Neighbors’ spat stems from secondhand smoke

WASHINGTON — It was seven months ago that new neighbors purchased the row house next to Edwin Gray and his sister Mozella Boyd Johnson on 5th Street NE in D.C.

The relationship between the siblings and their new neighbors, Nessa and Brendan Coppinger, turned sour shortly after the Coppingers and their young daughter moved in.

“They say smoke and incense and marijuana is leaking through the wall,” Gray, a smoker, said of the complaints he received from the Coppingers.

After discussions and letters between the two, the Coppingers brought a $500,000 lawsuit against Gray and Johnson, demanding repairs be made to the home. This was followed by a temporary order from a D.C. Superior Court judge banning anyone inside the siblings’ home from smoking.

“You don’t get to tell me and my brother what to do in our house,” Johnson says. She called the judge’s order a violation of her civil rights.

But Nessa Coppinger — a pregnant mother with a toddler — says this is about protecting her family from the health implications of secondhand smoke.

“I want Mr. Gray to be able to smoke where he wants, so he can be happy and we can get along. But he shouldn’t be able to endanger the health of my children in our own home,” Nessa says.

Nessa, an environmental attorney in D.C., says large amounts of smoke regularly fill her home from the home next door. Professionals have said the smoke is coming in because of a broken chimney and cracks in the bricks of her neighbor’s home.

“We can’t fix that — only they can fix it,” Nessa says

Johnson says her family has lived in the home for more than 50 years and this is the first time they have had any issues with their neighbors regarding smoke. She points the blame to the company that remodeled the Coppingers’ home before they bought the property.

“They took the plaster off the building, out of the house, and left the bricks,” Johnson says.

She questions if the contractor sealed the walls properly after renovating the home.

Johnson doesn’t disagree that repairs can be made in the basement and on the chimney, but doesn’t want the neighbors’ inspectors to be the ones to decide if the home has been repaired or not. Johnson also says she still has her doubts that the smoke is coming from their home.

As for Nessa, she says this situation is the same as if Gray and Johnson had a broken water pipe that damaged her home.

“We would hope they would fix it,” she said.

Nessa says she is willing to get rid of this lawsuit and go back to being neighbors if the repairs are made.

Gray, on the other hand, says he believes the neighbors still want the $500,000 even if the work is done.

Johnson maintains she and her brother are not the problem and is worried about the lasting effects of the order and lawsuit.

“Next time you’re frying chicken, you could be sued; you’re fixing chitlins, you could be sued; your music is too loud, you could be sued. What’s next?” Johnson says.

Both parties agree that they wish the situation hadn’t escalated to the courts, but neither seems ready to back down in their fight.

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