Opinion: Allowing Smokers in Your Rental is Costly & Just Plain Dumb


Are you aware of the expenses associated with allowing someone to smoke in your rental? If not, you need to understand that a smoker will cost you at least 10% of your profits due to increased turnover costs and additional vacancy. That is an unscientific number, and I may venture to guess it may be higher.

Smokers will cost you plenty in a rental.

First, a disclaimer: I am a rabid anti-smoker, and I have never been a smoker. I do not allow smoking in my rentals. If you want to smoke, go live somewhere else. If you think it is your right to smoke in your own home, I agree — but not in my rental unit. Ever. I do allow smoking on the outside, but only after the tenant passes my rigorous background checks. They are not allowed to smoke in any covered area, not even the garage.

To be fair, if I thought it was more profitable to allow smokers, I would actually encourage it. If it was more profitable for me to allow a renter to be a crackhead and to kill baby seals in the bathtub, I would probably allow that, too. But it is not, so I do not allow it.

I want to maximize my profitability and minimize the work it takes to be profitable. Less work and more money in real estate is always a good thing.

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The “Old” Days of Smoking

As a kid growing up in a smoking household, I can remember my mother leaving cigarettes burning in the bathroom and her lighting up another in the kitchen. We also lived in a rental. (Note to other landlords: Avoid renters with kids like myself.)

There was always a cigarette burning in our house. No one ever thought about the fire dangers of cigarettes, and smoke detectors were not even invented yet.

Related: Should I Ban Smoking In My Rental Properties?

When I flew on airplanes, anyone could light up, anywhere in the plane. Any restaurant, anywhere in the place was a fair place to light up. My mother, a nurse, was upset when the hospital banned nurses from smoking in the patient’s rooms. Imagine a nurse firing up a heater just before drawing your blood. Of course, they could still light up at the main nurses station, but that was a violation of her “rights.”

If you would have tried a non-smoking rental in those days, you would be vacant a long time. Many people smoked, and many people had friends who smoked. The smoking friends expected to visit someone and light up inside the house. Smoke lingers well after the last cigarette is put out. I have been in houses a week after anyone had smoked in them and have come out smelling like I just got out of a bar.

Now, the tide has turned. The dangers of secondhand smoking are well known. The fire dangers of unattended cigarettes are real. The extra work and expense of turning a smoking apartment into a place to rentable to a non-smoker is real. You want to go with the trend and have a non-smoking rental to both save money and to have a faster rental turn.

Disadvantages of Smokers in Your Rental

When you are showing a non-smoker an apartment where a smoker lives, you can bet it will be a waste of time. Most quality renters do not smoke. They do not want to live in a place that smells like it has been smoked in. They do not want the smoke to be on their clothes or to continually smell the stale cigarette smoke the air. That is why hotels and car rental agencies have non-smoking rooms and cars.

You will perform many showings to quality renters, only to lose them as soon as they walk in the door. If not for the smoke smell, you could have possibly gotten the apartment rented much earlier. After a few lost prospects, you may decide to settle for a lesser quality renter and suffer the implications of a low-quality renter.

When you have a vacant unit, it will need a full paint job to get the smoke smell out of the air, including the ceilings. You will also need the carpets shampooed. Even if your smoker tenant was a great housekeeper, there is nothing short of a full paint job and carpet shampoo that will get rid of the smells. Even then, it may be difficult. Cabinets and ductwork will also have to be cleaned. Compare this to a minor touch up for a non-smoking apartment.

If you have carpet and are renting to a smoker, you will inevitably get cigarette burns on your carpet. Ashes drop, and rugs melt. You can try to trim the carpet fibers to reduce the visual impact, but it is still more time spent and more damage caused, by a smoker.

In a multifamily unit, smoke will permeate the walls and affect your other tenants. If any of your other renters are non-smokers, they will soon complain and move out. Smoke will get in the common area, either by leaching under the doors, or as smokers take that last puff as they enter the building. The ground will be littered with cigarette butts, as you will suffer from smokers that “pick them up later.”

