By Gary Rhoades, Deputy City Attorney
For the second consecutive evening in their Santa Monica apartment, Mia’s six-year-old daughter began coughing at 6 p.m. A few minutes later, Mia once again smelled the cigarette smoke that her daughter’s asthma-afflicted lungs had already detected.
The smoke wafted through the wall that Mia and her children shared with a new neighbor, Rudy, who had just moved in.
“Hi, I’m your next-door neighbor,” Mia announced to Rudy once he opened his front door. A cigarette dangled from his lips and a paperback book from his hand.
“I’d like to ask you to not smoke in the building,” said Mia. “It’s a smoke-free property and your smoking in here is already making my girl cough over there.”
“Whoa!” said Rudy, raising his hands in mock self-defense. “That’s a lot to lay on your new neighbor.” He took a drag on his cigarette to collect his senses and blew the smoke away from Mia, back into the apartment.
And right back toward my little girl, thought Mia.
“But let’s see here, Mia–there’s couple problems with what you say. First is that I have only a couple cigs after work to take the edge off. And it’s in here, away from you all. Second thing is that my lease says nothing about smoking.”
Mia hesitated. She didn’t know what his lease said. “It’s a non-smoking building,” she repeated. “It’s on the bulletin board in the lobby and Santa Monica has a no-smoking law. And you should know my daughter has asthma.”
“Sorry to hear that. I won’t smoke around her. But I got to have my smokes here at night, and it’s my right.”
Mia’s plight—the plight of all families with children exposed to second-hand smoke in their apartments and condos—was part of why the City of Santa Monica became a pioneer in the anti-smoking movement. Studies considered by the City showed that secondhand smoke from tenants smoking indoors can drift into other units and cause health problems for their neighbors, especially children and persons with respiratory issues.
As Mia told Rudy, Santa Monica does have a no-smoking law for all multi-unit apartments and condos:
- All multi-unit apartments and condos newly occupied since November 22, 2012 are permanently designated as non-smoking (regardless of what a lease says).
- Landlords (or HOAs) must survey all pre-November 2012 occupants to designate their units as smoking or non-smoking.
- Smoking is also prohibited in all common areas.
- The law is enforced by taking an offending smoker to small claims court. Any person can enforce the law so long as they first provide written notice.
Since Rudy moved into his apartment after 2012, he cannot smoke in it. His neighbor, however, might be able to smoke if he lived there before November 2012. Mia can give Rudy written notice to stop smoking, and if he continues, she can take him to court.
If you have problems or questions about Santa Monica’s no-smoking laws, call the City Attorney’s consumer Protection Division at (310) 458-8336. Or visit us at smconsumer.org.