Washington Anti-Smoking Legislation Fails to Protect Condominium Owners

The old saying goes “Good fences make good neighbors.” But what does one do when the boundaries that separate our personal living spaces are floors, ceilings, and walls? How do we keep our activities contained within our personal living space so that we are not affecting our neighbor’s bastion of tranquility? This is one of the central questions that requires constant answering when we choose to live in a condominium community. One of the most blatant examples of the tug and pull between our individual freedoms and the personal freedoms of the other residents in our condominium complex is the smoking of cigarettes inside of a condominium unit.

A section of our Washington State statutory law, RCW 70.160.030, which is entitled “Smoking prohibited in public places or places of employment,” states: “No person may smoke in a public place or in any place of employment.” This statute has set the stage for the current tension caused by the issue of smoking inside of a condominium unit, as the definitions section of this statute also states, in pertinent part, at RCW 70.160.020:

(1) . . . “[S]moking” means the carrying or smoking of any kind of lighted pipe, cigar, cigarette, or any other lighted smoking equipment.

(2) “Public place” means that portion of any building . . . used by and open to the public, . . . and includes a presumptively reasonable minimum distance . . . of twenty-five feet from entrances . . . . A public place does not include a private residence unless the private residence is used to provide licensed child care, foster care, adult care, or other similar social service care on the premises.

Emphasis Added. The result of this statute’s specific exclusion of private residences from the locations where one can legally prohibit smoking is that the courts will not order the prohibition of smoking in private residences, even when the private residences are condominium units that share walls, floors, and/or ceilings with other private residence condominium units, and even if the smoke from one private residence is causing harm in another private residence.

RCW 70.160.011 states:

The people of the state of Washington recognize that exposure to secondhand smoke is known to cause cancer in humans. Secondhand smoke is a known cause of other diseases including pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis, and heart disease. Citizens are often exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace, and are likely to develop chronic, potentially fatal diseases as a result of such exposure. In order to protect the health and welfare of all citizens, including workers in their places of employment, it is necessary to prohibit smoking in public places and workplaces.