If you have a renter with a medical marijuana card, you can still require them to go outside to light up. Nothing in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Fair Housing, or any other act requires you to allow smoking in your rentals. It is only your own inability to create and enforce non-smoking rules that will be your largest hindrance.

Related: 5 Tenant Characteristics It’s Wise to Discriminate Against

And if you have a tenant who is late on their rent, yet has enough money to buy cigarettes, that tells you they care more about their own hedonistic habits than they do about your family and financial well-being. Nothing irks me more than someone with enough money to buy cigarettes (or hair color, a manicure, a big screen TV, a new car, a rock concert, traveling vacation, etc.), but not enough money to pay rent.

Making the Transition to Smoke Free

There are plenty of programs available that help you turn your apartments into a non-smoking environment. Start by including non-smoking clauses in your lease.

Tenants who are on a month-to-month lease can be given a 30 day notice. You can set up a date in the future when all smoking is banned in the apartment. If you want to squeeze a bit more profit out of your rental, get rid of the indoor smoking now.

Do you allow smokers in your rental? What extra expenses has it cost you? What do you remember from the “old” days of smoking?

Please leave a comment below!

About Author

Eric D.

Eric is a 55 year old, soon to be former, computer professional. He started several years ago to replace his “work income”, with other alternate streams. He is well on his way to retirement at age 56, and is currently making more money at extracurricular activities, than he is working at his full time job. Whether that is Financially Independent, or just old fashioned entrepreneurial spirit, is in the eyes of the beholder.


  1. Personally, I loathe smoking. I do love a couple people who smoke, but hate the habit and the damage it does. Why anyone would choose to spend their money, their health, and ruin their hard-earned possessions is beyond me. My father used to smoke. It triggers migraine headaches. I used to leave restaurants before the smoking ban. I would never stay in a hotel room, house, or car that smelled of smoke. It stinks, it’s expensive, and it will kill you.

    A friend of mine owns a business. A couple younger men he had recently hired were smokers. They were off to do a job and on the job site, there was no smoking. As they were sitting in the work truck waiting to be given leave to exit, one of the guys got out of the truck and rolled under the fence to light up before being given clearance. Fired. Hope he figures it out.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      Back when cigarettes were .50, and I was 14, I was going to start smoking. I quickly figured out that a few packs a week would quickly burn up my $10 a week allowance. Probably if I wasn’t so cheap (or frugal), I would be a smoker today…

      But it is one of the worst things you can do to your body.

  2. Taylor McClung on

    We do not allow any smoking in our units or even on our properties. I live in Northern California and the smoking trend is mixed. Even the younger tenants we have in their mid-twenties who do smoke, understand that smoke is generally not welcomed by other people around them. They will go to the street corner to smoke. Occasionally I will have to remind them to enforce the no-smoking policy for their guests as well.

    Also, seems straight-forward to me that smoking inside the unit is a VERY BIG liability for the owners and there are plenty of other applicants who will happily sign up for a non-smoking property. Again, that’s Northern California in a desirable rental market.

  3. I heartily agree with this post! Since I changed to smoke-free (the entire property, not just inside) for several of my 5-unit buildings, my turn-over expenses have gone down and tenant quality has gone up! I was worried at first that I wouldn’t find tenants who aren’t smokers because it is a low income area, but although it takes a little longer, it’s worth it.
    I recently purchased a 12 unit building that I want to change to smoke-free (tenants currently smoke on their decks, which I’m sure bothers the non-smokers.) The only issue is that the currant tenant mix is very good, with several of them hanging out together (smoking on their decks, of course!) It’s nice that they all get along and I’d hate to replace them with tenants who might not like each other and cause drama. As I have turn-over I advertise as a non-smoking property, but it will be hard to explain that there are currently tenants who are “grandfathered”. What’s your experience with this?

    • Thank you for the comment!

