Neighbor’s Secondhand Smoke Seeps Into San Jose Condo

SAN JOSE (CBS 5) — A San Jose woman who invested in a luxury condominium is unable to live in her unit, overcome by her neighbor’s secondhand smoke.

It’s one of the crown jewels of downtown San Jose’s redevelopment: The Axis, a luxury residential high-rise.

But Yllka Masada wore a respirator when she took CBS 5 on a tour of her unit. She has temporarily moved out because she said every time her neighbor lights up, her condo fills with smoke.

It has been happening ever since she moved in last summer. “Many times I slept here on the floor like this, facing the door to the deck,” Masada said.

Stanford researcher Neill Klepeis set up a smoke monitor in Masada’s unit that generates a daily chart. “We see a very clear indication that there is secondhand smoke,” Klepeis said. “We can see that base level stays fairly small. But on top of that this peak of red particulate matter which has a pattern of every day when the neighbor comes home.”

Klepeis said, “They are approaching the levels you would see if you went into a smoky casino.” And he said it can linger at high levels, for up to 12 hours.

“It is just a nightmare. Something that I would never have thought would exist anywhere, not in this brand new high-rise building,” said Masada.

CBS 5 checked with the San Jose Planning Department and the Axis high rise was built to code. But current code requirements don’t prevent this kind of smoke leakage.

While Masada has an extreme case, a recent UC Berkeley study said no matter how much sealing or ventilating you do, it’s extremely difficult to prevent smoke from seeping from one unit into another.

That’s why health advocates such as Serena Chen at the American Lung Association work with building managers, developers and cities to promote smoke-free housing.

“There are no ventilation standards that have been invented yet that can protect you from your neighbor’s smoke,” says Chen. She added there is a high demand for condos and rentals that are in smoke-free buildings.

But Paul Zeger with Pacific Marketing Associates disagrees. “I can say with confidence that today there is no premium for a smoke-free building,” he said. Zeiger handles sales and marketing for the Axis building and dozens of other luxury high-rises all over the Bay Area.

“If you live in an urban area, you don’t live in a bubble. You’re going to be exposed to things,” he said.

But Chen said, “When it seeps out of their condo and trespasses into my unit, I think I have rights, breathing rights in my own condo.”

“I’m not saying that you have a right to smoke. I am saying that it’s a dilemma,” says Zeger. He says until cities make it illegal for people to smoke in apartments or condos: “If you don’t want to live in that environment, then your choice is to move out.”

But Masada said for her, that’s not an option. “It’s a crime to sell this unit to anybody. I will not do that,” she said.

The owners of the Axis turned down CBS 5 request for an interview. But they did give Masada a temporary unit to live in until the issue is resolved. And they have offered to conduct additional more invasive inspections to figure out what might be going wrong.

The city of San Jose does allow smoking in residential buildings, but unincorporated areas of Santa Clara County have passed an ordinance forbidding it. It won’t be fully implemented for another two years.

If you have a problem with your neighbor’s smoke you can contact Serena Chen at the American Lung Association at

Breathe California in San Jose also has a local hotline at 408-999-0500.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

  • Neighbor’s Second Hand Smoke Seeps Into San Jose Condo « CBS San Francisco « Accidental Bear

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  • Mad Mike

    So let’s see; the same people who said 20 years ago “We just don’t want people smoking in the workplace” are now going to start going after people for smoking in their homes because of some hypochondriac neighbors. You give an inch, they take a mile. I just can’t wait for theses types of do-gooders to start going after habits that are much more popular so that folks can get a taste of their own medicine…

    • Sumit Masaun

      Mad Mike – Smoking is an ADDICTION, NOT a Habit !!

    • Dean

      And notice it’s only TOBACCO smoke……not “medical” pot… least not yet.
      Once that happens we’ll see how hypocritical all the smoke-nazis are.

    • SP

      It is just that you are addicted to a drug. And as a drug user, your first reaction is to defend yourself and to attack others. Face it, admit your are under the influence of drugs and quit so others can live.

