Illustration: Loryn Englesman

Dear Metro: "How do I get my downstairs neighbour to stop smoking?"

What do you do when your neighbour's cigarette smoke doesnot leave you alone?

Dear Metro,

My downstairs neighbour smokes incessantly and the smoke wafts into my apartment, upsetting me. So far I've tried such passive aggressive tactics as sighing loudly, saying "omg smoking again" while on my balcony, "watering" my plants ie pouring water on my deck in the hope it trickles down below and gets him, and stomping about loudly in a bid to ruin his life. It hasn't worked. What else could I do?

From,
Smoking, Not Our Future

Dear Smoking,

I am very surprised to hear none of these tactics have been successful; usually directing the entirety of your ire on someone without directly confronting them is a fast and efficient way of getting what you want. 

If I was a teen in 2007 - 2009 (or, embarrassingly, a former boyfriend of mine in 2013) I would now say “not” in a very loud Borat voice to show you that while you may have thought I was serious, I was in fact joking - a classic stitch up!

So anyway, this is a tricky one because I both hate the smell of ciggies and detest being told what to do in my own home (or ever, actually). What your question reveals is how, as we move toward higher instances of medium and high density living in New Zealand, issues relating to how we get along harmoniously while pressed more closely against one another will become more common.

I used to live in an apartment with paper-thin walls next to a couple who watched King of the Hill at all hours of the day and night. Judging by the way the sound carried, their TV appeared to be situated directly behind the wall at the spot where my head went when I lay in bed. It drove me completely insane, and I never want to hear that jangly theme song again. But, I couldn’t really ask my neighbours not to watch TV, because that would be unreasonable. What I could and probably should have done, was go knock on their door and ask if they could turn it down a bit. What I did instead was nurse a seething resentment until my relationship fell apart (unrelated to but not helped by the King of the Hill situation) and I moved out.

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Don’t be like me, and spend every day with your shoulders half-tensed just waiting for your neighbour to do that fucking thing again I know he’s about to. Go talk to him, but don’t come in guns blazing.

Because the thing is that ultimately, there’s nothing you can actually do to stop your downstairs neighbour from smoking. It is, presumably, his house, and even if it’s not I would not advocate snitching to his landlord - Dear Metro is a 'no snitch' advice page. Even though smoking is objectively disgusting and bad for you, it's also a pleasurable vice for a lot of people and dictating how someone you don't even know can and can’t relax in the privacy of their own home is both impossible to actually enforce and sure to make for bad vibes all round if you try. (IMO it's more justified to tell someone you care about you want them to stop smoking because you're worried about their health, but doing so is still usually pretty bad vibes.)

Instead, why don’t you see if there’s some kind of compromise you could come to. You could let him know the smell really bothers you and you were wondering if there was any way he would consider helping you out here (look, you could even tell a small fib about having asthma or something if you’re worried about feeling shy bringing it up. Dear Metro is a 'sometimes telling lies is ok' advice page). 

Possible solutions: Is there anywhere else he could smoke which is about as easy to get to as his balcony but won’t waft up to you? Could he smoke there instead? Do you two work opposing hours, and could he try to smoke outside mainly when you’re at work? If that’s not really an option because he smokes so much, then maybe he’s the kind of person who stinks so bad of ciggy smoke anyway he could just smoke inside with the doors closed. Could he buy a vape? Could he get a little fan which blows the smoke in a different direction (not sure if this would work, just spitballing here). Could you put any kind of natural barrier in between your balcony and his - more plants, or flowers, or would you be opposed to burning some kind of incense?

None of these solutions are ideal, and all will involve you either being slightly inconvenienced or having to put up with the smell - but that’s kind of just life, really. Sometimes we live next to loud people, sometimes we live next to quiet people who then make a very loud baby, sometimes our neighbours are annoying and do things like strictly enforce ridiculous laundry policies because they have weird ideas about what is and isn’t unseemly in a ‘nice’ part of town. Let's hope that he's the kind of smoker considerate enough to realise how foul his habit is to non-smokers, and is willing to compromise if asked. All you truly have power over is is how you react to any of this. No matter what else you do, don’t waste your life being mad because you can’t control how others behave.

With love,
Metro xx

Got a problem? Send your woes to: dearmetro@bauermedia.co.nz.

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