Would you take a smoker who promises to quit?

44 Replies

We just closed on a very nice home and are asking a higher rent for it. It's outside of the summer months when this house would typically rent and we have been struggling to find tenants. We have two young men who are our only candidates at this point, and one of them is a construction worker who smokes. I have been very clear that there is no smoking on or near the premises of our house, not even outside, and surprisingly they have agreed to follow this rule and quit smoking as they really like the house. What should I do? Quitting smoking is very hard to do, and not something everyone is able to accomplish. I hope to find a better candidate before they send me all of their application paperwork so I will have a legit reason to tell them we found someone else first, but that may not happen. I know desperation is never a good reason to find a tenant, but several other REI actions hinge upon us getting this home rented. We have listed it everywhere possible and have gone as low on the rent as we can. I thought about implementing a fine system where if I smell smoke or see a cigarette butt, then they get a $50 fine. Or maybe a larger security deposit? What would you do?

How long has it been up for rent?

Why do you not allow outdoor smoking? If it's because you're worried about butts all over the ground, just implement a fee that will be treated as "additional rent" for each butt you find on the property.

Yes, smoking is typically hard to quit. Many do succeed...some even cold-turkey. Many also quit for a while and then go right back.

I would add a penalty into the lease, kind of like a service call for stupid stuff. Honestly, you will never stop someone from smoking outside the property if that's what they choose to do, but as long as they clean up after themselves then it shouldn't be the end of the world. I'd tell them that you'll make monthly inspections of the property and the fines will be assessed accordingly. 

Hi Shannon

Good to hear it is all moving along. Personally I wouldn't sweat the small stuff. If everything else about them works by the numbers, I'd add "no smoking on the property" to the lease and be done with it. Trying to cash in on a $50 fine may turn out to be a whole lot more trouble than it is worth. You may find yourself sneaking around and then arguments about when you can come on the property and courts and just a whole mess over a cigarette butt. Unless you plan on watching them like a hawk, if they want one, they are going to smoke (inside or out). I would say either rent to them and inspect the property when they leave and if there are problems recoup them with security deposit or don't risk it and deny their app. Judge the risk and run those numbers as opposed to trying to enforce a rule.

Just my thoughts and Good luck!

This is always a touchy situation. There have been Heroin addicts that say cigarettes are harder to quit than smack, but then there is people like my old boss who would smoke a pack a day consistently then just decide 1 day to quit for 3-6 months like it was nothing.

What I will say is that I think your policy is too strict for someone who is desperate to rent, it would be fine if you had candidates beating down your doors to get this place but that does not seem to be the case. I think as long as people agree to not smoke inside and clean up the cigarettes after themselves then there should be no issue.

This is really a personal preference.

Thanks @Matt Motil and @Nicole W. for your advice! My concern was that I have known people who only smoked outside but their clothes, car, and in turn the house eventually had somewhat of an odor to it. The house has just been repainted and we don't want to have to do that again for a while. 

I would never accept a tenant on the promise that they will "quit" smoking without considerable skin in the game. Does your state allow a 2-3x security deposit? I do allow pets but I ask for an extra one months securtiy deposit. This allows me to know that they have skin in the game.

I personally don't ask people if they smoke. I do make it very clear there is no smoking in my houses or on my property. 

Good luck!

@Shannon Sadik I understand your house has just been repainted and looking nice, but don't get attached. Remember that it is a rental and not that it will get beat up, but it will be....lived in.

Besides, I think interior paint being affected by lingering odor from the smoker while he was smoking outdoors is a bit of a stretch. And if the house doesn't smell like old smoke that made it's way inside, it could smell like some other bad odor. You just never know! :-)

Sorry to interject again but having been a smoker for a decade now the inside of my house never smells like smoke and I really only do if im smoking in a confined space or around a bunch of other smokers.

Why not negotiate a higher rent for 6 months - 1 year with a verbal commitment to lower the rent after they prove they are non-smokers?  As long as you are not furnishing the rental, cigarette smoke remediation is not hard to get rid of.  Especially if you encourage any smoking to be done in the garage or outside.  

Micromanaging the situation will drive you crazy.  


First of all, I would definitely put some type of no smoking 🚭 clause in the contract. Second, I hate the smell of cigarettes but we're all different and we all have our own vices. Unfortunately, this construction 👷 🚬 worker has a sadly stinky one. If I were you, I would try and put myself in his shoes. Realize, you're actually helping him improve his life. I am willing to bet that if you give him half a chance without being too hard on him. You and him will both learn something new and valuable from each other.

warning: If he quits for a while and maybe one day you smell it on him but otherwise he's making payments on time. He's taking care of the place, warn him and give him a chance.

Great tenants come in all packages...and smells 👃 ---Just change his to a pleasant smell for a win win situation.

Thanks everyone for your feedback. You have made me feel much more comfortable and I think we will probably ask for a slightly larger security deposit just for my own peace of mind, and go from there! 

I am going to go against the flow here, and say if you want your property to be non-smoking in the future don't rent to this person.

