Healthy Community Zones Initiative Broward County Fl

What To Do When Secondhand Smoke Risks Hit Close To Home (And In It!)

smoke free housing broward county florida sedonhand smoke

Please note: The American Lung Association in Florida, Broward Regional Health Planning Council and TOUCH: Transforming Our Community’s Health cannot help anyone out of a lease, do not provide any legal services or advice, and only provides materials for informational purposes.

Most of us know that there are serious health risks associated with exposure to secondhand smoke. Non-profits, healthcare professionals and decision makers have worked tirelessly for years, not only to create this awareness, but to implement concrete action in order to ensure that non-smokers don’t have to walk through clouds of tobacco smoke when entering businesses, hospitals or other indoor spaces.

And for the most part, if our family is a non-smoking family, we feel that the air we breathe at home is safe for us and our loved ones. Maybe we even take this for granted.

But what happens if you live in an apartment, townhome or condo, and your adjacent neighbors smoke indoors? Worse yet, what are your options as a tenant if tobacco smoke from that adjacent unit is persistently leaking into your home, contaminating the air you, and your children breathe?

A local family’s ordeal with “smokey neighbors”

For a local family in Deerfield Beach, FL the above scenario became a very real . After noticing that secondhand smoke was infiltrating their unit from the one directly above them, Amaury and Renata notified their upstairs neighbors about the situation, only to receive the “there’s nothing in our lease agreement preventing us from smoking indoors” response.

They then proceeded to get the building maintenance staff involved. The management was responsive to the issue and attempted to isolate the tobacco smoke leakage by performing several plumbing, A/C, and structural repairs. Yet the issue persisted, made worse by the fact that the neighbors would smoke a lot during evening hours, causing the secondhand smoke to leak in and concentrate in the living room and kitchen when the family was home.

To make this situation worse, the couple was expecting a baby. The wife was 8 months pregnant – the precise stage in a baby’s growth when the lungs are developing for life after birth.

Has this happened to you? We want to hear your experience! Share your story with us in the comments, or on our Facebook Page.

The reality of secondhand smoke exposure in your home

what is secondhand smokeLet’s cut for a moment to discuss some of the actual risks and effects of secondhand tobacco smoke…

“Secondhand smoke is more than a nuisance—it is a toxic mix of more than 4,000 chemicals. These chemicals can be roughly divided into three groups: particulate matter, volatile organic gases, and inorganic compounds, like heavy metals.”

Since 1992, “the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified secondhand smoke as a “Group A” carcinogen. This category is reserved for the most dangerous compounds that have been proven to cause cancer in humans.” (source)

Also, “Third-hand smoke (THS), a term first coined in 2009, refers to residual secondhand tobacco smoke contamination that persists in the indoor environment after smoking has stopped. Semi-volatile and volatile organic chemicals like nicotine and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (carcinogens, also known as PAH) are oily or waxy and more likely to stick to surfaces than be removed by ventilation. Because they are volatile or semi-volatile, they are also looking for other constituents with which to bond, becoming new chemical species.”

According to the American Cancer Association website and The 2006 Surgeon General’s report on secondhand smoke:

  • Secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in children and adults who do not smoke.
  • Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory infections, ear problems, and more severe asthma.

In addition, the Florida Department of Health reports the following risks for newborn babies exposed to cigarette smoke:

  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Lower birth weight
  • Mental retardation
  • Brain dysfunction
  • Respiratory infections

Unexpected expenses caused by secondhand smoke

Secondhand smoke can also damage an apartment as Amaury and Renata found when they moved from their apartment.  The cigarette smoke that had seeped into their air had also deposited on their walls and in their carpet, requiring additional cleaning in order to leave the unit in “move-in” ready condition.  National statistics indicate that apartments in which tenants are allowed to smoke often require more time and money to prepare for the next tenant – often three to five times as much.  When an apartment is “damaged” because of secondhand smoke, the existing tenant often has to bear the cost to ensure their full security deposit is returned.

What you can do if confronted with this situation

Let’s return to the local family we were discussing earlier. As you read, the situation was serious, but rather than taking a complacent position, they chose to be proactive and exhaust all avenues of action to resolve a situation that was affecting their health, and quite possibly the health of their unborn child.

They communicated directly to the party responsible, attempted to fix the problem with building maintenance staff, and when all that failed, they sought the support of the American Lung Association in Florida.  Matthew Competiello, Program Manager, American Lung Association in Florida, provided the property managers with information about the dangers of secondhand smoke, the financial and health benefits of transitioning to a “smoke free” complex, and the relevant information related to the Federal Fair Housing Act.  Amaury and Renata were persistent and chose the health of their unborn child over their home –  with a letter from their doctor and using Fair Housing laws as justification – they moved finding a healthier, smoke-free living alternative with minimal economic hardship in the process.

Here some steps you can take in dealing with secondhand smoke from your neighbors:

  • Educate yourself about the issue and your rights by reading the American Lung Association website.
  • Make your healthcare provider aware of the issue so he/she can provide more support and documentation to better communicate with property management.
  • Politely communicate the issue to the neighbor(s) responsible. They may simply not realize that their smoking is causing an issue for you. Ask if they would not mind smoking outdoors, at least 25ft away from the building.
  • Get the property maintenance staff involved. Request that they inspect and fix any issue with the structure, plumbing, or ventilation system that may be enabling the smoke to leak in.
  • If all action by maintenance staff fails, get the property manager or owner involved to determine if there is a way to be moved to a different unit that does not have smokers in the adjacent units, or if there is a remedy in your lease for the annoyance and risks of being exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • Remember to document all communications, to all parties involved, and all actions taken by the maintenance staff and property management.

