German court halts eviction of 76-year-old smoker over apartment stench

BERLIN (AFP) - A German court ruled Wednesday that a 76-year-old smoker, facing eviction over the smoke and stench of full ashtrays emanating from his home, can stay in his apartment for now.

A lower court had sided in June with the flat's owner, who terminated the lease of pensioner Friedhelm Adolfs for the apartment that had been his home for more than four decades in the western city of Duesseldorf.

But federal judges overturned the ruling and sent the case back, complaining of flaws in the trial and urging an out-of-court settlement.

The Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe said it was a mystery how the district tribunal had reached its judgement without a site visit, questioning witnesses or ordering air pollution readings.

The owner had decided in 2013 to evict the widower for a "serious violation" of rental rules, claiming he had not sufficiently aired his apartment or emptied his ashtrays often enough.

Adolfs, the building's former caretaker, has said he lights up about 15 cigarettes a day.

"I've been a smoker for 60 years, why should I stop now?" he once told private TV news channel N24. "What else do they want to ban, eating meat?"

The case has received wide media coverage and split public opinion in Germany, still considered a "smokers paradise" with less stringent tobacco curbs than many other European countries.

"It won't be long before the pressure to conform is legally enforced in other areas of life," fumed a commentary in the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel.

The "motto of zero tolerance" will soon apply to "exotic (food) smells escaping through balcony doors, politically incorrect jokes at the workplace, and families whose shoes in the hallway offend the eye", it predicted.

Smoking has long been banned in Germany in enclosed public spaces such as government offices and train stations, as well as in restaurants, but restrictions in bars vary from state to state.

While smoking remains legal in age-restricted bars in Berlin, a city known for its abundant nightlife, it has been banned in the southern state of Bavaria, even at the world-famous beer festival known as the Oktoberfest.

Opposition has slowly gained traction to smoking, which kills 110,000 people a year in Germany, according to anti-tobacco group Pro Rauchfrei.