Smoking in strata schemes

In more good news for non-smokers, the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal made orders on 11 October 2022 preventing lot owners from smoking on the balcony of their lot or anywhere within their lot that would cause smoke, fumes or odour from the tabaco to drift into another lot. The case was Pittman v Newport [2022] NSWCATCD.

The application was made in the Tribunal by lot owners affected by smoke drift after their requests to their neighbours to prevent the smoke drift failed and their request for the owners corporation to take action was refused.

The action was under section 153 of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 which requires lot owners and occupants in a strata scheme not to use or enjoy their lot or permit it to be used in a manner or for a purpose that causes a nuisance or hazard to other lot owners and occupants.

Nuisance is when there is an unlawful interference with a person’s use or enjoyment of land, or of some right over or in connection with the land. It occurs when the issue complained of is created, adopted or continued by a person, other than in the reasonable and convenient use of their own land, which, to a substantial degree, harms another owner or occupier of the land in the enjoyment of that person’s land. In layman’s terms it means that lot owners must not use or permit their land to be used in a way that unreasonably inconvenienced another lot owner using their land.

Senior Member French stated in the decision that “[t]his is a relatively high-density type of communal living. … In my view there is a degree of reciprocity (give and take) required of occupiers of land in a communal environment of this type. An owner of land of this type cannot reasonably expect to be unaffected by their neighbour’s use of their own land.”

Following on from the decisions (which I have previously written about in this blog) in Bill Sheath and Rhonda Sheath v Rick Whitely and Sandra Whitely [2014] NSWCATCD & Gisks v The Owners – Strata Plan No 6743; The Owners – Strata Plan No 6743 v Gisks [2019] NSWCATCD 44 (28 May 2019) it was held that it was accepted that there is no safe level of exposure tobacco smoke and that it posed a serious risk of ham.

In this case the unreasonable inconvenience was that the applicants had tried to minimise the effect of smoke drift by not using their balcony and ensuring the balcony doors and windows were kept closed. These measures were however ineffective at preventing the smoke drift entering their lot. The Tribunal found that it was unreasonable that the applicant’s use of their balcony was restricted to avoid cigarette smoke drift.

Where does this take us? Well, it further establishes that those living in a strata scheme must be aware of the effect of their actions on their neighbours. It paves the way for other affected lot owners to obtain similar orders and could be used to support claims in respect of odours of other sorts and noise. For example, a lot owner using their lot to teach students to play a loud instrument or, a lot owner feeding wild birds that create noise (and potential odour and pests).  

Prepared by
Allison Benson

Author: Allison Benson