Broken Hip Tenant w/ Smoking Problem

16 Replies

Hey BP nation. My wife and I bought our first property, a 4-plex, almost a year ago so we are still pretty green as for as land-lording goes. 

We have a tenant who we inherited from the previous owner that has a serious smoking problem. The tenant is a really nice older lady that pays on time and apart from the smoking issue is a fairly good tenant. Her lease clearly states that smoking is not allowed in the unit or common areas. We are owner occupying the unit directly above hers so we know exactly when she is smoking inside the apartment. We had problems during the winter and complaints from other tenants because she was clearly smoking inside due to the cold. We took a hard stance that she would be fined next time it was an issue and the problem stopped. This very well could have been caused by the warmth of spring, but gave us a couple months release from the smoke.

About 3 weeks ago this tenant fell in her apartment and broke her hip. She returned to the apartment about a week ago following surgery and in poor condition. In my opinion she should be in an assisted living center due to her recent surgery and overall extremely poor health. She has chosen her sister as an assisted caretaker but I don't think she is around very often. The last week has been almost unbearable. The smoke smell is extremely strong in our apartment and we are starting to get complaints from the next door unit. What would you do in this situation? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

My thoughts: I was thinking my next course of action would be to go ahead and fine her $50 (per her lease) and open up communication about relocation. Again she is a really nice lady and hasn't caused other issues so I feel like my best course of action is to handle the situation with as much civility as possible. She really should be living in a assisted care type situation or at least somewhere where smoking is allowed. This would be best for all parties. I was also thinking of offering to pay for the moving truck and assist with her move. I don't know if this is a good way to handle the situation, so if I am being dumb let me have it! 

Is she on a month to month lease? or Longer?

As heartless as it sounds the best thing you could do for your business is to evict or just not renew the lease.  This sounds like it also might be the best thing for her as well.  

Try to make it a win win if you can, but if it is going to be a win lose situation. make sure your not the one losing.  Again this sounds heartless but its what needs to happen. In My Opinion... 

If you are not a smoker and your other tenants are not smokers then it can be a big problem.

If you get this lady to leave plan on de-greasing the ceilings, walls, ductwork etc. to get the film of smoke out.

Either way it sounds like you are going to be spending a lot of money in the future so plan for it now. You need to research landlord tenant laws and see how long to get her out and if you are in a pro-tenant or landlord state. In a pro-tenant state you could be completely in the right and the judge favors the tenant when it goes to court.

I know tenants say they will not smoke and when it is warm they do it outside usually but when it gets cold they crack doors and windows to smoke. The problem is it goes through the duct systems for other units. You might have tenants with allergic or asthma problems it severely affects. There is a fire risk as well.

Nicotine is a drug and now that the hip is being recovered from and sitting there the cigarettes will light one right after the other. It is also a fire hazard. If a fire were to break out and you made an insurance claim and you knowingly knew of a tenant smoking and did not evict you will be out of luck. 

Tenants also do not like other tenants cooking very strong foods all the time like curry etc. as it wafts through to the other units. That would fall under "noxious odors".

Paying her to relocate might be best and a signing that lease is terminated with the agreement and as soon as you have the keys when the relocation happens you change the locks for all entry doors immediately.

No legal advice given.   

I haven't been  a landlord before (starting in 2 weeks), but as a business owner, sometimes you just have to decide what's best for you and do it. As long as she's been given plenty of opportunity; then it's on her. If she didn't have much stuff, personally, I would pay for a mover, but I'm also a little too empathetic. Bottom line is, it's you or her, and your guilt will kill your business.

Hi Holden,

I would proceed with fining her, you have to follow through, but also look for a mutually beneficial way out for both of you.  She knows the rule, but perhaps it is too difficult to get outside to smoke, in which case she needs to go somewhere that it won't be an issue.  I am guessing the real reason she isn't in a rehab facility is that they likely won't allow her to smoke there.


I would definitely fine her as you know it is going on and you need to be fair to all tenants.  If she is restricted to her apartment due to the hip you may also need to acknowledge this poses a hardship for her and you are aware that it does but you really need to have consistent rules that benefit everyone.   I would ask her how she plans to address and express your willingness to work with her should she wish to leave to solve the issue. I would not start by offering to pay for the move even though in the end that is a good solution. It is important to find out where she is before you suggest your ideas.   You may get more information this way.  If a family member is pushing to have her move in with them or she has somewhere to go but is worried about the lease that can help you find a win-win solution.

@Joshua D.

Thanks for responding! She actually is on a MTM lease currently. We renewed her lease in the winter to go through till the summer. We were hoping she would move out on her own, but it didn't look like she was planning on it. Then the broken hip happened. Technically all we need to do is give her 30 day notice that the lease will not be renewed.

I agree that the situation cannot work in the long term and we need to take a hard line now. To move the process along I am willing to do all I can to help her move to a better situation.

@Joel Owens

Great insights! Thank you so much for responding.

