Smoking and neighbours

Below is information for residents, building managers and owners about managing smoking in apartment buildings.

Smoke drift

Smoke drift is second-hand smoke that infiltrates a neighbour's unit or common area, causing a nuisance or health hazard.

Smoke drift is an issue in multi-unit developments where neighbours live very close to each other.

It can be a breach of the Unit Titles Act 2001 if a person who smokes is annoying or causing a hazard to another resident.

Second-hand smoke can travel between units through:

  • ventilation
  • air conditioning
  • elevator shafts
  • hallways
  • stairwells
  • balconies
  • courtyards.

It can be a breach of the Unit Titles Act 2001 if a person who smokes is annoying or causing a hazard to another resident.

Second-hand smoke risks

Exposure to second-hand smoke can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and other diseases. It can also worsen asthma and bronchitis. There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke.

Managing smoke drift issues

People living in multi-unit settings share common spaces and live close to each other.

Smoke drift in multi-unit settings can be a complex issue when considering the personal liberties of smokers and the public health rights of other residents. In the ACT, multi-unit developments are managed under the Unit Titles (Management) Act 2011.

Renters can contact the owner or manager and ask them for help to address smoke-drift issues.

Unit owners or the owner’s corporation may want to first talk to people who smoke in the apartment building about how their smoking affects other residents and ask them to take steps to prevent affecting their neighbours. People who smoke may not be aware of the extent or consequence of smoke drift. Once they are made aware they may be willing to make changes to limit the exposure of their neighbours to their second-hand smoke.

A mediator, such as the Conflict Resolution Service, can help neighbours reach a mutual agreement.

Information for Owner’s Corporations about managing smoke-drift issues

Building managers and owners can also create or amend rules about where smoking is banned, such as in foyers, car parks or common property.

Smoke drift may amount to a breach of one or more of the default rules contained in Schedule 1 of the Unit Title (Management) Regulation 2011.  An executive committee of the Owner’s Corporation can consider if there has been a breach of default rule 1.8 which relates to the hazardous use of a unit, or of default rule 1.9, which relates to the use of the unit in a way that causes nuisance or substantial annoyance.

Alternatively, under section 108 of the Act, an owner’s corporation may make alternative rules (instead of, or in addition to the default rules) in a general meeting by special resolution. For instance, the owner’s corporation could adopt an alternative rule to prohibit smoking in the common areas of the units plan such as car parks, stairwells, foyers etc. It should be noted that alternative rules must comply with the intention of the Act and will be invalid if, for example, they are inconsistent with the Act or another territory law or are incompatible with a human right under the Human Rights Act 2004. 

Under the Act, an alternative rule made by an owner’s corporation must be registered with the Land Titles Office within 3 months after the day the special resolution was passed otherwise it will be taken to have never been made. Owner’s corporations are encouraged to seek advice from their strata manager or Access Canberra prior to making alternative rules.

Enforcing the rules

A rule infringement notice can be issued to people who breach the rules and continue to cause smoke drift. If a resolution is unable to be reached, building managers can also apply to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) for an order in relation to the dispute.

Get help with smoke drift

Get advice if you're affected by smoke-drift at Legal Aid ACT or call the Legal Aid helpline on 1300 654 314.

Find out more about applying to have your case heard at the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Email Access Canberra on for more information about the Unit Titles (Management) Act 2011.

Get advice or support to quit

Quitting nicotine is challenging. You don’t have to quit alone, you can get advice and support to help.

Find out how to get support to quit.

Page last updated on: 21 Jul 2023