Can Landlord Enforce Non-Smoking in an Individual Unit?

by | Jan 4, 2016 | Rental Property Management Tips

Q: How can a landlord find out if a person is smoking inside their unit? Are there special detectors you can install that will register the tobacco smoke? Do you have to actually catch them smoking or is just the smell of smoke from their apartment enough? I think a smoke-free building would be great, I just can’t see how easy it would be to keep tabs on people inside the units.

This is a common concern for landlords, many of whom are afraid that going smoke-free will only increase the workload of managing tenants.

There is, in fact, a detector that is designed to capture cigarette smoke. FreshAir Sensors, a New Hampshire company founded by a chemistry professor, is set to launch its AirGuard product in both hand-held and plug-in versions. These detectors can record infractions and send an e-mail alert if a tenant lights up. The products should be available this spring.

tenant screeningHowever, there is no need to wait on a detector to move forward with your desire to convert the building to smoke-free.

Cigarette smoke produces a unique, telltale odor. Chronic smokers will produce residue that actually will appear on windows and permeate any fabrics.

It is unlikely that you would have to catch the tenant with a lit cigarette on their lips in order to prove an infraction of the non-smoking policy. Just be diligent about recording what you do discover.

The benefits of smoke-free housing are significant:

Shorter vacancies;
Cheaper maintenance costs;
Few apartment fires; and,
A larger pool of quality tenants.

Don’t let the fear of enforcement hold you back from moving along with your plans. There are several effective strategies to employ that will reduce the likelihood of renting to a tenant who will break the rules.

It is perfectly appropriate to advertise to new tenants that you are converting to smoke-free housing, and to ask incoming tenants if they are willing to abide by those rules. Applicants who smoke or won’t agree can be rejected.

During tenant screening, it is possible to ask the current and previous landlords if the applicant smokes or previously violated a smoking ban.

The lease agreement can contain language that outlines the tobacco restrictions and remedies for breaking the rules, including eviction of the tenant. Be sure that the rules apply to your tenants’ guests as well.

Routine property inspections are key to catching a smoker before they’ve had a chance to increase your costs or liabilities.

If you do encounter a secret smoker and move to evict, you will need to detail your non-smoking policy, and prove that you followed your own rules.

For instance, the lease or non-smoking addendum must provide that smoking in an individual unit clearly is prohibited. Often, a non-smoking policy requires a warning for a first infraction. In that case, be prepared to prove that a warning was offered.

Also, the non-smoking provisions must be in that tenant’s lease, rather than a new policy that was added after the tenant moved in. In most cases, previous tenants are ‘grandfathered’ and the smoking prohibition can only be enforced if the old tenant agrees or renews the lease.

Anytime you are handling a problem tenant, it’s important to remain professional and encourage the tenant’s good behaviour before you make threats.

The first time there’s an infraction, it’s acceptable to simply remind the tenant that there is a non-smoking rule in place and that the rule is there for a reason, such as tenant safety or that other tenants moved into the building specifically because of the smoking ban.

Let the tenant know that you value them and want them to stay. Ask for their cooperation. Otherwise, if they feel hurt or rejected,  you may eventually lose an otherwise good tenant. Bad feelings also can lead to late rent payments or property damage.

Hopefully a warning will do the trick, but if the infractions continue, you may have no choice but to pursue the remedies that you’ve set out in your lease agreement. Although this is costly, the vast majority of tenants want smoke-free housing, so the policy will win in the long run.

This post is provided by Tenant Verification Service, Inc., helping landlords reduce the risks of renting with fraud prevention tools that include Tenant Screening, Tenant Background Checks, (U.S. and Canada), as well as Criminal Background Checks, and Eviction Reports (U.S. only).

Click Here to Receive Landlord Credit Reports.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.

Property management software for Canadian Condos.

Property Boss

Property management software for single family, multifamily, and student housing.


Screening services for property managers and landlords. Select a market below.