Smoke-Free Housing: Three Reasons to Transition

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Across the country, housing developers and operations staff struggle with decision over whether to make their properties smoke-free. As attitudes around smoking policies in general have shifted over the past decade, the sometimes controversial issue of whether to allow residents to smoke in their units, or even in their buildings, has been brought to the forefront.

There are three major economic and legal reasons that housing community owners and managers should adopt smoke-free policies for all of their units. Enforcing non-smoking policies can simultaneously increase the amount of money coming in to and reduce the amount of money spent by a housing property, as well as reduce legal liability.

Reason #1 Increased Revenue: 80-90% of residents of Boston Housing Authority properties want to live in smoke-free housing communities. This mirrors a national trend: 75% of renters in the Portland-Vancouver metro area prefer smoke-free buildings; nearly half are willing to pay more rent to live in such communities. Additionally, 69% of renters in New York City prefer smoke-free buildings; nearly half are willing to pay more rent to live in such communities (“Cleaning the Air,” Units Magazine, Dec. 2007).

Market leaders discovered that when they ban smoking, they attract new residents who are often willing to pay more. For market-rate housing, owners and managers who meet increased demands for smoke-free housing communities are in a position to increase property revenues (according to National Apartment Association).


Reason #2 Decreased Costs:The cost estimate for cleaning a smoker’s 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment is $15,000 (according to Kennedy Restoration of Portland, Oregon). The cost of cleaning non-smoking and smoking units ranges from $550 to $800, whereas the cost of cleaning a unit where smoking is permitted ranges from $950 to $2,100. These costs include primer and paint, carpet cleaning or replacing, and other cleaning fees (e.g. labor) (“Secondhand Smoke in Apartments and Condominiums: A Guide for Owners and Managers” by the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation).

According to the same Guide, in extreme cases, the entire kitchen and bathroom (i.e. flooring, appliances, and fixtures) had to be removed and replaced because secondhand smoke had permeated and stained the materials – in these cases, it can cost upwards of $20,000 to prepare a unit for a new tenant.

Reason #3 Decreased Liability: Smoking is not a legally protected act. There are a number of cases in which residents sued a property for the right to smoke, but have lost in every instance. Tenants have, however, successfully sued for property owners for harm caused by secondhand smoke. Courts have ruled that even if a policy places a burden on smokers, the policy does not violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause (NYC Clash Inc. v. New York, 315 F. Supp. 2d 461 2004). “There is no state or federal constitutional right to smoke.” (Kurtz v. City of North Miami, 653 So. 2d 1025 (Fla.1995)).

Property owners and managers who allow smoking can face the liability of failure to abate nuisance if another resident is injured as a result of second- (or third-) hand smoke (e.g., pregnant women, parents of young children). In 2004, damages and rent reduction were awarded to a resident who filed against his housing community after environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) infiltrated his apartment (Heck v. Whitehurst).