Possible Smoking in Unit

6 Replies

Hey All,
I've approached a potential problem and I was hoping for some feedback from anyone who has been there before.

I recently purchased a MFH and inherited a first floor tenant. I purchased the property from an owner who managed the property from afar and didn't have much oversight as to the property. My realtor informed me that the downstairs tenant, whom I inherited, had a history of smoking in the unit. I clearly pointed out in the lease and affirmed to the tenant that smoking is not allowed.

A new upstairs tenant moved in and has been complaining that she smells smoke from the downstairs tenant. When I ask the downstairs tenant she denies smoking in the unit, and claims it might be her candles we are smelling.

What course of action do I have? I have already verbally and in writing reminded the tenants of the smoking policy. Any ideas?

In Illinois we would serve a 10 day notice. This is a breach of contract and it is cause for eviction.
We are actually dealing with this situation right now and it has not been enjoyable.

The chance these folks actually quit smoking is so very slim. Keep the good tenant upstairs and request a voluntary surrender or serve a breach of contract notice and get them out. They will continue to be a problem. Smoking is a 'cancer' to a Multi Family building.

Most lease are written so the owner or property manager can inspect the property. You can inspect the property and look for evidence of smoking. 

You can serve a notice but if you don't have any real evidence then you could have a problem. Also, what if the upstairs neighbor is just causing problems because they don't like the other tenant. Then you will have a problem.

If it is nicotine, it will make things yellow. When I suspect smoking in a unit, I do a "maintenance inspection". During the inspection I change the furnace filter. If there has been smoking in the unit, there will be proof of it there.... a dingy yellow color compared to other units whose filters show a dingy grey. Also, I take a disinfectant wipe and I wipe around door frames and window frames and of walls/ceilings that may collect smoke, such as a hallway. If the wipe shows the tell-tale yellow I've more evidence. Most will fess up at this point.

Most smokers can not smell the smoke and are baffled that non-smokers actually do spot it so easily. They often will try to cover up the odor with air fresheners and scented candles. If I ask them if anyone has been smoking on the premises (we don't allow smoking inside or outside) they will most likely deny it. Instead, I tell them I smell cigarette smoke and I will wait for their reaction (non-verbal as well as what they might say) and I'll usually see a response that confirms my suspicion. 

I've found the direct approach works at this point.... "You know and I know there has been smoking inside the apartment. These premises are designated smoke-free and this is a violation of the terms of the rental agreement. There is a $50 fee for breaking the no-smoking policy, which you will need to pay at this time." I serve them a 10-day Notice to Comply and document the incident in their tenant file. I send them an invoice for the fee I am charging. If it becomes a problem again, we start talking about a move-out plan.

Not sure the rent rates in this case, so this scenario may not be justified, but what if you installed a location for the tenant to smoke outside such as an awning and bench.  It may entice them to use it instead, especially is this is a multifamily with multiple potential smokers.  Avoids eviction process, and makes tenant feel welcomed in spite of their habit.  (If this is a non-trouble-making, pay on time, worth keeping type of tenant.)