We have been planning on the high expense of turning her unit. We renovated two of the other units over the last 8 months, but her unit will be a headache I am sure. This is probably the main reason we were willing to put up with some issues for the time being while we replenished some capital, but obviously this situation is not working and will only get worse when the winter comes again. Thanks for the advice!

@Matthew Maggy

Thank you for your response! Good luck as you start your journey as a landlord in a few weeks.

As I mentioned in an earlier reply, the main reason we have put up with the smoke issue for this long is because we have been hoping to hold off on the high expense it will be to turn her unit. We are in a position now that it will be in everyone's best interest for her to move and that is how it has to be. I am well aware that this is business and should be handled that way. Hopefully we can remove the tenant in the most civil and cost effective manner possible.

Fining her won't get the smoke smell and damage out of the apartment- it will be very costly in time and money to do that. I think you are spinning your wheels considering a $50. That being said, you have a heart and it's clouding your judgement. I have the same problem, so I get it and appreciate that you have concern for your tenant. However- the smoke isn't just bothering you, it's bothering your other tenants (even if they haven't told you). You could be in trouble with them if your building was rented to them under the agreement that it is a smoke free property- obviously it is not. 

Being a softie too, here is what I would suggest: have a heart to heart with your tenant. Tell her that the smoking is a deal breaker and you don't want HER to put you in a position where she must be evicted. Make it clear that she has the power in the situation, all you are doing is enforcing the lease that she has already agreed to. Talk to her family and let them know the situation- they may be able to encourage her. 

If she refuses to stop smoking in your property, I would call the local housing authority and find a nearby property that does allow smoking. Help her apply and get a new apartment over there. You will need thousands of dollars to slightly conceal the smoke smell. Seriously, when someone smokes in an apartment you may need to replace EVERYTHING. There are lots of estimates out there:

If it motivates you at all- 20% of lung cancer diagnosis are to non-smokers who are exposed to second hand smoke at home or at work. Evicting her or getting her to quit will protect the health of yourself, your wife and your other tenants. 

Finally- most states have free smoking cessation benefits throught their health departments. Anything from free classess and couselling to free patches. If she wants to quit, you could get her some info on the benefits available. 

@Holden Latimer , the woman isn't going to quit smoking.  That's a given.  And with a broken hip, she's not going outside to smoke.  The solution is to convince her to use those vaping gizmos.  

She'll resist at first.  Simply explain to her that she has three choices.  1) Stop smoking.  2) Move out in 30 days.  3) Start vaping.

Meet with her to discuss this face to face.  Show her the 30-day notice if she resists and say you're delivering it at that moment.  If she agrees to stop smoking but you later smell smoke, deliver the 30-day notice in person.

@Randy E.'s suggestion of the e-cig option is a good idea. That way you don't have to be the bearer of an ultimatum. See if she will try that option first.

However... my experience however is that people who want to smoke will smoke. The e-cig delivers a similar physical experience and, of course nicotine. But it seems a serious smoker will actually miss the stink and the smoke and the dirt, lol! So I would guess this option would at best buy you, and her, some time.

Enforce your rules or you will be walked all over. You got into the landlording business to make money, it is a business not a charity. Smoking is not permitted. Yes, it sounds harsh, but she knows the rules and is choosing to disobey them. What if she chose to not pay rent? Have rules, enforce them, and your problems subside. they don't necessarily go away, but when you don't enforce rules for one, you could be accused of discrimination from others. Cover your backside...

Document everything and enforce your lease. If your lease says no smoking - serve a lease violation.

Most landlords have a decent lease, but get into trouble because they fail to enforce it.

I agree with you: be civil, but enforce the lease and attach the fee. If her lease is up, you may want to consider ending the tenancy.

I wouldn't fine, I would go right to a notice to vacate.  You're ending her lease and she needs to get out.  Tell her you're going to be rehabbing the unit and you need it vacant.

Smoking is very negative to the healing process (blood circulation, clotting etc) and if this lady is older, her immune system while smoking will be significantly impacted...she'll be inside longer to recover even during the warm times...Look at your business and focus there.  in the end, her not wanting to stop smoking is the biggest disregard to herself...let alone you.  i am an ex smoker and yes, when i smoked it was about me!  Boo on that!

Thanks for all the responses! Wanted to provide and update for those interested. 

I dropped off two notices today: 1) 3-Day Comply or Vacate and 2) 30-Day Lease Termination. This should allows us to start the eviction process this week if the tenant continues to smoke in the unit. I decided that cancelling the lease was our best option since the tenant quitting smoking is a long shot and not something we are willing to bank on. 

She was obviously upset about it, but I tried to help her see that it would be in everyone's best interest. I am hoping that we can get her moved without an eviction, but I am willing to go that route if she does not comply with the notices we delivered today. I will likely provide an update in the coming months. May be helpful to also outline how the renovation goes on her unit. We have seen good rent increases from the other two units we have renovated and I would expect we see a good bump here as well.

Thanks again!

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