What if a smoking habit meant not only going outside on work breaks, but getting kicked out of your home?
That's what happened to Erin Carey and Ted Baar, a couple evicted from their Boston condo after neighbors complained that excessive cigarette smoke was seeping into their apartments. In what experts are calling one of the first cases of its kind in the United States, a Boston housing court jury upheld the eviction, even though their lease did not prohibit smoking. Ms. Carey and Mr. Baar's heavy smoking - one pack a day each - was a nuisance to neighbors, much like excessive noise, the jury found.
The case could set a precedent. "We're looking at a potential nationwide impact," says Edward Sweda, senior attorney at the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University School of Law. "If you engage in an activity that adversely affects your neighbors, then that's grounds for legal action."
Carey and Baar, who work from home, repeatedly told their landlord that the converted warehouse's old ventilation system and structural problems were the reasons that neighbors could smell their smoke, but the landlord never inspected the apartment, says James Rosencranz, the couple's attorney.
Peter Brooks, who represented the landlord, says the couple didn't mention structural issues until the trial.
"There are many, many cases where tenants have been evicted for nuisance and interfering with the habitability of neighboring apartments," says David Grossman, managing attorney of housing at the Hale and Dorr Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School. "Having that extend to smoking is logical as long as there are neighbors whom it is bothering."
The case may encourage more tenants disturbed by smoking to contact their landlords, Mr. Grossman says, and could even embolden antismoking groups to take steps in the residential context. More lawsuits will probably follow, he says.
More suits could prompt tobacco companies to get involved, Mr. Sweda says. "They certainly will not be pleased with these developments," he says. "But it remains to be seen whether ... they'll take an active role in this type of case."
Philip Morris declined to comment on the case.