Sunday, February 28, 2010


A jury in Boston found that a real-estate broker had not misled a woman who had not been informed, prior to moving into a condominium, that a neighbor smoked. The woman had argued that the smoke seeped into her apartment and aggravated her asthma.

While she lost the case, Jonathan Saltzman reports in The Boston Globe, she is "proud to have drawn attention to the hazards of secondhand smoke." She stated that, if her case makes brokers "more careful about how they view secondhand-smoke issues and keeps them honest," then her efforts will not have been in vain.

Regardless of the verdict, are real-estate brokers obligated to address any issue of secondhand smoke when they show a property? Or is it up to potential buyers to keep an eye - or a nose - out for such problems while inspecting the property?

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Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of The Right Thing, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th floor, New York, N.Y. 10018.

c.2010 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)


Anonymous said...

We've got a whole group of people out there in our society who do not ever want to have to put up with anything in life that displeases or irks them and feel they can complain that their rights are being trampled on and that they can use the force of law to protect them from enduring these imagined slights or irritations. Cigarette smoke that seeps through conduits in an apartment seems to me to fit into one of these irritations of life that when you run into one of them, you need to either put up with the problem or move out of the apartment, not expect the law to protect you from one of life's little irritations.

Charlie Seng
Lancaster, SC

Unknown said...

For a person with severe asthma, cigarette smoke isn't just a smelly annoyance; it can severely affect someone's quality of life. However, it's the new owner who knows best about her own medical condition -- perhaps she should have taken it upon herself to meet the neighbors and go the extra mile to determine whether she could live there comfortably.

Anonymous said...

When I was in art school (forty-some years ago), there was a student who claimed severe allergies and would start coughing (little forced ahems) as soon as she saw someone light a cigarette across the room. Meanwhile, there might be three or four students standing behind her smoking, and that didn't bother her at all.

If this woman is truly that allergic to smoke "seeping in from another apartment" she should have been aware of the odor of smoke in the hallway or in the condo itself. Unless she lives in a city (or country) that has laws against smoking in your own home, or in a building that includes a ban on smoking in whatever documents she signed (lease or deed), she has no valid complaint. As Katie said, the responsibility is hers.

Anonymous said...

Whether right or wrong, one thing is sure. Now that the issue has been raised, it's only a matter of time until 2nd hand smoking disclosures become part of the standard RE sales packet for shared-wall residences, adding to the already out-of-control mountain of paperwork that makes a home sale so much grief.

Over my life, I've been involved in the sale or purchase of about a dozen pieces of RE. Every time, the number of pieces of paper (disclosures) I need to sign is noticeably larger than the previous time. Theoretically, I'm "protected" by this. Practically speaking, a home buyer/seller is so overwhelmed that the disclosures are counter-productive.