      As long as they smoke outside, it is less of an issue. I have one long-term tenant that I think sneaks a smoke once in a while inside, but so far no one has complained. It was on a regular basis, I would get rid of them.

      I just got rid of a section 8 renter, my last one, and one reason was her smoking.

  4. Richard Guzman on

    Interesting article to read as I move forward in my real estate career – thank you! Not sure if there is a different clause when you refer to “non-smoking” units? Meaning, if they are not allowed to smoke inside do tenants normally just smoke outside, near there building? My guess is a entire no smoking rule is in effect and that is good. Between smoking tenants and tenants with pets, I am not sure which one is worse?

    • Thank you for the comment!

      Smokers are worse, by far, if they smoke inside. It is a guaranteed issue at turnover time.

      Here is a clause in my lease, which can be downloaded from my own blog. I have them initial the clause. I do not like incense, as I had some tenants a while back that used it to cover up their pot smoking…

      29. SMOKING. This is a non-smoking dwelling. All RESIDENTS and their guests must abstain from smoking while in the premise, porches, garages, basement and other covered areas. No incense burning is allowed.
      No warnings will be given. Your entire deposit will be forfeited if smoking is evident. ____________

  5. I am also anti-smoking. I lost my mother last year to lung cancer, and she smoked most of her life (started back in the 60s when a lot of people smoked). I loved her, but didn’t like visiting her because she smoked in her home. When I got home I would immediately have to shower and change clothes.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      My mother was a 4+ pack a day smoker, so I know the feeling. Even a week after her death, going into her apartment I came out smelling like I got out of a bar. And no one had smoked in there for over a week.

  6. Couldn’t agree more with this article. I quit 20+ years ago and I can’t stand smoke or go into a smoke filled room. Way more non-smokers than smokers. Plus I really think smokers aren’t as good renters as non-smokers. Smokers are less clean and in winter some will occassionally sneak and smoke inside. I’ve always had a non smoking policy, but am going to add a line AtTHE TOP of the application regarding if they smoke.

    • Thanks again Kevin! You are one of the landlords that think very closely to myself. Keep up the great work.

      I have it in multiple places too. The clause on my first page is this. I allow drinking, but not in the common areas. Of course, if they have a beer while grilling, that’s OK. Just don’t hang out and drink or smoke.

      1) All apartments, all common areas and entire property are completely non-smoking and restricted drinking.

  7. I would challenge you to answer the question “how much more would you have to charge, to make it worth it”? If you are OK with crackheads killing baby seals for the right price, I would think you would want to calculate what the right price is for smokers, and offer that as an option, as opposed to just saying no to them categorically.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      Excellent challenge question. For a multifamily, it is near impossible to calculate. The smoke tends to leave one residence and permeate the halls and common areas. What does a lost tenant cost?

      For a single family, calculate the cost of a entire repaint, and an extra month (or two) of vacancy. If it takes the equivalent of two month’s worth of rent to repaint and clean carpets, and you lose two month’s worth of rent as you have a difficult time renting a smoking apartment, you can add 30% – 35% to the rent. Remember, most great tenants are looking 6-8 weeks out.

      Assuming the renter stayed at least a year, paying 35% more, it may make it worthwhile.

      The mess from killing baby seals in the bathtub is far easier to clean, assuming no club marks on the tub itself. (sarc)

      • I would just about KILL for a smoke-free apartment and/or smoke-free neighbors. This is my THIRD supposedly smoke-free apartment – that wasn’t. Along with a heart condition (which I inherited) I now have COPD after living above AND below smoking neighbors. Further, my present upstairs neighbor, ALSO smokes skunk weed marijuana which I am extremely allergic to. I signed a lease which advertised itself as being smoke-free/drug-free. I was scammed. I do not have the money or health to move. My manager (who turns out to be friends with the upstairs neighbor) has ignored my pleas for help and does not care. I think that advertising an apartment complex as being smoke-free (when it isn’t) – is fraud. Unfortunately, I am low income and I am sure no one would rent to me (even though my credit is good). Maybe I’ll sleep in my car.

