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ConsumerWatch: SJ Condo Tenants Bans Smoking Over Secondhand Fears

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(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

SAN JOSE (CBS 5) – Residents of a new Bay Area condo development have declared victory in a battle over secondhand smoke.

The Axis is luxury residential high-rise, and one of the crown jewels of downtown San Jose’s redevelopment. As ConsumerWatch first reported in February, one San Jose woman bought a half-a-million dollar condo unit in the building only to find herself overcome by her neighbor’s secondhand smoke.

Even though the city insisted the high rise was built to code, unusually high levels of cigarette smoke were seeping into Yllka Masada’s home from the unit next door. Monitors set up by a Stanford researcher showed smoke levels in Masada’s condo were higher than a casino. She ended up suing, and moving out.

“It certainly was a wakeup call” recalled Tom Wohlmut, the homeowners association president, who said the dispute spread like smoke through the condo building.

Masada’s former neighbors were left divided. Some feared banning smoking all together would decrease property values, while others worried a smoker would move in next door to them.

“Because of your report it really helped galvanize us to do something about it,” said Wohlmut.

Making a change wasn’t easy. Many cities, including San Jose, ban smoking in office buildings and even in public parks, but not in residential buildings.

“People think that you can just filter things out or you can improve ventilation, but there is really no safe level of second-hand smoke,” said Margo Sidenor with Breathe California.

Sidenor said the only option for most multi-unit dwellers is to change the building rules.

“The landlord or HOA does not have to allow any smoking. It’s a privilege not a right,” she said. “They need to know that 90% of their clients or possible customers are not smoking.”

Throughout the Bay Area, smoking rates average about 11.6%. While in some local counties more than 16% of residents smoke, in Santa Clara county it’s less than half that.

The 8% rate came as a surprise to Wohlmut, who soon discovered that going smoke free could be lucrative.

“Property values actually increase when you don’t have smokers associated with the property,” he said. “A lot of the smokers I spoke with actually said they don’t smoke in their units, they smoke outside because they know the poor effects on their health.”

So the HOA president put the issue to vote, and to his surprise: “The tally was 86 to 27.”

The Axis residences are now smoke free. There is also a designated smoking area on the Axis property.

“It’s about being fair and having every voice heard,” said Wohlmut.

Only 5 California communities have enacted no smoking laws for residential buildings. Unincorporated Santa Clara county is one of those communities.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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