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What are my rights if my apartment smells like smoke and fumes?

Asked by user in Massachusetts.

We signed a lease agreement for our current apartment which stated that the building is smoke-free. Every day people smoke weed and cigars inside the building. Also, there was a renovation in the neighboring unit that caused obnoxious fumes. What can we do?

Answered by Enjuris Editors:

In Massachusetts, landlords are required to keep their rental units habitable (see 105 CMR 410). In general, “habitable” means a place that is comfortable and clean enough for a person to live safely. At least 1 Massachusetts court (Westland Housing Corp. v. Scott) found that excess smoke and fumes can make an apartment uninhabitable.

If your landlord fails to respond to complaints about an uninhabitable rental unit, you can request that a code enforcement officer or the local board of health inspect the apartment. An inspector can order the landlord to fix the problem. In the event that your landlord still fails to fix the problem, you can withhold a portion of your rent or move out.

With respect to smoking, there is no state-wide smoking ban. Some cities and towns do, however, ban smoking in apartments. Regardless, it sounds like your lease agreement provides for a non-smoking apartment complex. Accordingly, I would talk to your landlord about the issue. If possible, get together with as many other tenants as possible who are bothered by the smoking. You can consider sharing enforcement tips with your landlord. If the problem persists, you might consider getting out of your lease or even filing a personal injury lawsuit against the landlord, depending on the severity of the problem.

If necessary, you can use our free online directory to locate an attorney in your area, or contact the Massachusetts State Bar for free legal services (if you qualify).

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