Home Ownership and Second Hand Smoke: the American Dream or a Health Nightmare?

By Curtis G. Kimble.

How far can a government or an HOA go to dictate what can and can’t be done inside of a homeowners own home? Is an owner of an attached dwelling or a condominium unit able to do whatever they want within the confines of their home as long as it’s not illegal? Is a homeowner entitled to create and distribute from their home a “Class A” carcinogenic substance, which causes cancer and respiratory diseases and disorders, among other problems and which is able to infiltrate neighboring homes?

This is a question being increasingly asked in other states where some state courts have held that smoke transferring between units is a nuisance. But others have determined that the cigarette smoke is like an odor intrusion, a condition of living in a community environment that residents simply have to put up with – a startlingly misguided mentality considering the fact that the EPA has determined that there is no acceptable level of exposure to Class A carcinogens, and considering that second hand smoke causes serious problems for children, including ear problems, middle ear disease, acute respiratory infections, wheeze illness, slowed lung growth, and more severe asthma, and that 430 American newborns die each year from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) caused by second hand smoke.

Incentives offered by the Federal Government have led cities from Austin to Boston to prohibit smoking in public housing. In 2006, a judge ruled that secondhand smoke could be a breach of “warranty of habitability” under New York law.  At least six California cities and counties have banned smoking in all condo units.

Fortunately for Utah residents who don’t appreciate dangerous and toxic chemicals being forced down their breathing passages, Utah law clearly states that smoke transferring between dwelling units is a nuisance and may be the subject of an action brought by “any person whose property is injuriously affected, or whose personal enjoyment is lessened by the nuisance” and “upon judgment, the nuisance may be enjoined or abated, and damages may be recovered.”

A nuisance under Utah law includes tobacco smoke that drifts into any residential unit a person rents, leases, or owns, from another residential or commercial unit and the smoke drifts in more than once in each of two or more consecutive seven-day periods, and is injurious to health, indecent, offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property.

The Utah Condominium Ownership Act states that restrictions in governing documents “regarding the use of the units may include other prohibitions on, or allowance of, smoking tobacco products.”

The Utah Community Association Act, which applies to non-condo HOAs, states that a rule of an association may prohibit an activity within a dwelling if there are attached dwellings, and the activity creates the potential for smoke to enter another lot owner’s dwelling, the common areas, or limited common areas.

Utah law is at the forefront of the national trend to protect the right of every individual to live in their own homes without being subjected to dangerous and toxic chemicals contained in second hand smoke. Contact us to take advantage of these laws and help your association adopt a policy regarding smoking.

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