In a Jan. 18, 2012, online poll for The Washington Post, readers were asked whether smokers should have to stop lighting up in their homes if the smoke bothered their neighbors. Of 1,180 people who responded, 58 percent said yes. When asked if the courts or legislatures should settle this issue, out of 944 participants, 56 percent said, “Yes; it’s a matter of public health.”
“One of the most common questions and complaints we get is, ‘Smoke is infiltrating my house; what can I do about it?’?” says Thomas Carr, director of national policy at the American Lung Association. “These complaints are almost exclusively from people living in apartment buildings.”
Despite widespread resident concerns, not a single state has enacted a law that bans smoking in all multifamily housing. The closest a state has come to weighing in on the issue is to pass legislation reminding property owners they have the right to designate their properties smoke-free—a step California took in January.
Like the California legislature, HUD in 2009 encouraged public housing authorities (PHAs) to designate their housing smoke-free. By the end of 2011, 285 PHAs had instituted smoke-free policies—a massive increase from the meager 32 smoke-free PHAs that existed six years prior.
While smoke-free trends on private properties are difficult to track, it’s clear that management firms are moving in this direction—with some instituting policies as early as 2007.
As a general manager at Bristol Equities in Portland, Ore., Kirsten Bailey says she’s seen a number of private property owners and fee managers take up the smoke-free challenge, with Bristol Equities helping lead the way. “It’s not that we don’t want smokers in our buildings; we just don’t want the smoke,” says Bailey, who was surprised at the lack of fallout from tenants after the policy was put in place. “I actually had people tell me they were looking for a reason to quit,” she says. “We even got thank-you letters.”
In the historic tobacco state of North Carolina, Gingko Residential is also setting a trend. Teresa Sandman, director of property management, says a series of cigarette-related fires pushed her to make the change. “I didn’t want to have to look a family member in the face and tell them someone had died,” she says.
Sandman has successfully implemented a smoke-free policy in more than 40 of the residential properties she oversees by creating well-lit and well-kept designated smoking areas away from the building and adhering to a strict violation policy that requires offending tenants to cut checks to the American Lung Association.
Sandman admits that while she’s noticed other management companies taking similar steps, not everyone is on board, and that gives Gingko a competitive edge.
“Our clients wanted us to go smoke-free,” she says. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive.”