Smoke-Free Multi-Unit Housing

Healthy Housing logoThe San Mateo County Tobacco Education Coalition (TEC) works with community groups and individuals to advocate for fresh air for all residents. Major progress has been made to educate the community about the harms of secondhand smoke and to protect all San Mateo County residents where they live, work and play.

While the number of current smokers in our community continues to decrease, many residents are still exposed to secondhand smoke every day. Drifting smoke in multi-unit housing (such as apartments and condos) is a major problem in the community, and the TEC is taking action.

TEC focuses on educating tenants about what they can do to ensure air is safe for their families in their apartment homes. At the same time, TEC works with landlords to educate them about the benefits of developing smoke-free policies for the apartment buildings they own. The Tobacco Education Coalition partners with a broad range of organizations and individuals to get the word out that 1) secondhand smoke drifting in multi-unit housing is a major danger to children and families and 2) that it is easy to adopt smoke-free polices to ensure the health and safety of residents and the buildings they live in.

If you would like to learn more about how you can help to protect children and families from toxic secondhand smoke in their homes call our Tobacco Prevention Program hotline: (650) 573-3777.

Guidelines for tenants addressing a drifting smoke issue

Are you experiencing drifting smoke in your home from another apartment? If you have you struggled to resolve this issue and protect the health of your family, we are here to help. We believe everyone has a right to breathe fresh air at home, and we can help mediate the problem.

There are generally several steps that we recommend tenants take. It is always best to resolve the problem in the simplest way possible, so we ask that anyone who is strugging with a neighbor's smoke try these possible solutions. You may be surprised how a simple solution can successfully protect you and your family.

1) Talk to the smoker - If you can identify who is creating the smoke, let them know that it is drifting into your apartment, that you are concerned about the possible health effects, and gently request that they take their smoking outdoors to a designated place away from the building.

2) Talk to your landlord - We recommend discussing the issue with your landlord. They don't live in your apartment and will not know about the problem unless you mention it to them. Ask them about any smoking policies in your building and request that they speak to your neighbor about the issue.

3) Write a letter to your landlord - It is crucial to document all actions you take to address this problem. The landlord may be able to use your letter to explain to the smoker why your neighbor needs to change his or her behavior. Tell the landlord details about how the smoke affects you and is harmful to your health. Ask him or her for a specific solution, such as having the smoker go outside, making modifications to the apartment (if those would assist with the problem), or allowing you to change units to be away from the smoke.

4) Document the smoking - Write down what a typical day in your apartment is like regarding the secondhand smoke exposure. Many people state "the smoking is happening around the clock" or something similar, but  it's helpful to be more specific. How many times a day does your neighbor smoke? What does this specifically look, feel, and smell like? Where do you think the smoke is coming from? What time of day you notice it? What does it smell like? What physical  reactions do you or your family have to the smoke?

5) Contact the Health System- We are here to promote the health and well-being of the community. While we cannot force anyone to change their behavior, we will work with you to mediate this problem. With a little work, we should be able to resolve this.

6) Contact your city council - In some cases, tenants suffer secondhand smoke exposure and are unable to find a resolution with their landlord and neighbor. Residents of Belmont and Menlo Park ultimately asked the city to take action to resolve their issues with secondhand smoke.

7) Consider legal action - We always recommend legal action as a last resort. The Tobacco Prevention Program cannot provide legal advice or support for legal action. There are also not many recent legal cases where tenants were successful in taking a neighbor to court. As you can imagine, legal action is costly and very time-consuming, and generally, we can can find a better solution. That said, documenting each step of the process you take to resolve a secondhand smoke issue will benefit you no matter what course of action you take.

If you have questions or need some help getting started, contact the Tobacco Prevention Program: (650) 573-3777.

Resources for Tenants

In recent years, more and more tenants are demanding smoke-free apartments.  At the same time, research has recently become very clear in defining the various harms of breathing in someone else’s smoke.  Many projects across the country are developing to assist tenants and landlords in adopting smoke-free housing policies.  If you have a question or need support with the problem you are facing, feel free to contact the Tobacco Prevention Program: (650) 573-3777.  The below resources may assist any tenant who is working to resolve a drifting smoke issue.

Resources for Landlords

Property owners and managers are increasingly adopting smoke-free policies in their properties.  In addition to improving the health of current and future tenants, there are a variety of financial and public safety reasons to adopt smoke-free policies.  Recent surveys show that 82% of all renters would prefer to live in a smoke-free building (Center for Tobacco Policy and Organizing, 2008).  Increasingly, renters are coming to appreciate smoke-free living and consider it a valuable amenity for their families.  Because going smoke-free is completely legal and well within the rights of the property owner, every day an increasing number of properties are transitioning to a healthier, safer, and more economically viable smoke-free status.  There are several key reasons why landlords may wish to adopt smoke-free policies:

  1. Better health for tenants
  2. High market demand for non-smoking units
  3. Reduced rehabilitation costs for vacated units
  4. Decreased tobacco litter on the premises
  5. Potentially lower fire insurance costs due to lessened fire risk
  6. Steeply reduced chance of building fires
  7. Reduced complaints when all tenants know the smoking rules
  8. Decreased liability related to fire and health impacts

In recent years, a rapidly expanding number of communities in California have explored and adopted smoke-free housing ordinances.  From the earliest adopters (City of Belmont in San Mateo County, and City of Calabasas in Los Angeles County), a growing movement toward smoke-free housing protections has been seen.  In recent years in San Mateo County, the County itself and the City of Menlo Park have adopted protections for renters by requiring smoke-free common areas of multi-unit housing.  Given the high market demand for smoke-free housing and the increasing focus on secondhand smoke as a major contributor to chronic health conditions such as asthma, lung disease, and heart disease, it is likely that the below list of local smoke-free housing policies will continue to grow.