According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, secondhand smoke affects 58 million Americans each and every day – and many of those aggrieved are the most vulnerable of our society, suffocating in their own homes from the cigarette smoke of their neighbors. Tenants living with secondhand smoke infiltrating their homes do have remedies against their landlords, as the right to smoke is not absolute.
In June 2015, Lisa Titeux, a resident of Anaheim Hills, California was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (“COPD”), a progressive lung disease primarily affecting smokers. Ms. Titeux has never smoked, but unfortunately had been exposed to suffocating cigarette smoke for years while in her own apartment, from her downstairs neighbors.
Ms. Titeux lived on the second floor of a multi-unit housing complex for individuals 55 and older. Shortly after she moved into her unit in January 2011, her downstairs neighbor – one of whom was a heavy smoker – also moved in. Ms. Titeux immediately began experiencing physical reactions to the cigarette smoke that entered her apartment from the unit below, including shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, sleep disturbance, and watering eyes. She notified the neighbors directly, but unfortunately, the smoke continued to infiltrate her apartment on a daily basis. Ms. Titeux notified property management of the smoke that was entering her apartment, and her resulting health reactions. Nevertheless, the landlord took no action. Instead, the neighbors, along with the property management employees, painted Ms. Titeux as racist and a liar. Such false accusations deeply afflicted Ms. Titeux, a French-German immigrant, and a Captain in the United States Marines. In the midst of the false accusations against Ms. Titeux, the smoke continued to flow into her unit; so unbearable, that she was forced to vacate her apartment at times.
Ms. Titeux eventually notified the property management company of her COPD diagnosis, and still no remedial action was taken. In October 2014, Ms. Titeux gathered signatures for a petition from other tenants at the property, more formally bringing the concern regarding secondhand smoke to the property management’s attention, as well as to the attention of the corporate officers of the property management company, a large corporation, which manages properties throughout the nation. Ms. Titeux was ultimately offered a new apartment, but with no guarantee that her new neighbors would not be smokers, she declined.
Ms. Titeux sought counsel from trial lawyers, Jeffrey Roberts and Shaun Phillips of The Roberts Law Firm, APC, a boutique Plaintiff’s personal injury firm in Newport Beach, California. Ms. Titeux filed a lawsuit against the current and former managers of the property in Orange County Superior Court in August 2016 alleging Trespass, Nuisance, Negligence, Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress and Breach of Contract. Only then, in September 2016, the property management mandated that Ms. Titeux’s downstairs neighbors move.
While Ms. Titeux is no longer subject to the secondhand smoke entering her apartment on a daily basis, the damage to her lungs has already been done, according to her doctors. Suffering from COPD, Ms. Titeux has a permanent cough, permanent decreased lung capacity, shortness of breath and a regimen of medication to remind her that she will never again be the same woman. Moreover, she continues to be painted as a racist and a liar by the property management company, for persisting in her right to live in her apartment free from the secondhand smoke of her neighbors.
On November 30, 2016, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a final rule (see 24 CFR Sec. 965.651 et seq.) that each Public Housing Agency administering low-income, conventional public housing will be required to initiate a smoke-free policy. Pursuant to the rule, all Public Housing Agencies must have a smoke-free policy in place by July 31, 2018. According to the American Lung Association, the smoking ban will positively affect two million residents, 760,000 of which are children, protecting them from exposure to secondhand smoke. This is happening throughout the country, including here in Orange County. There are 90 counties and cities within California, which have implemented some form of policy to ban smoking in multi-unit housing.
Ms. Titeux’s case is set for a jury trial on October 29, 2018.
 58 million nonsmokers in US are still exposed to secondhand smoke, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (Feb. 3, 2015) available at: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0203-secondhand-smoke.html.
 Smoke-Free Public Housing and Multifamily Properties, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at (accessed Jun. 25, 2018) available at: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/healthy_homes/smokefree.
 Smokefree Policies in Multi-Unit Housing, American Lung Association (accessed Jun. 25, 2018) available at: https://www.lung.org/policy-advocacy/tobacco/smokefree-environments/multi-unit-housing.
 Local California Smokefree Housing Policies: Detailed Analysis, The Center for Tobacco Policy & Organizing (Apr. 2017) available at: https://center4tobaccopolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Smokefree-MUH-Detailed-Analysis-2017-04-14.pdf.