Smoking Tenant and Disabled Smoke Detectors

12 Replies

We have a duplex under contract right now that we recently had inspected.  Both sides of the duplex have long-term, paying tenants.  I'm not interested in finding new tenants if I don't have to since each unit is well-worn and will require some $ once a turn does happen.  

The tenant on the left side is a smoker (ashtray in each room type of smoker).  I noticed when we did the inspection yesterday that neither of the smoke detectors in his unit were functioning.  I imagine he disables them to avoid them constantly going off due to the smoking.  This is a safety concern for me, as well as a liability concern.  I intend to make sure that each unit has functioning smoke detectors before the sale closes.  However, I am curious how I can ensure that they remain functioning.  At the very least, how can I cover my *** and reduce my liability?    

Renting to a smoker is not my ideal situation.  But again, this guy has been living here for 9 years, has a stable job, and always pays on time.  I have no intent to get rid of him.  Just wondering how I can approach this issue as his new landlord.  

All thoughts and ideas appreciated, and would specifically like to hear from anyone who knows the laws about this as they pertain to Indiana.  

All my leases specifically state no smoking allowed inside premises, you can add this to lease when it’s up but I’m sure it will bring some tensions if you want to keep him. Or specifically state in lease alarm can’t be tamper with and if it is you add a fine, i would consult a lawyer if doing this I’ve never done this on a lease.
You can also purchase and install hardwire fire alarms to make it more difficult to have remove.

Your priorities are all wrong. You are more concerned about the money than the safety of your tenants or your property. When he falls asleep on the couch smoking, burns the place down and kills everyone you might rethink your priorities. Good luck when they find the alarms were disabled.

If there is a fire and the smoke detectors are found to be inoperable you can be held liable and your other tenant will have grounds to file a lawsuit against you. If someone dies you, as the landlord, can be held liable.

To cover your *** and reduce your liabilities you have one and only one option, you will never change the tenants behaviour therefor you must get rid of him. Your wasting your time looking for solutions if all you care about is keeping this tenant.

I agree with Thomas S. Tenant safety should be a priority over profit always.

I also agree that a hardwired smoke detector is tougher to disable.

Smoking is a serious hazard, plain and simple. Want to smoke in your own home, you go right ahead. Want to smoke in mine? Nope.

Here in WI we have a ridiculous number of taverns throughout the state. Smoking and drinking go hand in hand. A few years back they restricted smoking inside all public establishments. The entire tavern culture went up in arms, wondering how they could ever enjoy a drink again (myself included). So, everyone started to go outside for a smoke break. Taverns began setting up outdoor smoking areas. Thing is, instead of everyone hating the change, most people (smokers) actually like it. Its not that big of a deal to step outside (and keep in mind it gets cold here), it actually gives people a reason to walk around and congregate in ways they would not have otherwise and finally, no one comes home smelling like an old ashtray anymore.

Moral of the story? Requiring a tenant to smoke outside is not unrealistic, is based in common sense safety measures, protects your property from smoke damage and WILL be accepted by your smoker, once they give it a chance - they may even be glad of the change. Many smokers, including myself, choose to smoke outside their own homes anyways.

I would have a nice conversation with the tenant. Let them know you value their tenancy and their safety and the safety of the other tenants. Tell them smoking outside is just fine (with an adequate ash can - planter with dirt is great), but you are not going to allow them to smoke in the unit, period. Tell them my story and maybe they will give it a try instead of moving out. Besides, do any landlords still allow smoking? Chances are they will have a hard time finding a smoke-friendly place.

I would do two things: 1. Have a friendly conversation with him about the disabled smoke detectors. He can't be disabling them that's going to be grounds for eviction 2. I would invest in a couple HEPA room filters. One for his main living area and one for his bedroom. The HEPA filters will pull the smoke out of the air before it triggers the detector.

@Jay Helms Interesting response considering that a landlord legally can be held liable in Florida if a tenant disables a smoke alarm and is then subsequently injured in a fire. 

Does not make any difference if you have instructed a tenant to not tamper with or disable a alarm. It is a violation of safety codes and the landlord is ultimately held responsible for the tenants actions.

I think you misread @Samantha Soto ’s post but your passion on the topic is undeniable. I invite you to write a guest blog post for HelmsREI.com. PM to collaborate!  