    • joe

      So you think smoking in the workplace was just fine I guess? And you ‘smoker’s rights’ people have NEVER given an inch. Those of us who you poison with your death-sticks have TAKEN ever inch.


      To all the smokers,
      I am an ex-smoker (30+ yrs. ago) and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2007. My left lower lobe was removed and several lymph nodes. Fluid had collected around my heart and I had a heart procedure to drain it when my lobe was removed. My life changed dramatically. It was very painful and a long recovery. When I moved into my apartment 7 yrs. ago, my upstairs neighbor did not smoke. She moved a year ago and my new neighbors smoke. I smell it in my apartment daily and it makes me cough hard. My eyes are constantly irritated and red. As a lung cancer surivivor, I am at a higher risk for having it again. I live in fear every day because I am being exposed to the secondhand smoke poison that comes into my apartment. Because of my health issues, I lost my job and I cannot afford to move. We now know that secondhand smoke is especially toxic to children and I have 2 grandsons that visit me. I feel like a prisoner in my own apartment because I am afraid to leave my windows and patio door open. If you had survived lung cancer, perhaps your view of cigarette smoking would be different. I was lucky and I hope that sharing my experience will help others. Cigarettes are so addictive and harmful. Save yourself and go for help before it’s too late. We have a responsibility to make the environment healthy for everyone, especially the children. You can call me a do-gooder, but after being fortunate enough to live through cancer hell I believe I have a responsibility to tell people the truth about the effects of smoking.

  • Jim

    @Mad Mike: If you want to be a drug-addict (a.k.a. smoker), great. Keep it up and eliminate yourself from the gene pool. But don’t pollute my air. Once your pollution gets out of your home, you are contaminating public property (common air) and private property (my lungs).

    • Lizzyman

      If you want to take it from that angle. How about you giving up your car or refraining from taking any air flights? The pollutants produced from internal combustion engines produce far more and far deadlier toxins than cigarettes.

      • Dean

        Lizzy people who use the “drug addict” approach (as tho alcohol and coffe aren’t addiictive drugs!) you know where they are coming from.
        What about a backyard bbq? We’ve already pretty much banned fireplaces. At some point we just have to say to the “health-nazis” ENOUGH!
        If you want pristine air etc go live in the mountains by yourself.

      • joe

        Good point, we need to do a better job making transportation less polluting… but it’s not the same. Transportation gives society benefits as well as the negatives. Tell me, what does your puffing on your cigarette do for anyone else? It’s your habit, and if you can do it without subjecting others to the ill effects, then great! Puff away. If not, sorry, you lose.

    • Saphire

      Absolutely, do not force the nonsmokers to breathe in smoke from your addiction. Smokers will react because they must get their fix. I smoked many years ago and have been through cancer, chemo, etc., etc., (not pretty). There has to be a 100% BAN on smoking in multi-unit housing . This is critical. Children, pets, people with respiratory illnesses, cancer survivors, people with heart disease, and everyone else are affected by this. Please BAN the smoking in these units. Please.

  • Fred

    Why are people like you so angry? Can’t people like you argue a point without being insulting or wishing someone’s demise?

    • Dean

      Fred the reason there can’t be a logical polite argument or trying to live and let live is the fact that if you are manically anti-smoking you have emotional problems. Otherwise they wouldn’t throw out all the nasty names (drug addict etc) and try to realize that when you live in an urban environment you cannot have totally pristine air or no loud noise and many other things that are not healthy and annoying.

  • SKath

    I am experiencing the same problem. i live in a San Jose apartment building and it has become a terrible problem with second-hand smoke drifting into my unit and it lingering there for hours causing me problems breathing. Smokers should be banned from smoking in condo/apartment buildings or at the very least, the buildings should be designed smoking and nonsmoking – something needs to change.

