Smoke-Free Housing; Legal and Easier than you thought!

Sponsoring Program Name: 
Ingham County Health Department

When we promote smoke-free housing, we are saying that it is legal and advisable for apartment owners to establish smoke-free policies for the buildings that they own, which includes individual apartments and common areas.  Many smoke-free apartment owners have also implemented smoke-free property policies which can include pool areas, green-space and private sidewalks.

Most landlords wish they could have smoke-free multi-tenant properties.  Landlords often ask these top three questions: is it legal, will I lose tenants, and how is it enforced?  The Project Director is James Bergman, JD of the Smoke-Free Environments Law Project in Ann Arbor.  Mr. Bergman has analyzed the legal aspects of Michigan Housing Law and found that your business can incur legal risks by allowing smoking in rental housing; and no legal risks by providing smoke-free housing.  Your tenants actually have a right to live in a healthy environment; free of passive smoke exposure.  Based on Michigan Law and the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, those with breathing and health problems could hold you liable for exacerbation of illness.  Landlords own and control the property and there is a liability if the landlord has created an environment that makes tenants more ill by allowing passive smoke to circulate in the building.   ADA protection can be invoked to protect those with breathing problems, asthma, those with heart disease and even people with circulation problems.  There is no legally protected right to smoke.  Smoking is not a physical condition, it is a behavior.

The second question, Will I lose tenants? Here are the facts and you can make this determination yourself.  Using 2003 data for Eaton, Ingham and Clinton County we find that non-smokers maintain a smoke-free home 93% of the time.  Surprisingly, 55% of smokers maintain a smoke-free home.  Since smoking rates for adults is under 20%, we can calculate that the total percentage of tri-county residents that maintained a smoke-free home in 2003 was 83%.  This data comes from the Behavioral Risk Factor Survey (BRFS), a population health assessment tool providing health data nationwide by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  Most of your tenants do not smoke and probably maintain a smoke-free home policy.  Only 17% of our local population allows smoking in their home or apartment.  We know from research that this 17% are making the other residents sick, costing you money and damaging your property.

The final question is: How is a smoke-free policy enforced?  Smoke-free signs are most important, available and free because it is our experience that smokers will agree to smoke restrictions if they understand the policy and know where they CAN smoke.  The free smoke-free signs, tenant signed lease amendment and an ash can near a bench should make your policy clear and will encourage compliance.  Landlords often underestimate the problems that drifting smoke is currently causing for residents.  You won’t believe the number of positive comments that you will receive when you implement a smoke-free policy.

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Local programs are available to help you phase in your smoke-free apartment policy.  We can also assist with resident surveys, one-on-one assistance, presentations to tenant group or simply discuss the additional benefits of smoke-free multi-tenant housing.

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