Should I Ban Smoking In My Rental Properties?

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I am thinking of adding a “no smoking” clause to my lease.  Do not get me wrong, I am not trying to be a nanny and say you should not smoke, quite the contrary.  I firmly believe that if you want to smoke you should be able to.  So why would I want to ban smoking in my properties?  It is simply because it affects my bottom line.

How Smoking Affects My Bottom Line

Let’s face it, smoking is a dirty habit.  When a tenant sits in their apartment and smokes, all of that smoke, tar and nicotine ends up staining my walls.   When the tenant moves my paint crew simply has to spend more on primer to cover these stains and thus more time on the job.  This time and material affects my bottom line.

The smell is also pervasive.  I get complaints from other non-smoking tenants about the smell drifting into their apartment.  When the tenant moves out, even after a complete paint job, the smell can still linger.  Many times we have to use an odor blocking product so that prospective tenants will not be turned off by the smell.  This treatment further affects my bottom line and frankly I would not mind reducing the number of complaint calls.

Burns are another problem.  It does not matter how careful the smoker is, at some point they are going to drop a lit cigarette on my floor.  Aside from the fire hazard posed, I now have to contend with burn marks.  Sometimes carpets have to be replaced, other times portions of hardwood floors have to be sanded and re-stained.  This all affects my bottom line.

Finally, I get tired of walking around my properties and seeing discarded cigarette butts on the sidewalk, on the lawn, in my newly mulched flower beds, basically all over.  Someone has to clean all of that up, again adding time and expense and affecting my bottom line.

Fewer and Fewer Prospective Tenants Are Smokers

According to the Centers for Disease Control the percentage of smokers is down to just above 19% of the total population.  That leaves over 80% of the population for me to work with.  While I do not think I could have successfully implemented a non-smoking policy a few years ago, with recent trends I think it may be the way to go.  Again this is not because I am a nanny, but because of the affect on my bottom line.

Let Me Know Your Thoughts

So what say you?  Has anyone else adopted such a policy with or without success?   Do you see non-smoking policies as a trend?  Would you or are you thinking of implementing such a policy?  Smokers are not a protected class so it can be done.   I know some local jurisdictions are trying to ban smoking in apartment buildings, but I think that is wrong as the decision should be left up to the owner.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo: twm1340

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About Author

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in and manages rental properties in Memphis, TN and is a past president and vice-president of the local REIA group, the Memphis Investors Group.

55 Comments

  1. Good luck with that. It’s like the “no pets” policy. Prospects can say anything they want when moving in. Do you want to be on police patrol?

    And, as you pointed out, less than 20% of the population smoke, anyway, so why bother. Yes, all of your points are valid, also with pets, also with young children, also with teenagers… You can “request” anything you prefer, but demanding it is more emotional energy than I suggest putting out there.

    • Kevin Perk

      Enforcement is always the hard part. But I think most do what they say they will do. Once in a while we catch someone with a pet who said they do not have one for example, but most are honest and tell us up front. I think if we had a no smoking policy, smokers would just go look elsewhere.

      Thanks for the comment Karen,

      Kevin

  2. Kirtley Whittington on

    We have no smoking policies in our Lease. It may be difficult to enforce, but we try to stop in each unit every month or two to ‘change air filter, etc.’. In doing so, you will notice if someone has been smoking in the place. If they have, we give them a warning. 2nd time they are gone. They are free to smoke outside so long as they don’t throw butts on ground. If we notice them, the tenants are requierd to pick them up. My property manager takes no bs haha.

    • I maintain the same policy as Kirtley. Out of dozens of prospective tenants, I haven’t had a single one be surprised that I don’t allow smoking inside at any time. I think that is the expected norm these days.

  3. I agree 100% with a no smoking policy. I haven’t began purchasing rental property yet, but I have already decided that No Smoking will be my policy, for the exact reasons you mention. Your last point is particularly poignant. The litter and mess that (some/many) smokers create is disgusting. I have seen many campuses with the beautifully landscaped flower beds littered with cigarette butts. Such littering is completely unacceptable.

    • James: That comment makes complete sense if you have no rental properties. Once you do, you’ll find that tenants are not always forth coming with the facts and policing tenants turns out to be very time consuming, often frustrating, and not necessarily income generating. I am opposed to smoking anywhere – it is good for no one and no thing – but some of my tenants do. And some have pets that cause damage. And some have children that create damage. That’s just the joys of being a landlord!

      • Yeah, unfortunately people are often not always honest. I am glad this discussion is happening- hopefully there will be more comments like Kirtley’s above, telling us how others do it. I don’t plan on being a nanny- but if the policy is in the lease, I can deal with complaints and problems as they arise. If it isn’t in the lease, there isn’t much you can do.

