Landlords Get Burned by Smoking Policy

Written by Apartment Management Magazine on . Posted in Blog

12_07_2011 Programele de prevenire a fumatului în _coliThis month, the Iowa Department of Public Health is reporting that in one year it’s Smoke-Free Housing Registry has doubled the number of properties that now have 100 percent smoke-free units, with no grandfathered residents.

Property managers across the country say they favor smoke free for one simple reason: they make more money. More tenants want smoke-free, so more applicants compete for those units. Smoke-free units are easier to clean, and easier to manage. But if you are still not convinced of the benefits of this policy, take a look at some of the liabilities you face if you allow smoking:

Landlord Negligence and More

This summer, a jury in northwestern Florida awarded $23 billion to the family of a man who died at age 36 from lung cancer caused by cigarette smoking. While this case was not brought against a landlord, it profiles a disturbing trend for every property owner, including landlords. It proves that public opinion has shifted; jury members today are having no problem recognizing the health risks of cigarettes — or doling out the punitive damages.

In a case a little closer to home,a homeowners association was ordered to pay $15,500 after a jury said it was too slow in resolving a secondhand smoke complaint between two neighbors. It’s not $23 billion, but that’s enough to throw off the balance sheet for your rental property.

In other, less publicized cases, judges have found landlords liable for tenants’ secondhand smoke illnesses,  and have allowed nonsmoking tenants to break the lease.  Liability for fire-related injuries increases significantly in smoker-friendly buildings.

In addition to simple negligence, tenant attorneys are successly arguing that units in buildings where smoking is allowed are uninhabitable. The case above against the homeowners association was based on loss of quiet enjoyment of the property. Both of these claims are based on a fundamental breach of the lease agreement, and tenants can be awarded damages for that breach, including rent abatement.

Some Landlords Are Employers, Too

Two other lawsuits filed recently, one by a flight attendant and another by a teacher, prove that employees are entitled to workplace protections. That includes freedom from the risks of secondhand smoke as a necessary part of their job. And, that includes employees of rental property owners.

Higher Demand for Smoke-Free

A higher demand for these units means landlords who allow smoking are turning away other potential tenants. Lowering the pool of candidates heightens the risk of late rent payments, evictions and damage to the rental property.

Cigarette Smoke is Hard to Clear

Unit turnaround is slower and more costly with units where a tenant smoked cigarettes. That leads to longer vacancy, greater cost, and a higher likelihood of complaints from the next tenant.

Smoking Policies are Harder to Implement

A smoke-free policy can be easier to maintain than mitigating the risks of tenants who smoke. Allowing smoking requires greater vigilance, like keeping balconies clear from debris that can be ignited by a cigarette or ashes carelessly tossed outside. Guests who smoke must be monitored to make sure they are in designated areas. The increased fire risk requires a comprehensive emergency plan, and potential costs of relocation if there is a fire. A policy must be in place to resolve secondhand smoke complaints to avoid liability.

Offering smoke-free housing is the simple fix. Increased profits, decreased risk. A win-win for tenants and landlords.

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