A growing concern

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CLEVELAND – Cozette Morgan pulled a breathing mask over her face as she stepped outside her second-story rental into a hallway that reeks of stale cigar smoke.

The painter’s mask may be more theatrical than pragmatic. “I’m not sure it even works very well,” said Morgan, 51, a one-time rising R&B singer and self-described eccentric loner.

She can’t stand the odor emanating from the first floor of the century-old double where she moved in four months ago. The smoke drifts up a common hallway and through the heating ducts, she said. She worries about the effects on her health.

Her landlord, Stephen Eperesi, is not sympathetic. Eperesi said his 73-year-old f ather, who lives on the first floor, is entitled to smoke in his home.

“It’s not a public place,” said Eperesi, who said Morgan is a chronic complainer.

Conflicts over second-hand smoke in private residences are not unusual. Public smoking bans such as Ohio’s new law don’t apply to private living space. But in more than a dozen cases, courts have sided with nonsmokers who challenged the intrusion of tobacco smoke into their homes, said John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, a Washington, D.C., anti-tobacco group.

“Increasingly, condo boards and others are responding voluntarily to complaints,” he added.

The city council in Sacramento, Calif., last month encouraged landlords to designate at least 25 percent of rental units to nonsmokers.

A housing court in Boston upheld the eviction of a heavy-smoking couple in 2005, and a Colorado judge in 2006 ruled that a condo association could prohibit smoking after a resident complained that smoke was drifting from a neighboring unit, according to news reports.

In a local case, a Summit County jury in 2004 rejected the claim of a Stow condo owner that a neighbor’s smoke harmed him.

Cleveland Health Director Matt Carroll said he is not aware of complaints to the city from tenants or condo owners. But Carroll said it’s a matter of public concern when someone is involuntarily exposed to second-hand smoke, even in a private setting.

“This is the next frontier on this type of issue,” he said.

Morgan said she is looking for another place to live. She also hopes to resume singing. She had landed on the Billboard magazine R&B chart in 1995 but walked away from music because she feared performing in public, she said. She takes medication for anxiety, depression and back pain and receives psychological counseling, she said.

Recently, the standoff between her and the landlord escalated. She kept a window in the common hallway open. Eperesi nailed it shut. She pried it open. He called police and padlocked the window.

He plastered an eviction notice on her door for $375 in overdue rent. Next to the notice is her own declaration that her apartment is a “smoke-free zone.”

She said that she’ll pay the rent, which she withheld in protest. She acknowledged she has no legal right to stop the smoke.

“This isn’t about the law. It’s about being human and being kind to each other,” she said.

Carroll, the city health director, said renters concerned about second-hand smoke should ask landlords to include smoke-free provisions in leases before signing.

CM END SPECTOR

(Harlan Spector is a reporter for The Plain Dealer of Cleveland. He can be contacted at hspector(at)plaind.com.)

2007-01-17-SMOKE-EFFECT

AP-NY-01-17-07 1410EST

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