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Orange County Jury Awards Condo Owners $15,500 in Secondhand Smoke Case

March 27, 2013

Posted in Real Estate Law

In today’s Orange County Register, Merilyn Kalfus reports that after a five-week trial, an Orange County jury awarded Kim and Kai Chauncey $15,500 in damages against the Bella Palermo Homeowner Association, TSG Independent Management, and their neighbors for failure to ensure the nonsmokers’ right to enjoy the “quiet enjoyment” of their condo.

Kim and Kai Chauncey were the owners of the condo, located in Trabuco Canyon in California’s Orange County, where they lived with their son. While living there, their next-door neighbors and their visitors partook in constant smoking on the patio and at the entrance of their home. The Chaunceys complained to the homeowners’ association and the management company about their neighbors’ “incessant” smoking habit; however, according to the Chaunceys, nothing was done to solve the problem. As a result, the neighbors’ tobacco smoke infiltrated the Chaunceys’ unit through the window and doors, giving their unit a constant secondhand smoke presence.

Because of the inaction of the neighbors, homeowners’ association, and management company to rectify the problem, Kim and Kai Chauncey were forced to move and rent a different place to live as the secondhand smoke infiltration seriously affected their lives and prevented them from the enjoyment of their own condo unit—a basic right of any homeowner. Worse, the secondhand smoke had worsened their son’s asthma. The Chaunceys filed suit in March of 2011.

The Orange County jury found that the homeowners’ association and the management company had breached the contract with the Chaunceys and were negligent in causing damages and emotional distress to the family. The jury awarded the Chaunceys $15,500, of which $6,000 was for economic damages and $9,500 for emotional damages. The jurors also found that the association and the management company were 60 percent responsible for the emotional damages, and found the neighbors responsible to a lesser degree.

The lawsuit and the winning jury verdict indicate two things. First, the homeowners’ association and the management company are responsible for the breach of contract, even when “secondhand smoke” is not specifically addressed in the CC&R. Second, it demonstrates the change in society’s view of smoking and the rights of nonsmokers. It is definitely a sharp contrast compared to 20 years ago.

If you are presently trying to resolve any issue with your homeowners’ association or neighbors, but feel you are not going anywhere with your effort, you need an experienced Orange County real estate litigation and trial attorney to ensure you receive all available legal remedies. To learn more, call the Law Offices of Tony T. Liu today at (714) 415-2007.