  • Ted

    The greatest damage to the health of non-smokers caused
    by cigarette addicts occurs in multi-unit apartment buildings.
    Most people spend the greatest amount of their time at home;
    in what is supposed to be their safe refuge. There is no legitimate
    reason for allowing these addicts to inflict the byproducts of their
    addiction on non-smokers in that setting. There is no way to
    segregate smokers’ units from those of non-smokers in these
    buildings. Making smoking in multi-unit apartment buildings
    illegal is the necessary response. It requires only that smokers
    indulge their addiction outside the building. The science regarding
    second hand smoke is clear. Unfortunately, most elected officials
    have not had the the courage to give the health of the very large
    majority of citizens in these buildings priority over the behavior
    of a minority who are addicted to this deadly habit.

    • dean

      How about making apts/condos either ALL smoking or ALL: non-smoking? Making all living units smoke free is not only unfair but imposible to enforce. Do you REALLY think the police are going to come over everytime you think you smell smoke?
      And the science on second hands smoke is VERY suspect. They claim that 50,00 people a year die from it (and by some mysterious cirumstance that number goes up every time a new smoking restriction is proposed), but I dare you to find me ONE person where it can be proved they were killed by it. yes it’a annoying to some people but you do not have a right to not be annoyed. and if you are TRULY allergic to it that si your problem. Would you demand a peanut free apartment if you were deathly allergic to peanuts? After all they are a “necessity”.

  • Ted

    The greatest damage to the health of non-smokers caused
    by cigarette addicts occurs in multi-unit apartment buildings.
    Most people spend the greatest amount of their time at home
    in what is supposed to be their safe refuge. There is no legitimate
    reason for allowing these addicts to inflict the byproducts of their
    addiction on non-smokers in that setting. There is no way to
    segregate smokers’ units from those of non-smokers in these
    buildings. Making smoking in multi-unit apartment buildings
    illegal is the necessary response. It requires only that smokers
    indulge their addiction outside the building. The science regarding
    second hand smoke is clear. Unfortunately, most elected officials
    have not had the the courage to give the health of the very large
    majority of citizens in these buildings priority over the behavior
    of a minority who are addicted to this deadly habit.

  • Philip Scharfy

    The “victim” is a control freak

    • joe

      Perhaps. Does it make the point any less valid?

      • Dorian Shafer

        It shouldnt make her a control freak for wanting the right to have smoke free housing. Her complaint is a very vaild one. This issue that the city of San Jose should recoginze and they dont it could turn into a health harzard. Everyone knows they second hand smoke is just as dangerous a first hand smoke. A person and their family should be able to live smoke free eniviroment.


    There is no doubt first hand cigarette smokes. There is no doubt second hand cigarette smoke kills. A smoker’s rights end where my nose begins. Living in a high rise in SF it is impossible to breath or function when neighbors start smoking. Smoke has no boundaries. Regardless – it is a carcinogenic killer. Smokers can smoke -0 as long as they don’t effect others. Laws may have to become even more stringent.


      meant to say “There is no doubt first hand smoke kills

  • Bruce

    I’m still waiting for the Progressivists to simply advocate that tobacco be banned entirely, permanently, for everybody. Alcohol, too. After all, both substances are dangerous & addictive, & both substances have severe repercussions for American public health. But this won’t happen, because we all know that Prohibition is a stupid, wasteful policy, so there’s no need to expand an already pointlessly idiotic Drug War to new heights of absurdity.

    It’s also interesting that tobacco smokers are being told they should be forced out of their own apartments, but then when they do go outside, they’re told they can only smoke in “designated” areas, such that you might have to entirely leave the area of your apartment just to have a cigarette. Some day soon you’ll have to leave the county entirely.


      No! Their rights end where non-smokers’ noses begin. It is a known carcinogenic killer. A drunk is not force feeding you alcohol. Get real

    • jossanfran

      don’t you think they might have a point, we do not want to breathe the poison, period.

  • Biker

    Federal, State and County officials need to stop telling people what they can and can’t do in the privacy of their own homes. So if something your neighbor is doing bothers you, well then,,, MOVE!