        • Kevin Perk

          James,

          Exactly. If it is not in your lease, then there is little you can do. If it is then you can take action.
          But, like Karen is saying, playing the policeman can be tiresome. But again I think most are honest and I think smokers will just go elsewhere.

          Kevin

  4. Steve Babiak on

    Although less than 20% of the total population is non-smoking, that does not mean that less than 20% of the tenant population is non-smoking! You could be excluding more of your potential tenant pool than 20% would imply.

    • Kevin Perk

      Steve,

      Hard to tell, you could be right. But trends seem to be down for the younger population groups as well, which generally make up my tenant base.

      Thanks for the comment,

      Kevin

  5. I have a no-smoking rule that I fully enforce. I only own a triplex right now so it’s fairly easy to be on top of things. I lost my favorite uncle and a 5 year old niece to a fire that was started from his smoking. I personally, have no room to deal with that sort of tragedy again. I share this story with any tenant before I hand them the keys.

  6. Brandon Turner

    I make a “no smoking” policy in my units, and it works out okay. A lot of people will try to get around that by leaning out their window to smoke, which is annoying but I don’t police too much. I just let them know that if they smoke, I’m going to have to replace all the carpet when they move and repaint, so they’ll lose their security deposit and I’ll probably go after them for damages.

    That seems to scare them into behaving.

    • Kevin Perk

      Brandon,

      Good application of the policy “people respond to incentives.” I think if you are clear with people upfront about what you will do about smoking it makes things much easier. As I have said most people are honest and your screening process hopefully will weed out the dishonest ones. Sure some will get through once in a while, but I think most will do what they say.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

    • Im sorry as well smoking has impacted you this way. Its all about enforcrment of MY rules. If people think its a hassle to “play policeman” why even bother to rent to anyone?

    • Couldnt be any more simple than that! You smoke, it costs you. During move in I ask “you smell that?” They answer “what?” I say I dont smell anything either. All on video. If I notice any hint of smoking I point it out and go from there per lease ageement of course.

      • Kevin Perk

        Laurice,

        I get what you are saying. But playing policeman can be a tough job on top of an already tough job. Although I think most people are honest and will follow the rules, but there is always that one!

        Thanks for reading and for the comments!

        Kevin

  7. I have a no smoking policy in my 3 homes. Haven’t had a problem until about a month ago. I had to go over there and the tenant was upset about a personal issue and she was smoking. They could tell by the look on my face that I wasn’t happy and normally would have said something right then. I sent an e-mail the next day reminding them of the policy. They were very apologetic and promised they would continue to smoke only outside. They only moved in last November and up until now there wasn’t a problem and I didn’t smell smoke before.

  8. You should absolutely make no smoking part of your lease contracts! I’ve had several investment properties over the years, and I let interested tenants know upfront that smoking is not allowed inside. I believe only once it turned away a possible tenant. However – more often than not – the tenants I talk to are pleased to hear this rule because it means that they will be able to live in a clean and smoke-free environment. No matter how much painting and cleaning you do, the smoke smell will always be there!

  9. Most of my tenants are low income, but not low enough to miss buying a pack of cigarettes for $7. Lucky the taxpayer is paying for food housing and just about everything else or they might have to give up the smokes.

    That said, I would love to ban smoking which is responsible for 100% of my repaints between tenants. The last unit I had the painter apply a peanut color paint instead of white as an experiment. Maybe I won’t need to have the places painted. The smell of tobacco on the walls won’t be noticed I am sure.

    Did I mention I was thinking of installing cat urine colored carpeting? :)

  10. I totally agree with a non smoking policy, particularly in high end properties as these properties tend to attract more health conscious tenants, and a smoke free environment is looked on favourably and can help towards them choosing your property.

    • Kevin Perk

      Barry,

      I think you might be right. I might be creating a niche market for non-smokers and actually attract tenants because of it. Time will tell.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment,

      Kevin

  11. Sounds good to me. It’s your property. Put in the lease and note that ANY evidence of smoking will be deducted from security deposit.

  12. I have a no smoking/no pets policy in my 8 units.

    I’m willing to take slightly less rent (if need be) to have clients that don’t have these issues which will potentially damage my units.

  13. We put it in every lease… No smoking inside. It might be hard to enforce a no smoking policy outside the front door, it may or may not be the tenant, say a relative or friend that smokes stops by… The agreement we make is no-smoking inside at all. We do our best to provide decent, safe, and affordable housing. It’s not safe if we allow anyone to smoke inside.

