Landlording & Rental Properties

Opinion: Allowing Smokers in Your Rental is Costly & Just Plain Dumb

Expertise: Landlording & Rental Properties
32 Articles Written

Are you aware of the expenses associated with allowing someone to smoke in your rental? If not, you need to understand that a smoker will cost you at least 10% of your profits due to increased turnover costs and additional vacancy. That is an unscientific number, and I may venture to guess it may be higher.

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Smokers will cost you plenty in a rental.

First, a disclaimer: I am a rabid anti-smoker, and I have never been a smoker. I do not allow smoking in my rentals. If you want to smoke, go live somewhere else. If you think it is your right to smoke in your own home, I agree — but not in my rental unit. Ever. I do allow smoking on the outside, but only after the tenant passes my rigorous background checks. They are not allowed to smoke in any covered area, not even the garage.

To be fair, if I thought it was more profitable to allow smokers, I would actually encourage it. If it was more profitable for me to allow a renter to be a crackhead and to kill baby seals in the bathtub, I would probably allow that, too. But it is not, so I do not allow it.

I want to maximize my profitability and minimize the work it takes to be profitable. Less work and more money in real estate is always a good thing.

The “Old” Days of Smoking

As a kid growing up in a smoking household, I can remember my mother leaving cigarettes burning in the bathroom and her lighting up another in the kitchen. We also lived in a rental. (Note to other landlords: Avoid renters with kids like myself.)

There was always a cigarette burning in our house. No one ever thought about the fire dangers of cigarettes, and smoke detectors were not even invented yet.

Related: Should I Ban Smoking In My Rental Properties?

When I flew on airplanes, anyone could light up, anywhere in the plane. Any restaurant, anywhere in the place was a fair place to light up. My mother, a nurse, was upset when the hospital banned nurses from smoking in the patient’s rooms. Imagine a nurse firing up a heater just before drawing your blood. Of course, they could still light up at the main nurses station, but that was a violation of her “rights.”

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If you would have tried a non-smoking rental in those days, you would be vacant a long time. Many people smoked, and many people had friends who smoked. The smoking friends expected to visit someone and light up inside the house. Smoke lingers well after the last cigarette is put out. I have been in houses a week after anyone had smoked in them and have come out smelling like I just got out of a bar.

Now, the tide has turned. The dangers of secondhand smoking are well known. The fire dangers of unattended cigarettes are real. The extra work and expense of turning a smoking apartment into a place to rentable to a non-smoker is real. You want to go with the trend and have a non-smoking rental to both save money and to have a faster rental turn.

Disadvantages of Smokers in Your Rental

When you are showing a non-smoker an apartment where a smoker lives, you can bet it will be a waste of time. Most quality renters do not smoke. They do not want to live in a place that smells like it has been smoked in. They do not want the smoke to be on their clothes or to continually smell the stale cigarette smoke the air. That is why hotels and car rental agencies have non-smoking rooms and cars.

You will perform many showings to quality renters, only to lose them as soon as they walk in the door. If not for the smoke smell, you could have possibly gotten the apartment rented much earlier. After a few lost prospects, you may decide to settle for a lesser quality renter and suffer the implications of a low-quality renter.

When you have a vacant unit, it will need a full paint job to get the smoke smell out of the air, including the ceilings. You will also need the carpets shampooed. Even if your smoker tenant was a great housekeeper, there is nothing short of a full paint job and carpet shampoo that will get rid of the smells. Even then, it may be difficult. Cabinets and ductwork will also have to be cleaned. Compare this to a minor touch up for a non-smoking apartment.

If you have carpet and are renting to a smoker, you will inevitably get cigarette burns on your carpet. Ashes drop, and rugs melt. You can try to trim the carpet fibers to reduce the visual impact, but it is still more time spent and more damage caused, by a smoker.

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In a multifamily unit, smoke will permeate the walls and affect your other tenants. If any of your other renters are non-smokers, they will soon complain and move out. Smoke will get in the common area, either by leaching under the doors, or as smokers take that last puff as they enter the building. The ground will be littered with cigarette butts, as you will suffer from smokers that "pick them up later."

If you have a renter with a medical marijuana card, you can still require them to go outside to light up. Nothing in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Fair Housing, or any other act requires you to allow smoking in your rentals. It is only your own inability to create and enforce non-smoking rules that will be your largest hindrance.

Related: 5 Tenant Characteristics It’s Wise to Discriminate Against

And if you have a tenant who is late on their rent, yet has enough money to buy cigarettes, that tells you they care more about their own hedonistic habits than they do about your family and financial well-being. Nothing irks me more than someone with enough money to buy cigarettes (or hair color, a manicure, a big screen TV, a new car, a rock concert, traveling vacation, etc.), but not enough money to pay rent.