    • joe

      Biker, there’s a serious problem with your logic. You are NOT doing it in the privacy of your own home if what you’re doing enters someone else’s home. You’re forcing it to be their business at that point.

    • stkyricesf

      I agree. But these people aren’t into compromise. It was recommended that there be smoking and non smoking apartment buildings and businesses (bars). Of course this was unacceptable to non smokers! Their argument, they were being discriminated from going where they want to. Just can’t please them.

  • Jen

    Perhaps this problem would have been solved had they sold the condos based on smoking floors and non-smoking floors. Smokers would live on the same floor and their smoke would not bother each other, non-smokers would live on the same floor and not be bothered by anyone else’s smoke.

    Although I can’t believe anyone still smokes these days. That’s so unhealthy and old-fashioned. And expensive, too.

    • GHale

      In our condo the smoke seems to come from the unit below us. If smoking were banned inside the building, that would cease (as long as the smoke wasn’t sucked into an air handler).


      Remember – Non smoking and smoking sections in planes?. The entire plane was putrid. For non-smokers in apartment complex the greatest threat comes when they are asleep and the irresponsible smoker sneaks out and lights up. Unbeknown to the non-smoker they are ingesting this carcinogenic waste and their health is at risk. Sleep at your own risk. We are probably doing smokers a favor by restricting their range. We are certainly helping others – babies, young, infirm, etc. etc.

    • joe

      Depends on the building. Our smoke problem comes from apartment right below us. It’s really common that the problem unit isn’t even on the same floor.

  • jimster

    I have a great idea. Lets ban tobacco. How do you think that will work?

    • jackie

      seeing the it can destroy your lungs, why not. I have the same problem in my complex. I thought I was crazy when I kept smelling tobacco every evening and every morning, even when I went to bed. That’s not something I desire to smell, in my own living space. But what can I do?

      • Dean

        Yop cannot “keep” smelling tobacco smoke or anything else.
        After approimately 5 minutes the nasal receptors become saturated and you don’t notice it.
        But it makes a good story when you want to beat up on smokers.

  • Ruger

    I wonder what the smoking laws are in Yllka’s country of origin.

  • Barry

    First off, I’m not a smoker but perhaps she should have discussed the problem with her neighbor. There are options to eliminate smoke from the air, or at least reduce it to a tolerable level. People are far too quick to ask for government intervention in their lives. Take some responsibility for yourself and try to handle things. The more rights we asked to be taken away because they don’t effect us personally the more we empower governments to impact our quality of life down the road. More and more legislation is not the answer to our problems. Something I find distasteful about your habits or lifestyle could easily be taken away as well. In essence stop be weaklings.

    • joe

      1. There is no tolerable level of second-hand smoke.
      2. Telling the non-smoker in a 2nd-hand smoke dispute to “take some responsibility” is a ridiculous statement.
      3. Creating airborne health hazards is not a “right” — and anywhere that it currently is will eventually change or be sued into oblivion…. and rightfully so.
      4. Why not pick a better battleground (one where you have a leg to stand on) to rally against the over-reach of government?

  • AJ Buttacavoli

    I rent and I always make sure to have a first floor apartment so there is no smoking below and it has always worked out fine.

  • Hugo Gonzales

    I live in Axis and have no issues. I was told by the smoker that is the neighbor of the claimant, that she was voluntarily going to stop smoking and the claimant told her to continue smoking? And the complex has tried to buy her out and she does not want to sell? What does this look like?


      The buyer needs to offer her more money? What value your health?

  • mel

    “It’s a crime to sell this unit to anybody. I will not do that,” she said.

    But I’ll bet she’ll have no problem suing the property owners!

  • M Feliciano

    Pretty soon they are going to start telling people what they can or cannot do in their home. Sad when some people are trying to take ourrights way. This is supposed to be a free country. w

    • Residents for Smoke-Free Living

      M Feliciano,
      The thing is that rights are being taken away every day. What about our right to breathe fresh air where we live? What about our right to a habitable unit and quiet enjoyment? What about our right to open our windows? We need to win the rights back for the thousands of Californians who lost their freedom and right to breathe fresh air where they live. To my knowledge, breathing doesn’t harm others — while smoking does.