  14. I think no-smoking requirements are a trend that is gathering force. For example, last year, California officially granted landlords the authority to designate areas where tenants can smoke, or to ban it completely. The reasons for these bans are numerous, but the one that resonates the most, I think, is that second-hand smoke has been shown to actually travel through attached rental units, potentially having negative health consequences on non-smokers living nearby (which means at some point, maybe it will also become a liability issue too?). I personally would pay more to live in smoke-free housing–just because of the stink. And I also don’t allow smoking in the rental unit I own.

    • Kevin Perk

      Tracey,

      I think you are right about the trend.

      Would people pay more for a no smoking property? Could “no smoking” be a money maker? I feel an experiment coming one :).

      Thanks for reading and for the advice,

      Kevin

  15. Smoking, pets, extra tenants…anyone who’s ever tried to enforce that in their lease (at least in an anti-landlord state like Minnesota) usually finds that unless the rent is way behind, the courts don’t care, and won’t evict them. My leases all state “no smoking,” though, so the ones who do move without owing too much will see the painting, etc. come out of their deposit. For what it’s worth, I’ve found smokers overall to have longer criminal records, and to be more irresponsible and dirtier (no surprise there) with more police calls. Thankfully Hollywood isn’t glamorizing smokers like it used to.

    • Kevin Perk

      John,

      Interesting take you have on smokers making poor decisions and thus being poorer tenants. I bet there is an interesting sociological study in there somewhere.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  16. Oh, and I’ve also added a $2 per butt fee to my lease, for any butts I find inside or outside their unit. If there’s any deposit left, I take it out of that. .

  17. Cameron Carter on

    I have 13 units and a no smoking policy in every lease. I haven’t had any issues so far (going on 5 years since I acquired the first duplex), but I wouldn’t hesitate to give notice of termination if I ever do find a tenant smoking inside. Here in Arizona it doesn’t seem to difficult to find good tenants, so it doesn’t seem to make much sense to put with the additional damage and risk that smokers bring.

  18. PM 2.5 levels in a unit adjacent to one where smoking takes place will generally be 40 to 60% as high. In other words, smoke drifting through walls is a major health problem. The PM 2.5 (fine particulates under 2.5 microns) are what cause chronic lung irritation and many of the health problems associated with smoking.

  19. I’d be hacked if someone smoked on a regular basis in my properties. Not because I care about their health, but because I care about the smoke smell that tends to want to be impossible to get out. Plus it leaves yellow tint on the walls, the smell won’t come out, agreed about the burns part… that’s all just damage I have to pay to fix. No thanks! Go smoke in your own house.

    For enforcement, I’d imagine it’d be impossible to enforce a smoke here or there, but if someone is continuously smoking in the house, you will definitely smell it when you visit (you should be visiting occasionally).

    Then, if for nothing else, having it in the lease is just good housekeeping for armoring yourself better to fight off obnoxious tenants if it comes to that.

    • Kevin Perk

      Ali,

      Well said. You should see the apartment I am renovating right now after six plus years of smoking ( I inherited the tenant when I bought the building.)! Ugh!

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  20. From my experience, the 20% of smokers in the population are more likely to be the type of people that rent apartments. That is not true across the board, but if I see 100 applications, at least 80% of them say they are smokers. So by saying “No Smoking”, I would cut down on a large portion of my applicants.

    The second part of that is enforcement. I don’t have the time/patience to babysit my tenants to see if they are not smoking. I would much rather just take a portion of their security deposit if they have damaged the property above “normal wear and tear”.

    • Kevin Perk

      Tom,

      All very valid points. You have to know your market and if most of your market smokes, then the market has spoken.

      Your second point is also well taken. You can have as many rules as you want, enforcing them is another matter.

      We are slowly leaning towards the no smoking policy here. It is too early to tell yet but I will write in the future how how that goes.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  21. Michelle Moore on

    Since our rental pool includes a fairly high percentage of smokers, we do not prohibit it in our lease. However, smokers are informed that they should smoke only outside. If they choose to smoke indoors, then they are told that they will be charged $600 since that is what it will cost us to repaint. So far, tenants are choosing to smoke outdoors. Also, we are noticing that the younger tenants do not smoke anyway. Yay for education!

  22. So far my place has stayed fairly smoke-free except for my first tenants (they broke EVERY rule — Pets! Pitbulls! Drugs! Drug Dealing! Illegal subtenant — and a drug felon to boot!). Anyhow, since then no smoking indoors as far as I can tell. My parents have two smokers, but they do smoke outside, butts in cans on the nice little patio tables that are part of the “smoke on the front porch” ritual for them.
    Kilz on the walls does help (and can be tinted!)

    • Kevin Perk

      Deanna,

      It is always the “first tenants” that are the hardest to deal with. We are so trusting at first!

      Kilz can do wonders like you say, especially if you tint it the color of nicotine. :)

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

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