The odds are EXTREMELY high that they will not quit smoking. And the odds are even higher that, if they are smoking, they will smoke in  your house. You're in Rochester NY. Winter is coming. Are they really going to bundle up and go for a stroll around the block when they want a cigarette? No. They'll want to sit and watch TV, drink a beer, and have "just one" inside --- because you'll never notice, right? They think this because they themselves wouldn't notice, because smokers don't smell smoke. They think their house, their car, their clothes, all smell fine. 

I've dealt with this in a multifamily situation where I was trying to transition to a non-smoking building but had a few inherited tenants who smoked. It was a mess

Good point about winter. But all of this is what-ifs...even if there is a good chance. 

What type of neighborhood is this? And how long has it been vacant?

From the sounds of it, she has been trying to find a tenant for a while. She's not getting lots of applicants. She's losing money.

It's an A neighborhood and the house has been vacant since we closed on Sept 16, so just over 3 weeks ago. That isn't that long considering the time of year and the price we are asking, but as I mentioned, several other deals, including a refi, and another closing at the end of the month, hinge upon bank approval with a certain amount of rent on this property to even out my DTI. It's a tough spot to be in, and not one I would recommend, but it is what it is. We got the house with no money down, so can't really complain.

Finally! Something I speak about on BP that I'm an expert on! I work in tobacco cessation:)If you  are going to rent to him, don't do it based on him saying he's going to quit. It takes the average person 11 tries to be quit for good. People that quit cold turkey are less likely to be quit long term...95% are back to smoking after a year. 

I had a guy who didn't tell me he smoked.  It got so bad the tenant on the other side (side by side duplex) complained about the stentch coming into her place through the attic.  He left.  It took two coats of a Zinzner (sp?) to get rid of the smell.  Then two coats of primer and two coats of paint.  Oh, I forgot to mention I had to have the attic aired with fans.  Took a long time for the insullation to lose the smell.    Not worth it.  But there's really nothing you can do about them lighting up outside.  No matter what they say.  A guest can't have a smoke after dinner?  I don't think so. 

What if they lied and told you that they didn't smoke? What's the difference?

We are strict with our tenants smoking in the home and are even stricter with the damage deposit if the home smells like smoke when they move out. We do inspections of the home and warn them and document it if the home smells like smoke. Really, there is no way of preventing them from smoking, getting pets, or moving more people in. You can react once it happens, if you find out.

I would probably rent to them based on their honesty (I have rented to several tenants that smoked) but I let these types of tenants know that I have used thousands of dollars worth of tenants damage deposit to remove the smoke odors that they created. We also have very strong language in the lease about smoking in the home (I don't think it would hold up in court) and this acts as another deterrent.

Short answer for me is NO.  I have had to remediate 6 places where they promised to smoke outside. All of them awful, exhausting and expensive.

Reason 2  - they attract shade while they are smoking outside.  The backpack walker wandering by... wants a smoke or needs a light... and oh - they also have products.  It breeds the underbelly stuff we all want to avoid.

Reason 3- they associate with their own kind.  What kind of GF and other buddies coming over can you expect? Two can quickly turn into 4, which becomes 12 on weekends.

Reason 4 - not every smoker I've had has been a turd, but EVERY turd has been a smoker.  My only 3 full evictions, my 2 cash for keys or my 4 please just leave and I'll forgive the back-rent types have been smokers.  I would rather have a vacant property.  I know it's tough sometimes to be patient,  but I bet your next quality applicant is just around the corner if you're priced right @Shannon Sadik

@Shannon Sadik

I would not rent to someone based on a promise of any kind. That said, them smoking outside the property isn't going to change the inside of it unless they're just blowing all the smoke right into a window. If you believe that then you would need to add clauses that also require laundry to be done within X time period, garbage bags to be swapped out every X time period, etc. Treating the property well is a must always and I don't allow smoking in any of mine (very strong clause in the lease) but at the same time you have to draw the line between landlord and parent (not always a clear one). I was a smoker for many years, but also HATED the smell. I forced myself to smoke outside, even in winter, and even non-smokers could not tell because the smoke stayed outside.

Best of luck. It sounds like you have some nice properties in nice neighborhoods. Enjoy!

We just have the rule that they can't smoke inside. But as a former smoker who tried to quit about a hundred times before finally succeeding (anyone interested in quitting by the way, check out Allen Carr's book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, it's quite literally a life saver), if your rule is to not allow smokers, the odds he will quit on this attempt are remarkably low (unless you give him that book maybe).

Originally posted by @Steve Vaughan :
Reason 4 - not every smoker I've had has been a turd, but EVERY turd has been a smoker.  My only 3 full evictions, my 2 cash for keys or my 4 please just leave and I'll forgive the back-rent types have been smokers. 

 Very interesting. I can see where you are coming from. Something to think about.

@Shannon Sadik There is a product that we use, it is called Kilz, we use them even for fire damaged room, factor those out and the painting expense and embed them in your contract. The construction worker should know how much it will cost. There are laws pertaining to smoking outside, as others point it out, there are measures for this, like only backyard smoking and no cigarette butts on the ground, the weekly gardener should be able to get take care of this though, put all the fines together and in order. Larger security deposit is the only way to secure this, but the fines could be unlimited on the contract.  Worst case scenario, small claims court to collect the fines, or collection agency.