      Nothing against smokers, my dear brother is one. Sure, if he needs it he should have a place to smoke, but only where it doesn’t harm other people.

      • Jean

        Thanks for being a voice of reason in this controversy.

  • tony

    Maybe she should buy an air purifier (or two).

    • Residents for Smoke-Free Living

      Nice thought Tony, I wish it was easy as that. Unfortunately air purifiers do nothing to protect our health from secondhand smoke.


    I HIGHLY recommend “FreshAir” Purifiers by VOLLARA! These can be purchased at:

  • Peace

    Simple solution. Put all the low life smelly smokers in one room and let them kill off eachother.

    • Out

      Yeah, because smokers totally deserve to be killed. I mean, what a horrible horrible thing to do…to smoke. What a travesty worse than the Holocaust, worse than pedophilia, pretty much the worst thing in the world.

      • Lil Wahine

        Hey Out, Smokers are kiiling themselves and others around them so yes, they do deserve to be gone to stop hurting others.

      • Get Out, Out

        Out, no one brought up the Holocaust or pedophilia, you put those associations together yourself. Really classy. Peace was just making the point that smokers choose death over life already, and that they don’t have a right to make that decision for others around them.

  • Jim Bob

    smoking is no longer cool.

  • J Fitch

    This is about the effects of one person’s behavior endangering other people. Smokers are not inherently evil. They are addicted to a really awful product. I think they absolutely have the right to do what they want to their own body (assuming they are informed adults), However, by it’s nature, tobacco smoke drifts and when it drifts, it becomes a public health issue.

    The analogy to drinking is always an interesting one to me. Yes, you can legally get as drunk as you want in your own home. However, if you get very noisy and disturb your neighbors or get into a car and potentially kill someone else, the law steps in to protect the public from the negative side effects from the individual’s behavior. How is this any different from regulating where people can smoke?

    The issue is drifting smoke, not personal behavior. If someone could smoke in a little bubble that completely contained their smoke, then I’d say, ” do what you want to your own body”. But since secondhand smoke drifts and has been shown to trigger heart attacks, asthma and cause cancer in non-smokers, it becomes a public health issue when that smoke drifts into areas where other people are.

  • Axis Resident

    I also live in the Axis and have no problems at all. It is a great place to live and the quality of construction and quality of life here is first rate.
    While I empathize with the core issue at debate – this lady is a total NUT JOB and infamous for being so among the Axis community. She wears her “SARS” mask everywhere and complains constantly about the “toxic” conditions in the building to everyone that has the unfortunate timing of being on the same elevator ride.
    I, along with several of my neighbors, encourage her to exercise her rights and move. We are all tired of her extremism and insanity polluting our wonderful community.

    • Miser

      Axis Resident. Good for you that you do share walls with a smoker. This women does and it is clearly affecting her health. She has the right to share her story just like you do. Calling her names is not making you look any better.

      • Happy Axis Homeowner

        I am not a smoker either so I’d be more than happy for California to adopt even stricter smoking laws. However, I agree with “Axis Resident” above. The builder/developer has attempted to resolve the issue with her directly many times. In order to do so, they need to access her unit to investigate further. She has either refused each attempt or cancelled the appointment at the last minute. They have offered to buy her out, yet she has refused that recourse.

        In the meantime, the HOA is working diligently to get to the bottom of what’s really going on. To that end, they have contacted the researcher named above to more fully explore the root of the problem.

    • Jean

      To the “problem free” Axis resident – Assuming your accusation of her being a “nut job” is correct, this “nut” has succeeded in pointing out the continuing problem of second hand smoke. Perhaps if there were more “nuts” like her, there would have been better controls on forced exposure to others’ tobacco smoke, better building standards and we wouldn’t still be arguing.

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