Implementing a Smoke-Free Housing Policy
While many properties in Washington have already been converted to smoke-free, or have been built recently and adopted smoke-free policies from their inception, there are many other properties that have not yet adopted no-smoking policies in their community.
It is clear that residents appreciate and in many cases expect a housing environment that is safe and free of hazards. The threat of second-hand smoke or fire risk are hazards for residents that can be mitigated simply by adopting policies that are becoming more and more common in multifamily housing.
Establishing a Smoke-Free policy in an apartment community has not only been a growing trend with rental housing providers in Washington and across the country but is now commonplace in our industry.
Property owners find this kind of policy is good for business and a clear win-win, lowering costs and risks for an owner and providing a healthier, safer, greener environment leading to happier residents.
With Washington’s adoption of legalized recreational marijuana use under certain conditions, residential property managers are receiving more and more complaints from residents about the intrusion of not just cigarette smoke into their dwelling units but now marijuana smoke. This is raising issues of habitability, health concerns and peaceful enjoyment of one’s apartment home.
One of the best ways to counteract these complaints regarding smoke and odors of either kind is to implement a no-smoking policy in your community.
Smoke-free policies can help landlords protect their residents from the dangers of second-hand smoke and provide benefits for their property owners’ investments.
For residents of multi-unit housing like apartment buildings, secondhand smoke can be a major concern. It can migrate from other units and common areas and travel through doorways, cracks in walls, electrical lines, plumbing, and ventilation systems.
The benefits to owners include reduced cleaning and maintenance costs at move-out, fewer property fires caused by careless smoking, and reduced insurance costs as a result of reduced claims. These policies can also lower the risk of resident warranty of habitability liability claims over adverse health effects caused by smoke. They also increase the marketability of a property with a healthier, safer living environment for residents.
The financial benefits to owners are clear: managers can realize up to $3,000 to $10,000 in cost savings from turning over one heavily smoked-in unit. Having a smoke-free building will preserve and enhance property re-sale value.
Surveys have shown that the vast majority of renters favor policies eliminating smoking in apartment homes, and they would pay higher rent to live in a healthier, greener community. As the public’s awareness of the harmful effects of smoking has increased, more and more tenants have sought out apartment buildings where smoking is prohibited altogether. Surveys from across the country show a high demand for smoke-free apartment buildings.
Simply put, residents place a premium on smoke-free housing policies in rentals, and your employees have a healthier work environment. Providing a safer living and working environment is no small matter. Smoking-related fires are often caused by cigarettes. Careless smoking is the number one cause of devastating apartment fires, from the standpoint of huge property loss and loss of life.
Second-hand smoke has been determined as a Class A carcinogen. It contains over 4,000 chemicals, of which, 11 are known cancer-causing poisons and 250 are known toxins. Second-hand smoke has been linked to diseases such as cancer, asthma, heart disease, respiratory illness, and low birth weight.
The elderly and disabled are particularly vulnerable to second-hand smoke due to chronic health conditions. Smoke-free policies help provide housing stability for residents who suffer from health conditions such as asthma.
Smoke-free housing allows residents to enjoy their home without being exposed to the deadly chemicals found in second-hand smoke. Eliminating smoking in an apartment building is the only way to protect residents from unpleasant odors and the health risks of second-hand smoke.
One of the initial concerns regarding no-smoking policies was confusion about the legality and fair housing laws. Smoking is not a protected class. It has been well documented that creating a policy banning smoking inside apartments and in common areas of apartment communities is legal, non-discriminatory and does not violate any fair housing laws.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has issued a notice requiring the conversion of public housing to a 100% smoke-free environment. Most housing authorities in Washington have required the creation of smoke-free policies in their communities and see the value of protecting the health of low-income families.
Bottom line: property owners and managers have the right to set reasonable rules or policies that protect their investments as well as the health and welfare of their residents and staff.
Establishing a no-smoking policy in a newly constructed apartment community is relatively easy, compared with converting an existing building to no-smoking. However, there is a market for healthy living homes created by no-smoking policies. If you don’t have a no-smoking policy in your community, now is the time to make a change.
