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Could Your Condo Ban Smoking? Lakefront High-Rises Lead the Way

By Paul Biasco | June 26, 2015 5:34am
 Julie Swislow is president of the Deming Condominium Association, which passed a smoking ban in her building in June.
Julie Swislow is president of the Deming Condominium Association, which passed a smoking ban in her building in June.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LINCOLN PARK — Smoking bans have been spreading from restaurants, to bars, to public areas, and now it appears condos could be the next frontier.

The first condominium to ban smoking, including inside private residences, was in the Gold Coast in 2010.  Since then a handful of buildings have followed suit.

Most recently, the board of two new luxury condominium buildings at 416-422 W. Deming Place banned smoking both in and around the buildings.

"With our buildings, if one person smokes, basically we all smoke, because it gets in the ventilation system and permeates the walls and is a mess," said Julie Swislow, president of the Deming Condominium Association.

The amendment bans smoking of any kind, including pipes, cigars, hookah and marijuana, inside the building's units, rooftop decks and on balconies.

 416 W Deming Place is now a nonsmoking building.
416 W Deming Place is now a nonsmoking building.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

While the Deming Place ban only affects 13 units, two Lincoln Park high-rises recently passed smoking bans affecting hundreds of condominiums.

The 461-unit tower at 2626 N. Lakeview Ave. banned smoking in January 2014, becoming the second building of its kind to pass such a ban in the city.

There had been three fires in that building since 2007, according to a Crain's report. A fire in 2013 was the "impetus" to start exploring the ban, the building's condo board president told Crain's.

The adjacent building at 2650 Lakeview Ave., a 398-unit 42-story condominium building, passed a smoking ban two months ago.

Swislow began her push to ban smoking in the two buildings, which contain a combined 13 units, in November.

The cause was a personal one for her, as her mother suffered from upper respiratory problems her entire life and was diagnosed with lung cancer. The cause was most likely secondhand and thirdhand smoke from her father's three-pack-a-day habit, according to Swislow. There are several babies and small children living in Swislow's Deming condominium building, and she is trying to help prevent secondhand smoke from reaching their lungs, she said.

"This is just a very personal thing for me. I've lost two very close people because of smoking, and I just thought that this was something that I didn't want to go unnoticed," Swislow said.

The condominium board passed the amendment banning smoking on June 19.

Passing an amendment to a condominium's bylaws isn't easy, according to Bradford LeHew, an attorney with Reyes Kurson who specializes in condominium and labor employment law who helped craft the document for the Deming Condominium Association.

One of the biggest fears was that of the owners of top-floor condos with private rooftop decks who worried about hosting fundraising events. What if one of their guests wanted to have a smoke?

In the end, after what Swislow called "some education and convincing," those owners relented, and the amendment passed with 80 percent of the vote.

"The bigger the population [of a building], the more likely you are going to have somebody who is a die-hard smoker or who is just resistant to amending the declaration," LeHew said. 

Because the Deming building is just 2 years old, and the bylaws are fresh on the books, it wasn't as difficult as it might be for some of the city's older and larger buildings, LeHew said.

"It's such a new thing," LeHew said. "Especially in the Chicago area."

A similar push to ban smoking at the high-rise at 1850 N. Clark St. sparked drama within the condominium board in the last year. A resident and Chicago firefighter who lives in the 280-unit Hemingway House condominium building began a push to ban smoking in the building a year ago.

Ed Motto, the 59-year-old firefighter and real estate broker, held a special meeting with owners in the building and wanted to bring the ban to a vote.

"It's going to be a hot issue," Motto said. "It's the wave of the future."

Motto, who lives on the 28th floor of the building, said the main reasons to pass the ban are for safety, prevention of smoke penetration from one unit to another, and preserving home value.

"I'm not against a smoker. They can be a real nice person," he said. "What people don't want anymore is, they don't want that smoke traveling over to the next unit with kids in the bedroom, or a guy with asthma."

The president of that condominium building, Ben Beiler, said passing the ban would be costly and require an enormous amount of time and legal resources. Beiler said the condo board had an independent firm tally results from a buildingwide survey, and the results found there were only a handful of smokers in the building.

"It was pretty clear that there wasn't all that much of a sentiment to do anything about the subject," Beiler said.

The board already is able to handle smoking issues case by case, Beiler said.

"If it's not there, we aren't going to waste the time, money and effort," he said. 

Motto is not giving up on his crusade, and claims he found that just over 49 percent of respondents to a survey he put out wanted to bring the issue to a vote.

"Everybody is moving that way," Motto said. "It's starting to be like a domino effect now."

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