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Valrico dentist asks judge to clear the air with next-door cigar shop

VALRICO — Dentist Edmund Rahal doesn't smoke. Owners of the Twisted Cigar don't do root canals. But their businesses exist side by side in the same suburban shopping center.

Since the cigar lounge opened three months ago, Dr. Rahal's patients have noticed his dental practice smells like an ash tray.

He wants a judge to intervene.

"When my assistant goes home, her husband can actually smell smoke on her clothes," said Rahal, 64, who set up the office on Lithia Pinecrest Road about 23 years ago.

Rahal already has tried appealing to his landlord and the cigar shop operators. Last week, he filed a complaint in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, seeking both temporary and permanent injunctions to bar the odors.

The court filing alleges "noxious, unhealthful, damaging, disagreeable and offensive odors and stenches," making the dental office "unpleasant, uncomfortable, unhealthy and unfit for human habitation."

It reads like an allergy drug ad, with talk of "burning and watering eyes, coughing, headaches, sneezing, stuffiness, runny nose and wheezing."

Twisted Cigar opened Oct. 1, operated by Jim and Tracy Brown and a partner, Ivo Medina. The website calls it a "work free smoke place."

Flat-screen TVs and bar stools encourage lingering. The parking lot attracts pickup trucks and Bentleys. Inside, guests can choose from rows of cigars or find Wiley pipes ranging from $200 to $2,000.

Jim Brown said the shop has tried to contain odors by resealing drywall and putting a smoke filter in the dentist office air conditioning unit. It was supposed to catch particles even tinier than smoke.

"We didn't know there was still a problem," he said.

Rahal said the smell is worse than ever. He hired Tampa lawyer Gregory E. Mierzwinski and started having the receptionist keep track of unsolicited complaints from patients.

His own complaint was assigned to Circuit Civil Judge Christopher C. Sabella. (Not a smoker, the judge's aide says.)

Rahal doesn't feel great about suing anyone, especially a landlord he likes. He wishes he had been consulted before the cigar shop was signed. Along with Twisted Cigar, his complaint names "3632 Lithia Pinecrest Rd LLC." A representative did not respond to an interview request. The case has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

The circumstances are rare, said Jeremy E. Slusher, a landlord-tenant expert who is board-certified in business litigation. Slusher, who has no connection to the case, is a lawyer at Broad and Cassel in West Palm Beach.

"Landlords in general have an obligation to provide usable premises," he said. " 'Quiet enjoyment' is the legal term. 'Quiet' does not necessarily mean volumewise. You get to use your premises without being interfered with by others.

"Similarly, your neighboring tenant would have an obligation not to create a nuisance."

Twisted Cigar wants to be a good neighbor, Brown said.

The dentist knows how that's supposed to work.

He remembers a good neighbor. Once, the tenant next door was a State Farm agent. Quiet. No smoke.

He remembers those days wistfully.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or pryan@tampabay.com.

Valrico dentist asks judge to clear the air with next-door cigar shop 01/12/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 3:41pm]
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