        • Katie Rogers

          Sallie, This happens a lot. Landlord advertise their properties as smoke-free when they are not, based mostly on whether they like the smoker or not. While I was tenant, I always lived in so-called “smoke-free” properties. Each and every time there either was or soon would be a smoker next door.

      • Katie Rogers

        What does a high credit score have to do with anything? It is really unfortunate when we use the credit score to measure the worth or character of a person. By the way, there is really no such thing as an outdoor smoker. They will smoke inside sometimes, especially during bad weather. And in the case of multifamily properties, even when they do smoke outdoors, the smoke seeps not only into their own apartment, but that of the neighbors as well.

  8. I am dedicated smoker. I do not smoke in my home. (I like my white ceilings) I just rehabbed one of my houses. 30+ years of smoking and grease were everywhere, such a thick film we thought it was the color of the paint…until we got started.Three to five coats of paint on the ceilings just to stop the bleed thru! Needless to say, WAY over budget with the painters. I will not be renting to anyone who smokes!

  9. A thousand times yes.
    And I’m sure many landlords besides me have noted how their smoker tenants who get in to financial trouble and can’t pay the rent always seem to be able to afford the ciggies. sigh. Not to mention the ones that come to see the (non-smoking) apartment and swear they don’t smoke. Meanwhile the smell is rolling off of them like a cloud…

  10. Jennifer Kurtz on

    I absolutely agree with all of the reasons to have non-smoking policies!

    I have a question for those who have non-smoking policies- What is your preferred method of enforcing this? If a tenant has turned into a smoker (or lied about not being a smoker), and you’re receiving complaints, how do you go about proving it if this resident tries to deny it? Are you using nicotine or air quality detectors? Someone had mentioned they moved out a sec 8 resident for it- I was curious if you had a resident that was unwilling to leave and quit the behavior, what actions were you taking to gather proof if this argument went to court?

    • Thank you for the comment!

      If I have a smoker, I just terminate the lease. I try several warnings, but in the end they will generally be ineffective. All you can do is issue warnings and get rid of the tenant. Going to Court would probably be a wasted effort. Save the money to re-paint.

  11. I would have to respectfully disagree. I’m not exactly a huge fan of smokers as a whole but business wise, we allow smokers in our units and prior to that in the complexes we managed as well. In most cases we’re going to be painting the unit and shampooing the carpet after a tenant moves out anyway so it really costs us nothing more than a regular turnover and the expense is covered by the tenant’s security deposit anyway. Any additional damage will be either covered by their deposit or charged to them when they leave since all charges are spelled out in the rental agreement. Ideally, yes, it would be great to have clean, non smoking, respectful tenants who pay on time and never make a sound… Unfortunately, the reality is that most people in our market are renters because of a “renter’s mentality” meaning they don’t plan for the future well, including health and money matters. If they had their life together that well they would probably own a home. I know this is not the case in all markets, but it certainly is in ours and we haven’t had enough of an issue with smokers to classify them any differently than our regular old garden variety renter.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      My question to you is why do you repaint between every tenant? I use semi-gloss paint, and most paint marks rub off. Any that remain can be touched up. I can turn an apartment in just a few hours.

      Many of my tenants hire professional cleaners when they leave, and even have the carpets professionally cleaned. Some even do their own touch up painting.

      • Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comment. I’m sorry I wasn’t clear as I should have been. We probably end up painting about half of the time and that mostly depends on how long the tenant has been there. Honestly, I end up painting more than I need to because I am proficient at it and sometimes it’s not much harder and looks better to just paint an entire wall as opposed to doing a bunch of touch up/scrubbing. It also seems that I’m in a different part of my investing career than you and I really would rather do the turnover myself for the extra money. Maybe it’s only an extra $150 after materials but that’s $150 that will go into my account and eventually towards my next property. Anything I make in my business is big money to me if for no other reason than I made it myself and not at a J.O.B.

