In response to my last column, about how to deal with neighbors whose secondhand smoke infiltrates your apartment unit, several readers disputed my advice to talk to the smoking neighbors. They all asserted that smokers will defend their right to smoke till the death.
Albert J. Benson, a California resident who said his health problems from workplace smoke turned him into an anti-smoking activist, wanted to write me if only to "help clear up the idea that smokers can be communicated with, with a positive outcome."
His words bashing smokers' bad attitude were less diplomatic than others:
"If there is one thing that sets smokers apart from normal people, it is their attitude towards people who might have the audacity to complain about their smoking, even though the people might be having a medical problem such that it becomes a life threatening situation, as mine did. . . . A smoker has an addiction to deal with and by God, they are not going to have anyone inhibiting their smoking," he said in an e-mail. "Trying to talk with them is like pouring gasoline on a fire, literally. Please consider and understand this when you are making suggestions to someone such as the young lady who is on the verge of acquiring a life long affliction, which is a respiratory disability such as asthmatic bronchitis."
He was not alone in his opinion.
"I can tell you from personal experience and from listening to others who have been in their situation that the smoker will most likely not care or cooperate. Nor will the building management or the owner of their [unit] be of much help," wrote Jacque Petterson, who works for Texas-based Smoke-Free Housing Consultants.
"The bottom line is that the only way to protect these renters is to recommend they begin looking for and requesting 100 percent smoke-free rentals in their area. They can be hard to find, but they generally do exist," she said.
Others said that even moving away from an apartment with a smoking neighbor might not be the end to the problem unless the tenants go to a smoke-free building.
Esther Schiller, director of the Smokefree Apartment House Registry (www.smokefreeapartments.org) said tenant associations and homeowners associations can work to regulate smoking in their buildings. "Enclosed common areas, outdoor common areas and exclusive-use common areas such as balconies and patios can all be required to be nonsmoking if a majority of the residents agree," she said.
Because of the way many multiunit complexes are built, petitioning for smoke-free common areas still may not solve the problem of sneaky secondhand smoke pervading nonsmokers' individual abodes, but it is a move in the right direction.
And because I'm not one to generalize, I will not support the claim that no smokers care about how their habit affects those around them. And I stand firm in my opinion that neighbors should get to know one another and at least attempt to discuss their problems.
How would you deal with not-so-friendly neighbors? A couple in my building have been the reigning bullies for years, and they are now being told to abide by the rules of the residents association, such as keeping their dog on a leash when in a shared backyard and no smoking in the laundry room. This neighbor has been verbally abusive to me, and I'm not sure who I should complain to. If I do file a complaint, would anything be able to be done, or would it just go down on the record in case other incidents occur? -- Washington
If the residents association has been warning this couple that certain behavior is beyond the rules, you should file a complaint with the association. Assuming there are ramifications for breaking the rules, then every complaint helps. And although I do support talking to neighbors to solve problems, if they have been verbally abusive, dismissive or generally uninterested in communication, you should take your complaints to a higher authority. In this case, involve the tenants' group and the building management to make sure the rules agreed upon by the majority of residents are followed.
Even if it does "just go down on the record," it is important to speak up when people are violating rules created for the benefit of all residents.
I recently moved into a rental apartment in Manhattan. Before I moved in, many renovations were done in the apartment (new bathroom vanity, the floor was redone, everything was painted) at the direction of the building management. I also asked the super to fix a few things, including replastering a wall under the kitchen sink.
The question is, should I now tip the super for doing all this work and stay in his good graces and, if so, how much? -- New York
Whether to tip the superintendent is up to you. How much is also up to your discretion, but you should check with your neighbors to see what is customary in your building. If you feel indebted for his work and want to reward him in some way, as well as remain in his good graces in case other issues arise, then you should acknowledge him somehow. Perhaps cash is the usual thing in your building. You could also give him a thank-you card or a gift certificate for a local restaurant, movie theater or store that he may enjoy. Or you could show your appreciation with a plant, some flowers or a home-cooked meal.
I recently moved out of an apartment and am still wrangling with my old landlord to get my security deposit back. She gave my old roommate and me an itemized list of deductions, including a cleaning fee (we left it dusted, vacuumed, fridge cleaned out, bathroom cleaned, etc.) and bills for air-conditioning filters, light bulbs, cleaning supplies and other such things. She also charged us to clean the carpets and to replace them. They were not in good condition when I moved in four years ago. Is this all okay? It seems like normal wear and tear to me. -- Washington
If you left the apartment clean, then you should not be charged for cleaning or cleaning supplies. Though there is no exact definition of what constitutes normal wear and tear, the bottom line is that landlords are supposed to bear the costs of replacing or repairing appliances, carpets, etc., if they have gotten old due to regular use. It's a different story, though, if a resident causes excessive damage beyond normal use, for example by carelessly staining or ripping the carpet.
When landlords obviously aren't using common sense in a post-move-out evaluation, tenants should dispute those claims. It always helps to take before and after pictures of the unit in case such problems arise. But even without such photos, you can file a written complaint with the landlord or someone higher up in the management company. If you get no response, or an unsatisfactory one, then write a second letter stating you intend to pursue the issue in small claims court. In small claims court, the landlord will be required to furnish receipts for any work done to the unit and will have to make a case for using a tenant's security deposit to replace a carpet that was cared for properly.
Do you have questions, comments or ideas about apartment life? Contact Sara Gebhardt via e-mail at email@example.com or by mail, c/o Real Estate Editor, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.