What Does It Mean When Apartments Say Smoke-free?

As more awareness is raised on the dangers of smoking, more landlords are adopting policies that limit smoking or prohibit it completely on their property. Learn what it means when apartments put in place a smoke-free policy.

What does it mean when apartments say smoke-free? A smoke-free policy in apartments means that smoking is prohibited anywhere on the property, including individual units. You will usually find a smoke-free policy in a lease or rental agreement. In most cases, such a policy applies to smoking of any sort, not just tobacco, but if this should be made clear so that tenants are aware. A smoke-free policy allows landlords to protect their property from wear and tear and fires. Smoke-free policies are not considered to be discriminatory – it’s completely legal for landlords not to allow smoking in your building. However, this doesn’t mean that smokers cannot live in smoke-free buildings, or that people who smoke are required to quit. The policy simply means that smoking is prohibited in the building or any other specified areas.

Is it legal for a landlord to adopt a smoke-free policy in an apartment?

It is legal for landlords and property managers to adopt smoke-free policies regardless of whether you own or manage market-rate, public, or affordable housing. As a landlord, you can adopt a smoke-free policy in the same way you can adopt other stipulations to regulate activities that may present a risk to the property or impact other residents, such as rules that address noise or pets. 

Does a smoke-free policy mean that smokers can’t live in the building?

A smoke-free building doesn’t mean that people who smoke cannot reside in the building, nor does it mean that people who smoke must quit. It simply means that smokers are not allowed to smoke inside the building or in any other areas specified in the policy, such as on patios and balconies.

Is a smoke-free policy discriminatory?

A smoke-free policy is not discriminatory. Smoking is simply a behavior, not an inborn characteristic, like sex or race, so banning smoking in a building does not target or discriminate any particular group – as mentioned above, you can still rent to smokers as long as they agree to adhere to the policy and smoke outside.

Do smokers have a right to smoke within their own homes?

Tenants don’t have a “right to smoke” in their units. There is no federal, state, or local law that provides individuals with the right to smoke as they please. On the flip side, building owners and managers can set reasonable rules (like a smoke ban) to protect it.

Is smoking a disability?

Smoking is considered to be an addiction that causes health problems and death, but it is not categorized as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). There have never been any federal or state courts that ruled that smoking is a “disability” as defined by the ADA.

What are the benefits of a smoke-free policy to landlords?

As a landlord, there are many advantages to adopting a smoke-free policy in your building. They include:

1. A smoke-free policy can limit your liability as a property owner or manager

You may be at risk for legal liabilities by failing to take action to protect tenants in your building from involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke. According to the NYC Coalition for Smoke-Free Housing, about 65% of air is shared between units due to the movement of air through open doors or windows, via shared ventilation or electrical ducting systems, as well as through gaps around window frames, ceilings, or floorboards. 

A smoke-free policy allows you to avoid potential lawsuits brought by tenants who fall sick from secondhand smoke exposure. Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, you may have to provide reasonable accommodations for tenants who have a disability that is worsened by exposure to secondhand smoke. Tenants with breathing problems may be protected under the Act and request a reasonable accommodation, which might include adopting a smoke-free policy for a building or enforcing a smoke-free policy. It might also involve moving the vulnerable tenant to an apartment that is not located near units that are occupied by people who smoke or allowing the tenant to break their lease without imposing financial penalties.

2. It can help save money by reducing cleaning and maintenance costs

You can reduce the cleaning and maintenance costs – as well as extra turn-over time – that comes with restoring a smoke-damaged apartment after a tenant who smokes has moved out. According to a study conducted by MultiFamily Insider, it is about three times more costly to renovate a unit of a smoker than a non-smoker, on average.

To get rid of the lingering odor of smoke, you may have to repaint the entire unit including the wall and ceiling, clean and probably replace carpet and padding, and thoroughly lighting fixtures, baseboards, closet organization systems, and appliances. In extreme cases, you may need to apply an ozone treatment to get rid of the smell of smoke from the heating and cooling units. 

3. It can significantly reduce the risk associated with fires

Permitting smoking on your property can increase the risk, costs, and liability associated with fires. According to The National Fire Protection Association, smoking is the leading cause of residential home fires in the U.S. Death rates for residential fires associated with smoking are substantially higher than that for nonsmoking fires – 24.2 deaths per 1,000 fires compared to 3.1 deaths per 1,000 fires. The rate of fire injuries that result from smoking in residences is more than triple that of residential nonsmoking fires. Losses incurred from residential smoking fires are also more than twice as high as that resulting from residential nonsmoking fires.

4. It can help you retain your current tenants

Most residents want to live in smoke-free buildings. According to a 2012 study, about 56% of residents living in multiunit housing around the U.S were willing to support the implementation of a smoke-free policy for their building. Over 55% of residents living in multiunit housing in New York State support a policy that bans smoking in all areas of their building. Approximately 80% of Charleston, South Carolina, and over 90% of Fort Collins, Colorado apartment residents living in buildings that allow smoking indicated that they would continue to live in their current residence if it were designated as smoke-free.

A majority of these residents indicated that they would be willing to forgo other amenities such as local service and shorter commute time to their workplace to live in a smoke-free building. Smoke-free policies can therefore encourage current residents to maintain their tenancy.

5. It can help you attract new residents

People increasingly want to live in a smoke-free environment to protect their health and are seeking out smoke-free housing options. A recent national survey found that almost 30% of multiunit housing dwellers live in smoke-free buildings. However, 56% would support the implementation of a smoke-free policy in their building. This indicates that there’s high demand for smoke-free buildings than supply, which could create a large market opportunity for multiunit housing owners and managers who implement smoke-free policies

How can a landlord adopt a smoke-free policy?

It is important to communicate with residents to ensure an easy transition to a smoke-free building. Inform residents when a smoke-free policy is being considered before it’s officially put into effect.

When it comes to adopting a smoke-free policy, you’ll want to follow the same procedures that are required for adopting, documenting, and notifying residents about any other modifications or overhauls to house rules and lease provisions.

Typically, you will need to get all the residents currently living in the building to sign a lease addendum about the smoke-free policy, and include the smoke-free requirement to your lease for new tenants to sign. 

If your community has a rent control law, consider consulting with an attorney to find out whether or not the law restricts your ability to make alterations to the terms of existing residents’ leases without seeking their consent beforehand. 

How can a landlord enforce a smoke-free policy?

A landlord can enforce a smoke-free policy using a variety of strategies including:

  • Officially adding a smoke-free policy to the lease and getting both current and new residents to sign the lease.
  • Advertising their units as smoke-free to attract residents who either don’t smoke or are willing to smoke outside
  • Posting signs at entrances to the property and in common areas to remind residents, their guests, and staff about the no-smoke policy.
  • Letting tenants know that if they smoke in their units, they will bear the financial responsibility of restoring the unit to its previous condition.
  • Having a system of warnings, fines, and evictions for not adhering to the smoke-free policy.
  • Regularly performing inspections.

Final thoughts

Landlords and property managers are acutely aware of the pungent odor and damage that a regular smoking habit can cause to a rental unit, not to mention the increasing number of people who want to live in a smoke-free environment. Most tenants are likely to adhere to a smoke-free policy as long as it’s properly enforced, regardless of whether they smoke or not.

Melanie Asiba

Melanie is an author, and she enjoys traveling, reading, and trying out new things. In addition to writing for Apartment ABC.