        I totally understand you not wanting smokers in your properties and maybe someday with more experience I will come to see the logic in it. But, in my experience, tenants with children and pets can do far more damage than a smoker. In my personal property I have a tenant on one side who smokes like a chimney and the other side is a non-smoking family with 3 kids and a cat. I would love to see the smoker renew his lease when it’s up. He’s quiet, orderly, pays on time every month, and is generally just a good guy with a bad habit. He’s the kind of tenant that makes being a landlord easy. Yes, I will certainly have to paint and shampoo when he moves but his deposit will pay for it and he’s trouble free in the meantime. The family on the other side? When they move on the turnover will be every bit as in-depth, but they also pay 2 weeks late half the time and make a nuisance of themselves to boot. For now, I’d rather have the smoker.

        • Thank you for the follow up!

          I do my own turnovers too. 24 rentals, a property I manage for another person, a full time job, and I do all my own maintenance. I just posted a post on my own blog about all the renovations I am doing at my former Section 8 duplex. Lots of work!

          Among the improvements
          Tiling bathroom floor ($125)
          New Shower Surround ($200)
          New Kitchen Cabinets ($1,325)
          New Counter Tops ($225)
          New Appliances ($1,000)
          New kitchen faucet ($100).
          New Laminate Floor ($1400)
          New light fixtures and switches ($250)
          New six-panel doors ($450)
          New deadbolt locks ($75)
          Build permanent closets in two bedrooms ($300)
          New Modulating Furnace 95% efficient ($2,100)
          New suspended ceiling tiles ($175)
          Replace dark paneling with Sheetrock and paint ($100)
          Replace bathroom ceiling ($50)
          New Vanity, light bar, and medicine cabinet, faucet ($300)
          Painting ceilings and doors ($100)
          New trim work around doors and floors ($200)
          Other miscellaneous supplies ($500)
          Vacancy Expense ($5,000?)
          Many other things fixed as I see them.

          Total Cost is almost $9,000 plus the vacancy expense

        • Katie Rogers

          Zach, You probably should not make generalizations from only two data points. In my experience, non-smokers tend to be quiet and clean. The quiet,clean smoker is an exception. And the fact that the family pays their rent late and makes a nuisance of themselves is not a description of all families, just that one. I acknowledge that families with pet can be a big risk, so you need to screen carefully. When I was a tenant I had a family and we raised guide dog puppies. Getting a place to live was always a huge challenge because landlords were so unwilling to look at MY particular family. Any landlord that accepted us was happy, because we were quiet, paid every month on time, and left the apartment move-in ready for the next tenant. I was the sort of tenant who even dusted the tops of door frames.

    • Thank you for the comment! I can tell you are not a landlord.

      Unfortunately, as I stated in one of my previous responses, I would have to charge about three times the rent for a deposit just to cover the repainting, vacancy expense and extra work that it takes to turn a smoker’s apartment. It is likely a Judge would not allow many of those expenses for a deposit deduction. The smoke smell might also cause me to lose other tenants.

      There are many states that prohibit more than a month’s rent for a deposit. And I would still need some additional deposit amount to cover actual damages to the premise beyond the smoking.

      With that in mind, I would have to have an extra 35% or so per month in additional rent top make a smoking unit profitable for me. That would likely be too expensive for an average smoker. So, I feel it is just better to not allow smoking, and let smokers go somewhere else. It is a win-win situation.

      But your comment was a very valid one that illustrates the entitlement mentality that some renters have. I would classify that as a red flag, and encourage other landlords to take note.

  12. Mindy Jensen

    The family who just moved into the rental next door, did so because they had been trying to move out of their complex since they moved into it. The smoke from the smoker below them drifted up into their home. They couldn’t keep their windows open, they couldn’t go out on the balcony. The smoke seeped through the walls and under the front door.