Landlords nationwide and locally have developed a reasonable step-by-step process for implementing a smoke-free policy in their communities:
Step 1 – Develop Your Policy
The most important part of Step 1 is making the decision to go smoke-free. Consulting with building owners, employees and residents will give you the initial buy-in needed to make the commitment. Then, develop a clear policy and understand and communicate the reasons for the decision.
100% smoke-free includes prohibiting smoking in the interior of all units, in any common areas, on patios or balconies, and within 25 feet of any building. If possible, you may create designated smoking areas. For example, a nice outside gazebo on the property that may be far away from any buildings, play areas or other well-traveled public spaces are all good options.
Step 2 – Develop a Transition Plan
Determine when and how you want to implement your new policy. Establish a starting date for any new residents to be bound by the no-smoking policy. Then determine the starting date for existing residents to fall under the new policy.
Develop a No-Smoking Lease Addendum or new lease language. (A sample lease addendum language is available on the websites shown at the end of this article) Initiate all new leases with the new no-smoking language included.
Step 3 – Notify Your Residents
Communicate the policy by notifying residents of the reasons for going smoke-free and the benefits to the community.
Give existing residents a time period in which the new policy will become effective and an opportunity to sign the new lease addendum. For existing residents who are on term leases that expire at a future date, it is advised to make the effective date for the new policy for those residents upon lease expiration and renewal.
Prepare your legal written notice to residents giving notification of the change in policy. It is best to give ample time, beyond the legal notice requirements, to give existing residents time to acclimate to the new policy and have time to meet with management if desired. You may decide to honor existing term leases in place and enact the new policy when those leases expire in the future.
Step 4 – Market the Benefits of the Policy
Train staff to be spokespersons for the new policy and the reasons the property has chosen this new rule. Make sure in your leasing presentations that the benefits of the amenity of a no-smoking policy are promoted. Include “no-smoking” in your online marketing.
The property offers a cleaner, healthier environment for all residents, free from the smoke drift that can cause health issues for infants, children, elderly and those with existing health conditions. Sell this benefit. It may set you apart from the competition.
Step 5 – Enforcement of the Policy
Education and communication about the new policy to residents, employees and other affected parties is crucial to successful implementation and enforcement of the policy.
Enforcement starts by setting clear expectations at the outset of the tenancy. Then, enforce your new policy just as your management would any other policy, such as loud music, parking infractions, clutter, etc.
No-smoking policies are largely self-enforcing. Once the rule is established, you are likely to attract tenants who want to live in a smoke-free environment.
Document any potential violations, meet with residents to discuss any policy violations and follow your standard progressive discipline measures of resident notification. Simply working with residents in a customer-friendly manner typically achieves the best results.
Post signage alerting residents and guests that smoking is not allowed on the property.
Keep in mind, residents who smoke do not need to move out. Smokers simply cannot smoke inside their apartments, in common areas or in proximity to buildings where smoke can drift into other apartments and affect their neighbors’ health and enjoyment.
Studies have shown that in most cases, after implementation of a no-smoking policy, you will find that turnover costs will drop, fire claims will be reduced, resident complaints of smoke drift will decline, and insurance costs will ultimately go down.
Customer and employee satisfaction will increase, and occupancy in many cases goes up due to the attractiveness of the amenity. You will have happier residents who will want to stay in your community.
Keep in mind that formal reasonable accommodation requests can be made with regard to medical marijuana. Note, however, that landlords are not necessarily required to make accommodations for a resident to smoke, especially when an alternate accommodation may be possible. Always check with your fair housing officer or attorney on procedures for handling reasonable accommodation requests.
Implementing a no-smoking policy may be in the best interest of a property owner and is not as challenging as one might suspect. There is clear precedence and many resources for making this happen, and now may be the time to act.
For more information about how to go smoke-free, visit these sources below:
*Published in the March edition, Rental Housing Journal On-Site