Are we Ready for Smoke-Free Housing? Part I

If you own multifamily housing, you know: trends change. What renters want, and what they require of their living situation, evolves as surely as hairstyles over the decades. This certainly isn’t breaking news; you have probably long-since replaced your avocado-colored fridges and orange shag carpets. But as we continue to modernize our living spaces, there is one issue that isn’t quite as cut-and-dry as Energy-Star appliances or T1 data lines. The question is: are we ready for smoke-free apartment buildings?

Cities in the US and abroad have gone a long way in the prevention of smoking in public places, with clear benefits for our air and lungs. But what about smoke-free living spaces? Are people ready for it—is there even a demand for it? Is there a benefit to owners? How can it be done?

We recently attended a presentation put on by SmokeFreeWashington.com. The presentation featured talks by Guardian Management, which has successfully taken all 12,000 of its multifamily units smoke-free, as well as Capitol Insurance Group, which offers financial incentives to companies who go smoke-free in their buildings. Here’s what we found out about the first-hand experience and benefits of going smoke-free.

How have the residential needs of smokers and non-smokers evolved?

Ron Oldham, from the Pacific Northwest NAHRO, spoke about the past and current trends for smokers, non-smokers, and their respective needs.

In 1965, the adult smoking rate was 42.4%. Compare this to 17.3% nationally in 2010 (in Washington State, it’s closer to around 14%). While there were very few no-smoking policies in multifamily housing at the turn of the millennium, by 2010, 87% of Washington homes had adopted a no-smoking rule (that placed us fourth in the US). In September of 2010, the King County board of health passed a resolution encouraging city councils, HOAs, developers and managers to adopt non-smoking policies.

What are the benefits of going smoke-free?

Our ears really perked up when Mr. Oldham began to speak about the benefits of going smoke-free:

  • Market demand: 86% of Washington renters prefer to live in smoke-free housing. That’s over 95% of non-smokers, and over 50% of smokers.
  • Turnover costs: It can cost an additional $5,000 to turn over a smoking unit. Repairs can include extra cleaning and the replacement of carpet, blinds, and surfaces with burns or stains. Secondhand smoke and cigarette residue even penetrates ceramic surfaces, making it very difficult to purge from a unit.
  • Reduced fire risk: In Washington, smoking materials are responsible for more deaths than any other fire source. These fires and fire deaths can be easily prevented by non-smoking policies.
  • Avoiding liability: Mr. Oldham noted that smokers are not a protected class. But according to the Fair Housing and Americans with Disabilities Acts, residents with disabilities affected by second-hand smoke may request reasonable accommodations. Residents have successfully sued their landlords in buildings that allow smoking for breach of warranty of habitability, constructive eviction, and breach of covenant of quiet enjoyment.
  • Very little pushback: When asked, Washington landlords were nearly unanimous in saying there was no negative effects of a smoking ban in their buildings. In fact, 91% reported that new non-smoking policies produced no effect on turnover rates, vacancy rates, or lowering of rent.

Next time we’ll discuss the realities of initiating a non-smoking policy, with steps you can use to implement it at your building. Stay tuned!

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