How to Avoid Renting to Smokers

8 Replies

Turning over a property where a tenant smoked inside the last few months (once she decided she was going to move out). After taking out carpet, scrubbing the nicotine off of the bathroom ceiling and walls, and painting it with BIN primer, I have done a lot of thinking. I do NOT want to rent to any more smokers. Period.

Our lease states that if anyone smokes inside the property that they will forfeit their security deposit and pay for any resulting damages.

Our application used to simply ask- Do you smoke Y/N? Our tenant lied. So now our application says Do you smoke Y/N? If yes, Indoors or Outdoors? - I'm hoping that will help people be more honest.

I have advertised it as a non-smoking property. My husband used to do the showings, but now I will- I have a better nose for sniffing it out. In the screening process, I plan to ask nonchalantly, oh I forgot, do you smoke indoors or outdoors? (like it is assumed that they smoke, so maybe they will be honest)

Any other ideas? I thought about always "forgetting" some non-essential paperwork and running out to their car to hand it to them, maybe try to lean in the window to see what I can see or smell.

Originally posted by @Angie B. :
Turning over a property where a tenant smoked inside the last few months (once she decided she was going to move out). After taking out carpet, scrubbing the nicotine off of the bathroom ceiling and walls, and painting it with BIN primer, I have done a lot of thinking. I do NOT want to rent to any more smokers. Period.

Our lease states that if anyone smokes inside the property that they will forfeit their security deposit and pay for any resulting damages.

Our application used to simply ask- Do you smoke Y/N? Our tenant lied. So now our application says Do you smoke Y/N? If yes, Indoors or Outdoors? - I'm hoping that will help people be more honest.

I have advertised it as a non-smoking property. My husband used to do the showings, but now I will- I have a better nose for sniffing it out. In the screening process, I plan to ask nonchalantly, oh I forgot, do you smoke indoors or outdoors? (like it is assumed that they smoke, so maybe they will be honest)

Any other ideas? I thought about always "forgetting" some non-essential paperwork and running out to their car to hand it to them, maybe try to lean in the window to see what I can see or smell.

You can never guarantee that they are lying. A few tips:

- Look at their pockets for cigarettes or lighters. I was advertising a property once that was non-smoking. A woman was applying and kept her hand in her pocket. I happened to notice that she was trying to cover up a pack of cigarettes.

- Try to hand them something or stand somewhat close enough where you can smell if someone smokes. Some people, you can tell within 5 feet of them and those people are obvious.

- When you call the prior landlord ask if the tenant smokes.

- Check out their Facebook page to see if there is any mention of them smoking.

We have a policy not to rent to smokers as well. Of course they will lie just like they do on their health insurance enrollment forms. We simply have as one of our rules that smoking is not allowed on the premises and is subject for termination of the lease. We send our HVAC guy out 2x per year to "change filters" and we get recon on the condition of the house, including the smell.

We have a no-smoking policy. No smoking anywhere on the premises, inside or out. We charge the tenant a $50 fee if we catch a tenant or their invitee smoking on the premises and serve a Notice to Conform. In our advertising we make it clear that we do not rent to smokers. During our pre-screening interview we ask: How many people will be living in the unit? Do any of them smoke? If yes, how many cigarettes a day? We have never had a smoker who didn't at some point smoke in the unit or on the premises. So it is a deal breaker for me. Smokers are not a protected class.

On the phone I can often detect the "smoker voice." During the background check, I ask the former landlord and personal references about the prospective tenant's smoking habits. When going over the rental agreement at move-in I emphasize our non-smoking premises rule and the reasons for it. My sniffer is better than my husband's. So I can detect cigarette, cigar, and pot on clothing, in cars, and in apartments and houses.

I bought cling stickers for the windows near the front doors that say "Smoke Free Premises - Thank you for not smoking." When doing our inspections I look for cigarette butts in the parking spaces, outside the residence doors and patios, in the fireplace, and in the floor vent ductwork. When we change the furnace filter every three months, I look at color of the filter. If the filter has a yellow tinge, it is likely nicotine. I take a wet wipe and wipe part of the interior walls and mini-blinds, if it wipes off yellow, it is likely nicotine. If the tenant is burning incense or scented candles or has sprayed air freshener just before inspection, it is a red flag.

Even with all of this, a smoker sometimes gets through the net. Even if a smoker smokes only away from the premises, the cigarette smell gets on their clothing and their clothing puts an odor in the closets and other spaces in the unit. So I recently added one more question during my interview, "How do you feel about smokers?" This has proven quite revealing. It's sorta like politics, people usually have a strong opinion about this. Since we also have a no-pet policy, I now use a similar question about pets. After the question "Do you have any pets?" I ask, "How do you feel about dogs, cats and other pets?" I try to put people at ease during the interview. People share quite a bit when their guard is down. :-)

smokers are not a protected class. You can discriminate against them until your heart's content. I once ran an ad that basically stated, "filthy smokers not welcome. Take your disgusting habit somewhere else."

I got quite a few angry emails from... Filthy smokers, but I filled up my apartment building with clean air breathers.

Angie, all good answers here, just wanted to bring up to be very careful about any lease clause stating forfeiture of deposit as many states have laws stating they are not enforceable and tenant has right to sue, sometimes for 3 x damages. In the states I am involved in, the only thing you can do with security deposit is actual listed damages and prepare to prove it with receipts to contractors. I just had a smoker in my non-smoking house, and we got the painter, cleaners, and carpet cleaner to separately list the actual extra charges involved versus normal wear and tear so we could deduct them from the deposit. If you do the work yourself, it's very difficult to prove any extra damages, so when we walk in and smell smoke, we hire out the work as I refuse to clean up someone else's smoke stench for free.

@Dawn Anastasi

Great tips Dawn- and thank you for my DUH moment- ask the previous landlord if they smoke!!

@Lynn M.

Thanks for the warning- after doing some research, I believe our state would not enforce that clause as well- we will change it for the future. We were planning on charging per hour for our own labor- I state that in the move-out instructions but will also add it to our lease for the future. We have also hired some help, so of course we will add those costs plus materials. There were a lot of other damaged and missing things as well, and her deposit wasn't much (I will also increase security deposits in the future), so I doubt there will be anything left anyway.

My lease also states that inside smoking will result in forfeiture of the security deposit. My attorney wrote the lease. I ask the tenant on the first phone call if they smoke, and that the policy is outside only. All butts must be disposed of properly, not thrown off the terrace. So far we've not had any problems with smokers, and we have had very few of them.

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