Last week a judge in New York told a tenant that she could break her lease and pay reduced rent because she was bothered by her neighbor’s cigarette smoking.

This ruling is important for other landlords to note, because it sets a precedent that likely will be followed by other judges.

The court found that the landlord did not take appropriate action to address the tenant’s complaint that secondhand smoke was infiltrating her apartment from the downstairs neighbor.

According to a report by Tobacco.org, the building’s tenants were subject to a lease addendum that prohibited secondhand smoke, and that purportedly would have allowed the landlord to evict the smoking tenant for nuisance. Despite complaints by the nonsmoking tenant over the course of months, the landlord did little more than caulk the air vents to the unit. The court found this action did not go far enough, and the failure to act justified the tenant’s breaking the lease and moving out.

The lawsuit was initiated by the landlord after the tenant left with about $12,000 still remaining on the lease. Because the tenant stopped paying rent two months before she moved out, she was ordered to pay a portion of the rent, but was relieved from any liability for rent after she felt she had to move out.

The court ruling states, “When a tenant’s smoking results in an intrusion of secondhand smoke into another tenant’s apartment, and that tenant complains repeatedly, the landlord runs a financial risk if it fails to take appropriate action. This case involves such a situation.”

In another case in New York City, tenants are suing their cigar-smoking neighbor for illnesses they claim came from secondhand smoke. The family says they may be forced out of their upscale apartment if the tenant won’t give up his habit. They are asking for $2 million in damages.

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