Landlord Tips: Enforcing a No-Smoking Policy

by Chris on January 18, 2016

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 Reader

There are many landlords who share this concern — that going smoke-free will only make it harder to manage tenants.

tenant screeningThere is a tobacco smoke detector that’s about to hit the market. New Hampshire-based FreshAir Sensors says its AirGuard product will be available this spring.  If a tenant lights up, the detector will send a real-time email alert.

But there’s no need to wait on a detector to move forward with your desire to convert the building to smoke-free.

Cigarette smoking produces a unique, telltale odor, and in the case of heavy smokers, you’ll find residue on windows and 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;
Fewer apartment fires; and,
A larger pool of quality tenants.

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 behavior 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).

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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.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Herring February 23, 2016 at 12:55 pm

My tenant is denying that they are smoking in the unit. They are stating that they are smoking outside the building and then the smell is following them in. Obviously I cannot catch them in the act. What do you suggest?

Walter Widmer April 12, 2016 at 8:49 am

While we are aware that one of the tenant’s smokes, I have included in my agreement with the tenants, that we will make a unannounced visits quarterly for the first year to ensure that the tenant is not smoking in the house.

I would like to hear from others any steps they’ve taken.

Walter Widmer April 12, 2016 at 9:06 am

I stand corrected on my last comment that the tenant needs to be advised prior to the visit .

Clarisse October 29, 2019 at 7:30 am

If the tenant knows you are coming of course they are not going to be smoking and they will do everything they can to make sure that nothing smells of smoke so what good does alerting them to your visit do? They will just light up on the days that the landlord or the manager is not there.

Cindy June 16, 2020 at 10:46 am

Our Senior housing has gone SmokeFree as of May this year 2020. As expected most of the smokers, after having a year to prepare for this with stop smoking counselling, relocation services and a year warning still violate the policies. This affore mentioned product sounds great. How do I find out the costs. I’m researching for my landlord.

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