There is no doubt that adopting a smoke-free policy in rental units will improve tenant retention, provide lower maintenance costs, reduce landlord liabilities, and help cut down on tenant complaints.
At the same time, these benefits depend upon monitoring and enforcing that policy. Occasionally, there will be violations.
Here are four ways to make it easier to enforce your no-smoking policy:
1. Be Clear
The best way to go smoke-free is to provide clear guidance in the tenancy agreement and house rules. May tenants smoke in individual units? What about parking lots? Are tenants liable for guests who smoke?
Explain no-smoking rules to prospective renters, reiterate this policy when providing the rental application, and go over it again at lease signing.
Post signs around the property that remind tenants, visitors, and guests that smoking is not permitted.
Don’t leave any room for misunderstandings.
2. Stack Your Options
The tenancy agreement can include the no-smoking policy, along with any consequences for breaching the lease. However, it’s always a good idea to have multiple reasons for evicting a tenant.
For instance, if you’re suspicious that a tenant is sneaking cigarettes in their rental unit, it may be difficult in some provinces to win an Order for Possession on that alone. For that reason, it’s good to include the option to evict the tenant because secondhand smoke is causing damage to the unit, or because the tenant is interfering with the rights of others.
Another common issue concerns the rights of tenants who are “grandfathered” — they leased prior to the smoking ban and their leases have not yet expired. To the extent allowable, limit those lease terms so that these tenants are forced to leave at the end of the original lease — or to quit smoking.
Landlord Tip: Tenancy agreements must be specific to the province, so speak with your attorney to ensure that your lease follows local laws.
3. Screen Tenants for Smoking Preference.
Cigarette smoking is not considered a right, and rejecting someone who wants to smoke in the unit is not considered discrimination. Courts and tribunals have shown deference to landlords’ no-smoking policies. For instance, when a tenant in B.C. claimed that a no-smoking ban violates his Human Rights because he cannot leave his unit to smoke outside, the arbitrator ordered the tenant to stop smoking in the unit while he was waiting for a hearing on his claim.
List the smoking limits in your rental ads. Bring it up when you prequalify prospects over the phone. When running tenant background checks, ask previous landlords if the tenant smoked.
4. Let Your Tenants Be Your Eyes — and Nose
The easiest way to enforce your smoke-free policy is with the cooperation of your tenants. Once you’ve set the stage by including smoke-free language in your lease, and posting no-smoking signs around the property, encourage tenants who are experiencing secondhand smoke to come forward.
It is never a good practice to make tenants resolve these complaints alone, and it’s never advisable to ignore problems such as secondhand smoke in no-smoking units.
At the same time, one of the easiest ways to prove a violation of the lease is to offer statements from other tenants who are bothered by the cigarette smoker.
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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.