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Neighbor’s Secondhand Smoke Seeps Into San Jose Condo

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(AP)

(AP)

CBS SF Bay (con't)

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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 www.casmokefreehousing.org.

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.)

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