Long-term consequences of allowing a smoking tenant

20 Replies

Hello everyone,

I own a one bedroom condo in a desirable neighborhood & I will be leasing my unit very soon. I already had an interested prospective tenant view the property & he's quite interested.

He has a solid well paying job, has offered to pay 6 month's in advance & seems like an overall good possible tenant. The only downside is he smokes cigs but assured me he wouldn't smoke in the house. I have a balcony which he could use although I have concerns.

Even if I include a non-smoking in the house clause in the lease he could still smoke in the unit. Also, the smell disgusts me & it lingers everywhere, so even if he smoked outside the smell would be on his clothes which would transfer to the house/walls etc. I think over time the smell would build up in the house, regardless.

I have never leased out my unit before so I would enjoy hearing your experiences in similar situations, as well as your opinion & the downside of allowing a smoker in the unit, even if he smokes outside.

thank you!

@Lara Nicole
Have you ever had to clean smoke from walls and carpet? Carpet gets replaced and walls are not fun. The nicotine gets onto the walls and creates a film on it. I once flipped a house that had a long term smoker and we literally had to wash the walls down with a chemical. When you sprayed the chemical on the wall, it literally dripped like it was caramel.

This is an extreme case but gives you a good example of what could happen. I don't allow smoking in any of my units. It's not worth it.

Hi Shaun,

Thanks for your reply. Yes as I mentioned I would never allow smoking in my unit, although he assured me he would smoke outside only.

Even if I include a non-smoking in the house clause in the lease he could still smoke in the unit. Also, the smell lingers everywhere, so even if he smoked outside the smell would be on his clothes which would transfer to the house/walls etc. I think over time the smell would build up in the house, regardless.

My concern is allowing a smoker as a tenant who smokes only outside.

@Lara Nicole The first property we bought was owned by a couple that smoked in the house for 60 years.  I thought we'd be able to clean everything up (1200 sf) in less than a week.  It took the two of us at least 3 weeks to scrub the walls and ceilings clean with Trisodium Phosphate.  As @Shaun Palmer mentioned, the buckets of water/cleaner turned brown quickly.  We then primed all the walls and ceiling with Kilz complete to seal any remaining stains.  The Kilz complete smell was almost worse than the nicotine.  The chemical saturated our clothing and any fabric tool bags we took to the property to do work.

We will never allow smoking in our properties after that experience.

So as a potential future landlord I wouldn't allow it because as everyone above seems to agree on, the risk isn't worth the reward.  That said, I have a good friend who smokes and when I visited him his apartment didn't smell like cigarettes at all and he always smoked on the balcony.  Of course on the other hand just because someone says that they won't do something doesn't mean that they actually won't do it.

This sounds like a nice tenant, but if your unit is in a truly desirable area then I'm sure you won't have any problem finding a tenant with just as good qualities that doesn't smoke.  Also as a side note I've read that you should typically be wary when someone is offering to pay a massive portion of the rent ahead of time as not many people would do that unless they had a specific reason.

Smoking inside is definitely a deal breaker. My experience is that most smokers these days smoke outside, and residual smoke on their clothes has no effect on the unit. I don't like smoking but I don't share the opinion that all smokers are obnoxious ******** that won't respect your property. 

Have a no smoking inside the unit policy, in your lease, and if it is violated you remediate with the deposit.

The house I am working on now had a smoking family in it. They only smoked outside and never in the house. Only issue I had was they left cigarette butts all over the back yard.  I do not allow smoking in any rentals because as other have mentioned hard to clean and get rid of that smell. 

The problem I see is that smokers swear they won't smoke inside, but they do. My co-worker smokes and I can smell it on her everyday, but it has not transferred to me or our office.  I could see smoke getting in through windows and doors. 

I don't allow smoking or vaping.  Vaping causes a slight odor and film too.

@Lara Nicole - I bought a foreclosure that reeked of smoke over 5 years ago. I spent $350 on whole house carpet cleaning and $3000-4000 on KILZ odor stain blocker and newly sprayed paint throughout. The main floor was hardwood and tile and I think that's where they smoked. I am really sensitive to smoke and don't remember it after that. I've had some people who've smoked outside and some who have used hookahs. The hookahs are always a disaster because they spill on the carpet. I don't allow any smoking within like 20 feet on my house. I think the smoking damage was over a 2-3 year period.

All smokers are liars when it comes to a promise to only smoke outside. If you believe any smoker when they tell you that you are in th wrong business.

If you have a no smoking clause you never rent to smokers, no exceptions.

If you want to rent to a smoker do not accept any rent payments in advance, that is clearly a bribe to confuse novice landlords. Offer him a M2M lease and tell him you will be inspecting to insure there is no smoke smell in the unit and will non renew if you find there is.

Trust when I say he will not take the unit.

Instead of taking six months' advance rent, why not take a very hefty security deposit instead (you'd account for it in much the same way, and it would serve the same purpose with regards to a hedge against unpaid rent), and add a strongly worded addendum to the lease that says if any evidence of smoking inside is discovered, the tenant loses it all?

I agree that smoking is a disgusting habit, and remediation is a pain. But I generally don't have a problem with people smoking outside. I tell them flat out "If you smoke in the house, you lose your security deposit".

That being said, smokers are not a protected class, so if you have other prospects, you can deny the smoker without repercussion.

I think it’s completely reasonable to not allow smoking inside your property. As far as a smoker who only smokes outside - you have to make a call in regard to what you’re going to stress about. What if the prospective tenant doesn’t tell you? How would you even know until it’s too late? It seems like you have this issue because the tenant was honest and upfront with you.

