't 100% sure it's the people across the hall (although we are pretty sure). We know some of our other neighbours smoke too -- although they were there long before these guys were, and we never noticed a problem before they moved in. (3) We haven't met these people yet, and we don't want to get things started on the wrong foot. (4) We know smokers can get quite defensive about their habit. Yes, I suppose people have the "right" to smoke in their own units -- but I believe we have an equal right not to have that smoke infringe on the clean air in OUR unit too.

I checked the status certificate and other documentation we received when we bought this place, and there is a rule about how owners, tenants, etc., “shall not create or permit the creation of or continuation of any noise or nuisance which, in the opinion of the board or the manager, may or does disturb the comfort or quiet enjoyment of the units or common elements by other owners” etc. etc.  I think this would qualify as a nuisance, don't you?  Should none of our other efforts alleviate the problem, I suppose we will bring it up with management/the board.  It could be that other neighbours have complained too (who installed those air fresheners in the hallway & why?). This could also have been an issue for other owners in other parts of the building. I'd be curious to know if that's the case and, if so, how the issue was resolved (or not).

Do you smoke or have you smoked in the past? (I assume that most of you don't, since most of you, like me, are or were trying desperately to get pregnant at some point.)  How do you feel about being around smoking/smokers?

(I did experiment a bit with smoking as a teenager, as I'm sure many of us did -- mostly as a half-hearted attempt to ditch my good-girl image -- but I was never serious about it & rarely inhaled. By the time I went to university, where I would occasionally bum a cigarette at parties, I realized was being ridiculous, and haven't touched the stuff in well over 35 years.)


  1. We just went through this. Except instead of smoke, it was pet odor.

    If your bylaws or Rules &Regs have an ordinance about obnoxious odor, I strongly encourage you to report this to management. A notice will be sent. These homeowners do have a right to meet with the board and defend themselves, but you won't be roped into that meeting (it's the job of management and the board). And most often, after a warning people modify their behavior.

    On the flip, I've had people complain about problems but never file a formal complaint. I will tell you what I tell them, which is nothing can be done until you activate the bylaws. And considering most complain to me well beyond the point where we can easily address it (in our previous case, we made the homeowner replace all her carpeting, subjecting her to increasing fines every month she stalled), it is better to report sooner than later.

    Shoot me an email if you have questions. I know it sucks to say anything (believe me, I do know as I'm usually the one seen as the bad guy), but you live in a shared community. Which means they can't make life uncomfortable for everyone else because of an addiction. There are options for them to consider, but they need to be the ones investigating.

    1. Thanks, Cristy, I knew I could count on you for some advice! ;) :) No rules specifically about odors, that I've found anyway (although there is an entire separate document related to pets...!), but I would assume the passage I quoted in the post about "nuisances" that disturb the enjoyment of one's unit would apply. We'll see whether the weather stripping helps first before thinking about filing a complaint. Didn't notice anything last night, but it's not always an every night thing. But when it's bad, it's bad. :(

  2. Yikes - that sounds terrible. :( I used to smoke, but I quit 17 years ago. I did smoke in my condo, but I only had 1 neighbor with a door nearby, and I don't think the air currents could have sent my smoke his way. He never said anything anyway.

    I do have a recommendation for an air purifier though - it's moderately expensive here ($160), but it seems to work great. The only problem is that the filters are also kind of pricey. But it seems to have alleviated some of our allergy issues...

    1. Thanks! We'll see if the weatherstripping helps before we go shopping, but I'm always happy to have some recommendations in hand before we do. :)

  3. This is terrible! I have asthma and being around second-hand smoke makes my disease much worse.

    I know it is hard (I am also non-confrontational)... but the guys who are smoking need to know that it creates hard times for you.

    Keeping my fingers crossed!

  4. Wow. This is my nightmare scenario. I CANNOT STAND cigarette smoke. When I was young I lived in Hong Kong and everyone smoked there and it drove me crazy. I'd lose my mind on international flights, where the only thing standing between the smoking and non-smoking sections was a flimsy cloth. I can pick up the hint of cigarette smoke anywhere, idea of it in my own home is horrible. I'm so sorry you are dealing with this. I hope it gets resolved quickly and effectively.

  5. This sounds awful. :( How frustrating.

    Honestly, I would read through your condo rules to see about odors and if that's listed, I would pursue this. Even if you get purifiers and what not to improve the smell in your apartment, it is dangerous to your health to be inhaling smoke (I know you know this).

    I hope it can be resolved easily and peacefully, but I really think this is worth making a major stink about (if you will pardon the pun).

  6. Report it to the property management people. They can deal with it so you don't have to confront them. They'll send a warning and progressive fines for noncompliance.
    I used to smoke and lived in a condo at one time. I used to smoke outside (even when I was smoking, the thought of doing that in the house (or car) was abhorrent. Can't believe people still do this). Smoking on the balcony would be a decent compromise. Is there one? They can go outside and you can keep your windows closed while they're smoking.