    This is a great piece of advice. While I don’t always comment, I always read what you write, Eric. I hope to someday be as successful a landlord as you are. Thanks so much for taking the time to type this all up. I always learn something from your posts.

    • Thank you for the comment and kind words! And thank you for following my writings!

      Smoke is a very bad deal in a multifamily. It goes into the walls, ventilation systems and common areas. If you are a person that cannot stand the smoke, it is hard to live in a place like that.

  13. Both evictions I’ve had to do were smokers. Of course, along with not paying rent, they smoked in the unit which was another lease violation. I have only rented to one smoker who followed the “take it outside” rule. Smokers will just almost always smoke inside occasionally – late at night when they don’t want to get dressed and go outside…just crack the window, no one can smell it. Yeah, right. To the point of cleaning and getting the smell out, I find that a couple of days with an ozone machine in the apartment completely eradicates all odors.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      It does seem that my lower quality renters were smokers. That is not to say all smokers, including my own mother, are lower quality. I have heard of ozone machines, but it is a lot of work renting to smokers, so I just avoid them.

  14. You have to remove the carpet padding as well! There is no way around it. There’s no way to hide the smell, and if you try to douse it with “odor removers” and perfumes and shampooing, then you have spent all this money trying to hide it, and the non-smokers are STILL going to smell it. I hate smoking too, my daughter is not allow to smoke in my house, I don’t care if there’s an ice storm outside, nobody smokes in my house. Non-smokers never realize how much it STINKS until they quit for good.
    Problem with smoke, it leaves an oily film on everything, carpet, window frames, blinds, fans, heating ducts, the insides of cabinets, and every single outlet box in the house. It’s a pain.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      I agree. The stale smoke odors linger for a long time, and make the place just a bit less valuable to a newer renter. Not to mention while you are showing, and the tenants are still in place, the rental reeks like a smoke house…

  15. Enzymes in a 2 gallon sprayer with the tip set to a finer spray will get rid of most or all of the smell. Spray all fabric and carpeting twice. Spray carpet after shampooing. Air out, dehumidify if necessary, repeat if necessary. Wash curtains in a detergent which contains Oxydol. Takes about 10 minutes to spray enzymes pr 600 sq ft, 10 minutes to bring in the dehumidifier & personally, I think it’s a nice touch to wash the curtains anyway… I use “nature’s miracle” but you could probley find another. If you’re not sure which to buy ask at a place that does dead body clean up for the county to be certain the enzymes you use will do the job. Note- febreeze does not work. A lot of enzymes sold in health food stores are too watered down and will not work.

    Gets rid of a lot of smells but not cat urine. Dog and human urine take a few more treatments, plus repair/replace and sealing.

    I smoke. While I’m aware there are some people who are really bothered by the smell I do think a lot of people over react and some just need a scape goat for all the other stressors in their lives.

    • Thank you for the comment!

      It is a lot more work that I need to have between tenants, and I would probably lose prospective tenants in the showing process. I would rather just avoid the smokers.

  16. margaret smith on

    Awesome advice! My background growing up with 2 smoking parents matches yours,Eric. I thought I was allergic to cars, trains and planes- always a barf bag somewhere to use in those days, as many people had this “travel sickness”- Imagine my delight when I found out it wasn’t me, it was the smoke! I have a friend- smoker- went to bed after a night of wine with friends, threw her still smoldering butt into her trash can and hit the sack- lluckily awoke in time to escape through an upstairs window, fainted into the arms of a daring hero fire-fighter- and lost her home, her belongings, her pet- to that one night of carelessness. Oy!
    PS Both my parents recently died of lung cancer. An ugly scene.

  17. Katie Rogers

    I will not allow smoking inside or outside. If the tenant is a smoker, I guarantee they will smoke inside regardless of your “outside” rule, especially on bad weather days. If you own a multifamily unit, when the smoke outside the smoke will go into the neighbor’s unit through the windows. When I was a tenant, I always hated living next door to a smoker, because their smoke was always inside my unit.

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