Together with TOUCH and other agencies in Broward County, the American Lung Association in Florida (TOUCH Partner) is working hard to create awareness about the effects of secondhand smoke exposure.  This work requires actively collaborating with colleges, public parks and multi-unit housing complexes to provide smoke-free alternatives for local residents.

We reached out to Matthew Competiello of the American Lung Association in Florida, who has been assisting this local family through this tough situation. Matthew shared the following with us: “Tobacco smoke is indisputably a toxic creature that causes a number of health illnesses beyond cancer. For nonsmokers, being exposed to secondhand smoke in your home from a neighboring unit is like being forced into a gas chamber. The only solution to handling this matter is to not be exposed to secondhand smoke. It is important to know that only one out of every six adults in Broward County smoke, yet over 80% of the population continues to be affected by secondhand smoke. Smoke-free housing options should be readily available and easy to find.”

Here are some additional resources to help you:

Secondhand Smoke Communication Record (pdf)

Smoke Free Living Toolkits for Tenants and Owners/Management Agents (pdf)

Smoke Free Broward (find smoke-free multi-unit housing in Broward County, FL)


Why going “Smoke Free” is good for those who own and manage Apartments, Condos and Townhouses:

Besides providing a healthier environment for those who live and work in the units, going smoke-free can help owners and managers to:

  • Attract more tenants. Survey after survey shows a high demand for smoke free apartment buildings. Smoking rates have been dropping over the past decade and many people who smoke voluntarily smoke outside, perhaps as a result of the increased awareness and changing social norms around secondhand smoke.
  • Save money on repairs. Prohibiting smoking can help landlords save money. Apartments where tenants are allowed to smoke often require more time and money to prepare for the next tenant – often three to five times as much.
  • Reduce potential legal liability. Landlords are required by law to provide their residential tenants with a safe and habitable dwelling. Secondhand smoke that seeps into an apartment creates a harmful environment, for which the landlord may be liable. Landlords can avoid this potential legal liability by eliminating smoking.
  • Reduce conflicts among tenants. Secondhand smoke can be a common source of conflict among tenants. Tenants will often choose to move out rather than expose themselves and family members to secondhand smoke – leaving their landlord with a vacant apartment.
  • Eliminate the leading cause of residential firerelated deaths.  Property damage from cigarette‐caused fires exceeds $400 million annually. No smoking rules reduce the risk of fire-related property damage, injury and death.
  • Reduce your insurance premiums. Some insurance companies may offer discounts or credits for apartments with smoke‐free policies.

For more information about Smoke Free Housing for landlords, owners or managers visit our resource page.


You have the right to live free from the risks of secondhand smoke exposure!

As noted in the Housing and Urban Development’s 2012 Smoke Free Housing Toolkit, “Smoking is not a legal right. Smoke-free policies do not infringe on the legal rights of individuals.” As such, here are some things you can do, right now, to help change happen:

  1. Share this article on Facebook, Twitter, or through email (We’ve got some handy sharing buttons at the bottom of this post!).
  2. If you haven’t already, subscribe to receive updates and our newsletter by clicking here, and entering your info.
  3. Join us on Facebook where we share even more relevant content and resources to improve your quality of life!
  4. Leave a comment. Have you had a similar experience at your home? Tell us in the comments section below.

Thanks for engaging, and for spreading the word!

(Photo sources:,

Please note: The American Lung Association in Florida, Broward Regional Health Planning Council and TOUCH: Transforming Our Community’s Health cannot help anyone out of a lease, do not provide any legal services or advice, and only provides materials for informational purposes.


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5 Responses to "What To Do When Secondhand Smoke Risks Hit Close To Home (And In It!)"
  1. Hello — I’m a reporter in Deerfield Beach and interested in reaching Amaury and Renata Rosa. Could you ask them if it would be o.k. for me to have their phone number? And a name and number from the American Lung Association who would be good to talk wtih? TY so much! Betsy (954) 574-5311

    • Beny Schonfeld says:

      Hi, Betsy! Thanks for reaching out! I’ll gladly bring your request up with our partners at American Lung Association. They brought the story to our attention and collaborated with us in writing the above article. So they are the ones who are in touch with the Rosa’s and could reach out to them with your request. Please look for an email from me in your inbox today: benys [at] 211-broward [dot] org

      Thanks again!

  2. Matthew says:

    Great story and I wish the best for the Rosa family! Maybe as more residents, property managers and property owners learn about the dangers of secondhand smoke and the benefits of living in smoke-free apartments, condos and townhouses no one will have to choose between their home and their health.

    • Beny Schonfeld says:

      Matthew, thanks for your hard work with the American Lung Association in Florida! I do agree that it’s key to educate both tenants, landlords and property managers so they know that they have options, and specific actions they can take when it comes to secondhand smoke.

      Thanks again for collaborating with us to give all this information and resources to the people who are needing it!

Comments are closed.