Making the Transition to Smoke Free

There are plenty of programs available that help you turn your apartments into a non-smoking environment. Start by including non-smoking clauses in your lease.

Tenants who are on a month-to-month lease can be given a 30 day notice. You can set up a date in the future when all smoking is banned in the apartment. If you want to squeeze a bit more profit out of your rental, get rid of the indoor smoking now.

[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to benefit some of the landlords newer to BiggerPockets. Let us know what you think with a comment!]

Do you allow smokers in your rental? What extra expenses has it cost you? What do you remember from the “old” days of smoking?

Please leave a comment below!

Eric is a 55 year old, soon to be former, computer professional. He started several years ago to replace his “work income”, with other alternate streams. He is well on his way to retirement at ag...
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    Cody Farmer from Berthoud, Colorado
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Not to beat a dead horse but I maybe the bending branch addressing Indoor Air Quality and people’s actual lifestyles.. Know your clientele. 1. Most of those drink 2. Most of those evidently 420. AND they are all income levels.. https://constitution.com/aspens-recreational-cannabis-sales-hit-incredible-milestone-2017/ Things that make you go hmm. Protecting children from their parents habits. Balancing indoor/outdoor pressure. Saving waste energy. Geekin out, Happy Motivational-Monday!
    Eric D. Investor from Eagan, Minnesota
    Replied over 2 years ago
    I would not allow any smoking, cannabis, tobacco or meth. If I could figure out a way to make more money allowing smokers, I may change my mind.
    Tyler Ford Real Estate Agent from Tucson, AZ
    Replied over 2 years ago
    I totally agree. It is a non-negotiable for me with my rentals. It always the first question I ask and look for. They smoke it is a BIG FAT NO!
    Eric D.
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Thank you for reading! It can certainly increase your turnover costs, exponentially!
    John Teachout Rental Property Investor from Concord, GA
    Replied over 2 years ago
    We just rented a property that required that the tenants be non-smokers. Not outside smokers, non smokers. It took longer to lease the property but there’s a LOT of carpet in the house and we didn’t want it to smell like smoke. If I purchase a used car, one of the first questions I’ll ask is whether the vehicle was ever smoked in? It is virtually impossible to remove smoke smell from a vehicle. We have refurbed rental properties that had been heavily smoked in and it requires replacing all the flooring, washing all surfaces with TSP twice, oil based Kilz primer on walls and ceiling, thorough cleaning of inside and outside of all closets, cabinets and so forth. We also replaced the HVAC system. People that smoke have no idea of how sensitive non-smokers are to the odor. When riding a motorcycle, it’s easy to tell if a vehicle in front of you is occupied by someone smoking. I feel that people have a right to smoke since it’s not illegal but it’s an obnoxious habit and much less socially acceptable nowadays.
    Eric D. Investor from Eagan, Minnesota
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Thank you for reading! You are 100% correct. Smokers do not realize how bad the habit is. Two coats of oil based Kilz may be over kill, I would use latex.
    John Teachout Rental Property Investor from Concord, GA
    Replied over 2 years ago
    One coat of Kilz. Two coats of color paint. The oil base Kilz is a much better sealer than the latex version. (we usually use the latex Kilz but felt the oil base was warranted in this case.)
    Cindy Larsen Rental Property Investor from Lakewood, WA
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Eric, i completely agree about smoking and have a nonsmoking clause in my lease. just the other day, It came to my attention that I need to modify that clause to include NO VAPING. Some came to look at a duplex I have for rent. While the potential tenant was waiting for her boyfriend to show up, she excused herself to go vape in her car. I looked it up, and vaping also leaves residue on everything. I liked this article about it: https://info-electronic-cigarette.com/what-is-vaping/electronic-cigarette-residue/
    Cindy Larsen Rental Property Investor from Lakewood, WA
    Replied over 2 years ago
    Eric, i completely agree about smoking and have a nonsmoking clause in my lease. just the other day, It came to my attention that I need to modify that clause to include NO VAPING. Some came to look at a duplex I have for rent. While the potential tenant was waiting for her boyfriend to show up, she excused herself to go vape in her car. I looked it up, and vaping also leaves residue on everything. I liked this article about it: https://info-electronic-cigarette.com/what-is-vaping/electronic-cigarette-residue/
    Steve Vaughan Rental Property Investor from East Wenatchee, WA
    Replied about 2 years ago
    Not every smoker I’ve ever had has been a turd, but every turd, evict, cash for keys has been a smoker. It’s a risk profile I no longer tolerate. Thanks for the article!