Originally posted by @Thomas S. :

@Jay Helms Interesting response considering that a landlord legally can be held liable in Florida if a tenant disables a smoke alarm and is then subsequently injured in a fire. 

Does not make any difference if you have instructed a tenant to not tamper with or disable a alarm. It is a violation of safety codes and the landlord is ultimately held responsible for the tenants actions.

 I think you misread @Samantha Soto’s post but your passion on the topic is undeniable. I invite you to write a guest blog post for HelmsREI.com. PM to collaborate!

@Samantha Soto the smoke alarm tampering tenant has to either desist this practice or pack his bags and go. There is no middle way here. @Thomas S. is right on this one, your liability as a landlord is real in this case. If there were to be a fire and it was discovered that you knew that the tenant was in the habit of tampering with smoke alarms and that your response was inadequate you could be prosecuted, fined, sued, jailed, the list is endless. My first action would be to immedately install sealed ten year lithium battery smoke alarms throughout the property and institute a frequent inspection program to ensure that they are not interfered with. At the first sign that they are I would issue the relevant legal notice to cure, and immediately fix the tampering. I would continue in this manner until the tenant either got the message and complied totally or until the tenant was evicted.

I would also review and inspect the condition of all smoke alarms in the rest of the property and consider replacement with sealed ten year lithium battery models there also. It sounds as though fire safety was not top of mind for the previous owner. This is a serious concern for you as landlord and is literally a life or death matter. All of these are urgent items - many residential fires occur around the holidays. I would get a handyman in there with a cordless drill installing new alarms ASAP. Here in Ontario fines for missing alarms vary by locality but from the newsfeeds I monitor if a fire department finds a landlord with a missing smoke alarm or a dead battery fines levied can be $3,000 or so per alarm per instance. I do not know what the situation is in Indiana but I suspect the authorities do not smile on negligent landlords especially if negligence is revealed in an actual fire with damages, injury or even death.

Originally posted by @Samantha Soto :

We have a duplex under contract right now that we recently had inspected.  Both sides of the duplex have long-term, paying tenants.  I'm not interested in finding new tenants if I don't have to since each unit is well-worn and will require some $ once a turn does happen.  

The tenant on the left side is a smoker (ashtray in each room type of smoker).  I noticed when we did the inspection yesterday that neither of the smoke detectors in his unit were functioning.  I imagine he disables them to avoid them constantly going off due to the smoking.  This is a safety concern for me, as well as a liability concern.  I intend to make sure that each unit has functioning smoke detectors before the sale closes.  However, I am curious how I can ensure that they remain functioning.  At the very least, how can I cover my *** and reduce my liability?    

Renting to a smoker is not my ideal situation.  But again, this guy has been living here for 9 years, has a stable job, and always pays on time.  I have no intent to get rid of him.  Just wondering how I can approach this issue as his new landlord.  

All thoughts and ideas appreciated, and would specifically like to hear from anyone who knows the laws about this as they pertain to Indiana.  

Talk to him.. Explain him the situation and request him to smoke outside. Do a periodic inspection of the property to see if he is abiding by it.  If he is a good tenant otherwise no need to get rid of him. 

Thanks everyone for your input.  Obviously, I care about the safety issue, or I would not be taking the time to post here and try to figure out the best solution.  I am a new landlord, and this tenant has been living on the premises for 9 years.  I am respectful of the fact that this guy considers this place home, and I do not want to boot him out just because he is a smoker.  Also, I am making the assumption that he tampered with the smoke detectors, but in reality, they could just be really old and not have had the batteries checked.  

I've decided my first thing to do will be to talk to the current landlord about this issue and see if he has had issues with this happening, or how he has addressed the indoor smoking, if at all.  Secondly, I will make sure new smoke detectors are installed in multiple areas of both units.  I believe both tenants are on month to month at this point, but I plan to have them resign leases.  At that point I will discuss the issues with both tenants and address the safety concerns and the expectation that smoke detectors be kept in working condition.  I will check on the detectors every so often.....how often do landlords normally do this?  

If it continues to be an ongoing issue with this tenant, then yes, an eviction would be appropriate and necessary.  I just don't think we are there yet.