Q: We have two blocks of maisonettes with communal corridors and outside each front and back door their is a canopy with our name on in.
The problem we have is that as smoking is no longer permitted in the internal communal areas – and a lot of owners do not want smoking in their homes – a number of residents (and visitors) are in the habit of convening outside the front doors to have a cigarette.
The living room windows of the ground floor flats are right next to the door and consequently, if a window is open you get the smell of the smoke all over the curtains and wafting in to the room. Coupled with the noise made by people gathering right outside your windows, this habit has become increasingly offensive and annoying to a number of residents.
We have within our boundary a large area that used to contain the waste bins (now kept elsewhere) and also has washing lines. It is surrounded by 4 walls and has a gate but no roofing of any kind. Do we have any legal right to ask smokers to use this area if they wish to smoke or can we insist that they at least keep away from the immediate area of the doors?
FPRA Chairman Bob Smytherman replies:
Thank you for your e-mail about the difficult issue of smoking in communal area. Since the ban on smoking in enclosed public places in 2007, a number of people have succeeded in giving up smoking or switching to electric cigarettes, which can also be annoying and not currently covered by the law.
With regards to the smoking of cigarettes, the legislation that came into force was very clear and banned smoking in enclosed public places, which as you rightly mentioned included the common parts of blocks of flats. Unfortunately, as a consequence of the legislation, smokers congregated outside the door of premises such as blocks of flats which – providing there is no cover over the area – is perfectly lawful.
I think the best advice I can give from my own practical experience self-managing my own block is to try and reach a compromise by creating a convenient place for smokers to go and smoke away from buildings, windows etc. and provide a suitable environment for them to do so such as seating, ash trays and even a covered shelter. From our experience this has encouraged neighbours to be more neighbourly and respect people living close to the front door.
There is lots of useful advice on this on the Smoke Free England website about the law and signage available.
If your neighbours are not compliant with the legislation, then I suggest contacting your local council who are responsible for enforcement, but from my experience this needs to be an absolute last resort if a reasonable compromise can’t be reached as it sounds like from your description that smokers are compliant with the legislation by going outside and just being unneighbourly by being so close to the building and other neighbours windows.
The lease may well contain terms about causing a ‘nuisance’. This is very difficult and costly to both prove and enforce, therefore finding a compromise solution and a place for smokers to go such as a smoking shelter has to be preferable.
[Submitted December 2016]