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Ending Smoking in Apartments: A Landlord's Guide to Smoking Policies

May 27, 2020 by Tara Mastroeni

Smoking in apartments is a controversial subject. While smokers want the right to do as they please in their own homes, many nonsmokers argue that being exposed to secondhand smoke is a health risk, one that may violate their right to the quiet enjoyment of the property.

With that in mind, as the landlord, you have a lot to consider when it comes to whether to allow smoking on your property. If you've been thinking about going smoke-free, keep reading to learn more about how to turn over an apartment that's been smoked in, the potential pros and cons of going smoke-free, as well as how to go about implementing a no-smoking policy in your community.

What are the most cost-effective ways to remove smoke damage from an apartment?

If you don't already have no-smoking policies in place, you may find yourself having to rent out an apartment that's been smoked in. If your tenant moves out and leaves behind the smell of cigarette smoke, you're likely to have some extensive cleaning to do before you can put a new tenant in place. After all, unless you're confident that the next tenant will also be a smoker, the smell will probably be an issue.

With that in mind, here are some tips on how to get cigarette smell out of an apartment.

Let it breathe

The first step toward getting rid of the smell of tobacco products is to ventilate the space as much as possible. Open up all the windows, and leave them open as long as you can. That said, your best bet is to leave the doors closed if the apartments are accessed from within a building because the last thing you want is for the drifting smoke smell to filter out into the public areas.

Repaint the walls

Unfortunately, tobacco smoke can stain the walls and ceiling in the apartment. Depending on their severity, these stains can also seep through freshly painted walls. With that in mind, it's crucial to wash the walls down with a mixture of vinegar, baking soda, and water before you start painting.

Once you're done washing, adding a coat or two of fresh paint to the walls and the ceilings will make a difference in terms of the smell.

Clean the carpets and floors

While hardwood floors may only need a quick wash to get rid of smoke smell, carpet is much trickier. In this instance, ash residue and molecules from the cigarette smoke can cling to the carpet fibers. You'll likely need to rent a steamer or hire a professional cleaner if you want to avoid replacing the whole thing.

Change the light bulbs and air filters

Believe it or not, light bulbs and air filters are scent diffusers. They can spread the smell of cigarettes throughout the unit. Your best bet for tackling the odor here is to just replace all of these items.

What are smoking policies?

If you don't want to have to go through all of those steps every time a smoker moves out of your building, you may want to put a smoking policy in place. As the building owner, you may have the right to implement whatever smoking restrictions you see fit. But in general, these policies typically either limit the use of tobacco products in public areas or lay out the terms of a building-wide smoking ban.

However, before you go about writing a new addendum for your lease, be aware that your city may already have an ordinance or local law in place regarding smoking in multifamily dwellings. For example, as of 2019, Contra Costa County in California has a smoke-free multiunit housing law on the books. You'll want to check with your city or municipality to make sure that your apartment building is complying with any regulations.

What are the pros and cons of adopting a smoke-free policy for apartments?


You'll be abiding by the Fair Housing Act (FHA)

The Fair Housing Act prohibits anyone from being discriminated against on the basis of disability (as well as several other factors) in housing situations. Some have argued that protecting people with smoke allergies from secondhand smoke exposure is considered a reasonable accommodation under the act. In multiple cases, the courts have upheld this decision.

You'll likely receive fewer tenant complaints

In an apartment complex, drifting smoke can travel from one apartment to another fairly easily. If you have one tenant who is a smoker and another who is a nonsmoker living close to one another, you may receive a few complaints. However, those complaints will no longer be an issue if there's a smoking ban in place.

It will be healthier for your community overall

Secondhand smoke exposure is a health risk. According to the CDC, inhaling secondhand smoke leads to an increased risk of lung cancer. In addition, it can lead to other health problems, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory infections, and asthma. In particular, it is thought to be especially harmful to children.


You may lose a few viable tenants

People who smoke generally want the freedom to do so in their own apartments. If you put smoking restrictions in place for your apartment complex, you'll need to be open about it when you or your property manager are screening tenants. Odds are that you may lose a few viable tenants who don't like the idea of abiding by those particular rules.

Pros Cons

• You'll be abiding by the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
• You'll likely receive fewer tenant complaints. ,
• It will be healthier for your community overall.

• You may lose a few viable tenants.

How do you adopt a smoke-free policy for apartments?

If you're convinced that going smoke-free is the right choice for your apartment building but aren't sure how to go about it, you're in luck. It's actually fairly easy to enforce a smoke-free policy. All you have to do is follow the steps below.

Hammer out the details

First, you'll need to determine the details of your smoking policy. For instance, you'll need to decide what your policy will be and what will happen if the new rules are not followed. In addition to tobacco products, you'll also need to put policies in place regarding marijuana and electronic cigarettes.

Once you've gotten clear on your policies, the next step is to decide on an implementation date. You can't expect your residents to adhere to a new policy right away. You have to give them time to prepare. Setting a future implementation date will provide that cushion.

After you've laid out the policy and the implementation date, you can draw up the new no-smoking addendum for your rental agreement.

Spread the word

The next step is to let your residents know about the new policy. To do this, you can send out a memo from the management, post signs around the building, and bring it up as a topic of discussion at future community meetings. Make sure everyone is aware of what the new policy is, when it goes into effect, and how it will be enforced.

You should also be sure to discuss the policy with any potential tenants so they understand what to expect if they decide to move into the building.

Enforce the policy as of the implementation date

Once the implementation date rolls around, it's time to start implementing the policy. Clean up any cigarette butts and get rid of any ashtrays that are still lingering on the property. Then, be sure to enforce the policy uniformly among all your residents going forward.

The bottom line

Smoking in apartments is slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past. Not only is smoke damage costly to fix, but it can also put your residents' health at risk and there is even a small chance that you can be held liable. With that in mind, if you're ready for your apartment building to go smoke-free, use the resources above to help you put the new policy in place.

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