Residents of Los Angeles are protected against second-hand smoke exposure in the workplace and at many public places. However, there is no guaranteed legal protection that safeguards residents of multi-unit housing from breathing unwanted smoke in their own homes.
Exposure to second-hand smoke is an acknowledged nuisance, but more importantly, it is a health hazard, and also carries costs associated with smoke damage as well as increased risk of fire. Allowing smoking in apartment complexes creates issues and added costs for property owners, as well as potentially harming the health, safety and comfort of residents.
A study conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research in 2016 determined that only 20 percent of apartments in Los Angeles have a smoke-free policy. The same study found that 82 percent of apartment residents say that they are in support of smoke-free policies, including people who smoke.
In the absence of a citywide ordinance, the responsibility for providing these types of protections falls upon landlords, who have the full legal right to impose and enforce smoke-free policies at their properties, but who are sometimes hesitant about doing so out of fear of pushback from tenants and potential loss of income.
However, through our experience at FAME Corporations, we have found that the benefits far outweigh the risks in adopting a smoke-free policy, and when done properly, can enhance landlord-tenant relations, create a greater sense of harmony and community and save money. Moving towards smoke-free housing is not only a worthy investment, but can also be a win-win in terms of tenant relations.
On Jan. 1, FAME Corporations adopted a smoke-free policy across our 12 affordable apartment complexes is South Los Angeles. The policy required all indoor and outdoor common areas, including entrances, lobbies, open spaces and play areas, as well as 100 percent of connecting individual units (including balcony and patio areas) to be designated as smoke free. The policy was implemented as a lease addendum, prohibiting smoking of all tobacco products, marijuana and e-cigarettes.
FAME’s primary interest in implementing the policy was out of concern for tenant’s welfare, and to create a healthy home environment for our residents. Exposure to second-hand smoke can cause serious health problems and a reduced quality of life.
Young children are at a higher risk because their bodies are still growing and they breathe at a faster rate than adults. Kids exposed to second-hand smoke are at a greater risk for asthma attacks and respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
The process to introduce and adopt the policy took place over more than a year. We were able, through supportive funding provided by the California Tobacco Control Program, to conduct community education presentations, public opinion polls and tenant focus groups to fully understand our residents’ beliefs and concerns about adopting a smoke-free housing policy.
After surveying more than 100 residents, 66 percent were in favor of implementing a smoke-free policy to protect the health of their families. We also recruited tenant liaisons to speak to their neighbors one-on-one and address any concerns they might have with a peer.
We were able to use this experience to educate our tenants about the harms of second-hand smoke and about their right to live free from breathing unwanted smoke from their neighbors. The education process allowed tenants to feel heard and consulted about the policy change, and helped them understand our motivations.
The change to a new policy on Jan. 1 became a collaborative effort with all parties involved in creating a healthier community environment.
Creating smoke-free housing can not only yield happier and healthier tenants, but also produce a significant return to property owners. According to the National Center for Healthy Housing, costs can be anywhere from two to seven times greater when turning over units where smoking is allowed versus smoke-free units.
FAME anticipates substantial savings through lower costs for maintaining and remediating units for new tenants as well as reducing its potential liability, risk of residential fires, tenant conflicts and even insurance premiums
Our experience has been overwhelmingly positive. FAME Housing Portfolio Manager Carmen Buenrostro reports receiving many compliments from tenants on their new living environment.
“There is a tremendous change in the culture of the apartment buildings and people who smoke have been respectful of the policy,” Buenrostro said. “There is less maintenance, less conflict and better communication between tenants and managers.”
In follow-up focus groups with residents, we experienced overwhelming gratitude and welcoming of further tenant education and other supportive measures to ensure the success of our smoke-free initiative. This process has strengthened our tenant communities and is reinforced by CEO Denise Brown’s priority of creating safe, healthy homes for our residents.
Jazmine Guillen serves as a program manager for FAME Assistance Corporation’s Tobacco Control Program.