Not all smokers are dirty pigs that are going to lie about smoking outside only, then get into your property and proceed to smoke a carton of cigarettes when they’re taking a bubble bath, using only the tub’s soap dish as an ash tray.

I would suggest keeping your policy simple and straightforward - no smoking. Protect yourself with your security deposit and damage clauses from there.

I am sounding like a jerk here, but it is hard to state what I am about to state and sound kind and gentle...smoking is smoking.  If it is outside, it is still smoking.  The reason we don't allow smoking, of any kind, on our PROPERTY is because while the cigarette, cigar, pipe, joint, etc. is burning, it can still release an odor, cause things to burn and leave a butt or tobacco behind when it is done and thrown away.  Does it matter less to you to have your balconies burnt or reeking compared to the interior of the unit?  Is there anyone living below the balcony?  Do you have anything protecting them from ashes, butts, etc., falling down to their unit while this guy is innocently smoking on his balcony?

I don't care how good a tenant this guy is, if he is a smoker, he shouldn't be good enough to live in one of your buildings.  

Start fresh with someone who is not a smoker.  

@Lara Nicole

So here's how it was: imagine a one-bedroom apartment in Athens, Greece. Imagine the young, teenage owner with no experience in real estate lived in another part of the city and rented out the apartment with the help of her father. Imagine a seamstress who took in work lived in that apartment, and that she spent 8-12 hours a day in the bedroom working, smoking two packs of Greek cigarettes a day, for eight years.

When the walls and ceilings got covered with nicotine filth, who should the tenant call but the landlord. She had two guys she knew who could paint it up quickly with this cheap paint they had lying by. The tenant would pay them. All she needed was the landlord's approval. So she got it from the teenage landlord who didn't know better. And the two guys came in with this watermelon-colored paint and painted it up quickly.

Four more years passed. 12 years of smoking all those cigarettes all those hours in that little bedroom. The seamstress finally up and left. The landlord found someone to rent the place to, an old lady who promised to be there only a year. The old lady moved in, and complained about the state of the room. And it turned out the old lady had another two guys standing by who would paint the whole apartment for peanuts in two days. It was cheap. The landlord said yes. Beige paint went on in two days.

Two more years passed, and the old lady decided to leave. The landlord decided to move in herself. So in she came, a attractive young woman, now all grown up. And guess who lived in the apartment next door? Me.

Yes, I had a relationship with the girl next door. And ultimately, her apartment destroyed our young and stupid love.

Because when I got in there, the beige paint had bulged and cracked all over the walls. The stink of nicotine was everywhere. It was worst in the bedroom, so I started there. I took my trusty scraper and spray bottle, wet down the latex beige paint, swiped at it with my scraper, AND IT CAME OFF IN A CONTINUOUS STRIP IN MY HANDS, revealing the nicotine streaks and watermelon-colored paint underneath.

I removed every bit of the latex paint on the bedroom just like that, peeling it off in long strips almost like it was cheap wallpaper. You see, the watermelon paint underneath was not actually paint, it was calcimine, a mix of chalk dust and glue that hasn't been used to quickly cover sooty interior areas in the USA since the 19th century, but make it through the 20th in Greece for cheap applications by con artists. TSP was not available as a residential cleaning agent in Greece, so I made due with soap, all-purpose cleaners, laundry detergent, and scouring pads. It took me weeks to get the nicotine stains off the wall. And then I had to soak and chip and scrape the thick layer of the calcimine off. And then there were MORE nicotine stains under that adhering to the original oil- based paint on those masonry walls.

I didn't have a respirator there. I had no gloves. I didn't understand what that concentrated level of years of nicotine residue could do to me back in those days. I was sick for days. At times I would get dizzy and have to sit down. And after I sat down, I REALLY wanted to sleep. The job took a week of my spare time. I couldn't scrape at night or the neighbors would complain, and I worked all day, so I had limited time per day to devote to cleaning calcimine and nicotine residue off those walls. My girlfriend, completely oblivious to the fact that this was ultimately the result of her bad judgment in the past, nagged and nagged and nagged me to finish up, just finish up and stop playing around!

But I finally got it all off, and rolled on a coat of oil-based "styrene and acrylic resins copolymer" primer called Monox that stinks worse than Kilz Original. The VOC content of this primer in the version sold today is currently 349 grams per liter. It's likely that back...what, fifteen years ago, it was up in the 500s both for Kilz and for Monox. After the first coat of Monox, I repaired the wall with acrylic-modified concrete stucco, and then the second and third coats of Monox went on. Then I could finally paint with a quality latex paint.

Listen to an old, bitter man and don't let this happen to you. Keep an eye on that smoking tenant who promises he'll always smoke outside. Run regular inspection visits. Clean those walls before you paint. Never allow a tenant to hire their own painter.

I smoked for almost 40 years. Sounds like good intentions from a prospective tenant. The reality is they will eventually smoke inside.  Initially they will smoke outside, then as time goes on and some  cool nights, they will smoke inside but have the balcony door open. As more time goes on, they will smoke inside but now they don't want to open the door to the balcony because it's chilly or a rainstorm. Or they have that smoke after a wonderful time in bed and don't feel like getting out of bed.  They will eventually smoke inside.  

Why would someone qualified want to pay 6 months in advance?  Who does that? ?  Someone who is hiding something and has been turned down for other rentals.

Draw up your requirements for leasing and stick with it.   You want a tenant that meets YOUR requirements; not the other way around.  Sounds like you are trying to accommodate his needs by bending your rules.  Don't.

I don't have much advice, but I will say that I have had very good results with some oil based paint on smoking odors. I assume that if he were to move out you would paint it any which way. If he's your best candidate aside from the smoking then that's easily solved with the security deposit.

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