Smoking and Your Community


Smoking used to be acceptable in public, but with the push toward healthier lifestyles, many people have stopped smoking and want to escape secondhand smoke altogether. This, however, has created a problem for HOAs: to ban or not to shutterstock_154685816ban smoking. For non-smokers, it seems like an obvious choice, but can HOAs really dictate what people do in the privacy of their own homes?

What’s the Problem?

Everyone should have the right to be comfortable in their own home. For smokers, that means being able to smoke, and for non-smokers, that means not having to be exposed to secondhand smoke. Seems simple enough, but there’s something that can create major conflicts between smokers and non-smokers: secondhand smoke. The smoke from a cigarette doesn’t stay put. It roams, assaulting nearby non-smokers and endangering their health. HOAs are in a tight spot to please the smokers and non-smokers. Unfortunately for smokers, the non-smokers generally get the better end of the deal.

Can HOAs Ban Smoking in Homes?

Whether or not HOAs can ban smoking in homes largely depends on the type of unit. In some cities, such as Belmont, California, the law forbids smoking in residential dwellings that share a floor or ceiling (townhouse, condo, apartments, etc.). If it’s against the law to smoke in these dwellings, the HOA has to forbid it because they must follow the law. If the units are separated, such as single-family houses, the HOA can’t usually prohibit smokers from smoking in their own homes. If they are inside their home when they smoke, the secondhand smoke shouldn’t be reaching anyone else.

What About Common Areas?

Common areas include pools, clubhouses, hallways, public bathrooms or any place that all, or most, residents have access to. Generally, HOAs can and should prohibit smoking in these areas. In fact, they may have to because the law may state that all common areas should be free of smoke. If the HOA has a lot of smokers, and it isn’t against the law, they could decide to create some smoking common areas, but it would also be a good idea to install air filtration systems and smokeless ashtrays to help reduce the smoke pollution.

What About Gray Areas?

There are, however, some gray areas that make the rules a little hazy. The HOA may allow smoking within someone’s own dwelling and prohibit smoking in common areas, but what about exclusive-use common areas, such as balconies. If a smoker is smoking on the patio, that smoke can easily blow onto the neighbor’s patio. This is a good time to check the governing documents. If residents aren’t required to keep these exclusive use common areas well maintained, it generally means they fall under the HOAs control, which would allow them to prohibit smoking. However, if the resident is responsible for most of the maintenance, it may be harder to prohibit smoking.

Always check the governing documents before prohibiting smoking in any specific location. By following the rules residents agreed to upon moving in, it’s easier to keep everyone happy.

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