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Smokers' rights
added Tue December 18 2007 at 10:41 AM
Here's an interesting article someone forwarded at work: Seattle Times.

This is an interesting question of what to do with negative externalities. If your next door neighbor is throwing parties at midnight and it's disturbing you, you can call the cops on them for disturbing the peace. One of the reasons why I decided not to rent an apartment when I moved here is because I once had a downstairs neighbor who saw no problem playing his rap music as loud as he wanted even though it literally shook my floors but reported me to the landlord because I had some friends over in the evening (if you knew my style of "party," you'd understand the tragicomic nature of this - I think there were too many footsteps or something). Now, when it comes to smoking, I've had friends who live next door to chain smokers and during certain times of the year (when everybody is forced indoors and the air is pumping full blast, either heat or AC), it would stink up their apartment. Which right is more important here, their right to smoke death sticks or my friends' right to breath clean air? What if my friends were highly allergic to the smoke (my dad has very bad asthma which is actually triggered by the neighbors smoking a pipe outside - he has to close the window any time they come out during the summer).

On the other hand, if we allow the governing body to make a restriction on smoking, then what are they going to target next? How long before they're blocking things like homosexuality, swearing, or cooking ethnic dishes ("I can smell their curry down the hall and it makes me sick")?

Finally, there's the question of property ownership. Should the owners of the apartment be allowed to set rules for what is and isn't allowed in their apartment? Smokers are not a protected class of people, so you often see housing ads requiring nonsmokers since a heavy chain smoker can actually cause damage to the housing unit. What if the "owners" of the apartment happen to be the government? Do they have to subsidize rent *and* avoid upsetting the tenants?

In this case, I think that it would be better if they were to set the new rules on new units. I can't condone kicking people out of their apartments because the rules change, but I can also understand the desire for some people to live in a smoke-free community. If I were given the option between living in a smoke-free apartment building or an apartment building where smoking is allowed, I would definitely pick the smoke-free (I inherited some of my Dad's asthma, though thankfully not so bad). It would definitely take a longer period of time, but perhaps it would be more fair to those that currently smoke in their apartments.


Will says:
Private owners are free to discriminate on 'choices' people make. 'no smoking' 'no shoes no shirt...' 'no loud noises', in my in laws neighborhood-'no parking on the street' (because its ugly, they say)

It sounds like you're talking about the issue of the government regulating the 'rules' of a private establishment when private owners already can. I'm not sure I see what you're getting at exactly?
posted Tue December 18 2007 at 2:18 PM

Jo-Pete Nelson says:
Sorry, one of the key points in the article was that it's government subsidized housing, and so the "private owners" are actually the government. That's why the government is involved.

We also have this quote from a lady who is facing eviction because of the new no-smoking policy:

"I've lived here 14 years, and the way I figure it, I have a right to smoke in my own apartment," she said. "If they're going to do this, they ought to do it to the newcomers coming in."

So the question is - do smokers have a right to smoke in their apartment? What is the limit for what the private owners are allowed to restrict? Landlords aren't allowed to restrict tenants based on certain protected classes - race, religion, color, etc, so what are they allowed to restrict?
posted Tue December 18 2007 at 7:05 PM

Will says:
This is question becomes difficult if you try to apply the simple "landlord/tenant" agreement - landlord has the right to impose any rules (outside of the restrictions of things like race, color) and the tenant has a right to leave. In a free-market this is an easy concept, the landlord needs tenants for $$, the tenants need a place to stay. However, what's different here is the tenants don't have the right to leave, if this is government subsidized housing, they are there because they can't go anywhere else. So the 'landlord/tenant' concept breaks down. Since government can't plays the role of landlord, the building itself is really 'publicly' owned, similar to any other publicly owned building which is subject to any legally imposed restrictions (such as no smoking, etc...).
posted Wed December 19 2007 at 9:04 AM


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