FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q. What do I have to gain from a no-smoking rule?
Q. Is a non-smoking building marketable?
Q. Is a no-smoking rule discrimination?
Q. Smoking is legal. Don't people have the right to smoke in their own homes?
Q. Is smoking a disability?
Q. Can a smoker request a Reasonable Accommodation allowing them to smoke in their unit?
Q. How do I enforce a no-smoking rule?
Q. I manage HUD-assisted housing. Can I make the property smokefree?
Q. Wouldn't no-smoking rules only work in high-end properties?

Q. Where can I advertise my smokefree property?


Q. What do I have to gain from a no-smoking rule?

A. A no-smoking rule is a great way to protect your property from damage, fires, and excessive wear and tear. You will save money on turnover costs because apartments will cost less to clean, repair, and repaint. You will also gain a market advantage. As more people become aware of the health hazards of secondhand smoke, no-smoking is an amenity that most tenants want.

Q. Is a non-smoking building marketable?

A. A no-smoking rule will help you attract and retain tenants. In a recent survey of Portland-Vancouver metro area renters, 3 out of 4 said that "other things being equal" they would choose to live in a non-smoking building, and just over half said they would actually pay a little more rent for this amenity! The market for non-smoking buildings clearly outweighs the market for smoking: 46% said they would be uncomfortable renting a unit next to a smoker, while just 11% smoke in their apartments regularly. Most of the smokers in our survey already smoke outside. This is a national trend; many other public opinion surveys show that most renters prefer to live in non-smoking buildings.

Q. Is a no-smoking rule discrimination?

A. A no-smoking rule is not discrimination. Smoking is a behavior, not an inborn characteristic, like race or sex. All sorts of people smoke, so prohibiting smoking does not target any particular group. Also, a no-smoking rule doesn't mean you can't rent to smokers: they just have to smoke outside, which many smokers already choose to do.

Q. Smoking is legal. Don't people have the right to smoke in their own homes?

A. There is no "right to smoke" under any federal, state, or local laws. Smokers are not a protected class. You own the building. It is your property and you have the right to set reasonable rules that protect it.

Q. Is smoking a disability?

A. Smoking is an addiction that causes death and disease, but it is not a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, as explained in this article on the ability of Housing Authorities and Section 8 Landlords to prohibit smoking (PDF). No federal or state court has ever ruled that smoking is a "disability" under the meaning of the ADA. Smoking is a behavior that is remedial, in other words, a smoker can quit.

Q. Can a smoker request a Reasonable Accommodation allowing them to smoke in their unit?

A. Because smoking is not a disability, it can not be used as a reason to ask for accommodations. Smoking is not an acceptable way to treat or medicate any health conditions, including mental illness. It is much more likely that requests for reasonable accommodations will be made by non-smokers with medical conditions that are worsened by secondhand smoke. Non-smokers may have legal protection from exposure to secondhand smoke under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act (PDF).

Q. How do I enforce a no-smoking rule?

A. Experienced landlords use a variety of strategies to enforce their no-smoking rules. They advertise their units as non-smoking to attract tenants who either don't smoke or only smoke outside. They put the no-smoking rule in their lease agreement, and talk to their tenants about it when they show the property and when tenants sign the lease. They post signs in the building and on the property. They tell tenants that if they smoke in their units, they will be financially responsible for bringing the unit back to condition, which could cost thousands of dollars. They have a system of warnings, fine, and evictions for failing to follow the smoking rule just like any other rule. They visit the properties regularly and perform inspections. Some provide a designated smoking area outside, away from windows and doors.

Q. I manage HUD-assisted housing. Can I make the property smokefree?

A. Yes. An analysis (PDF) of federal and state laws, HUD rules, and legal cases found "unequivocally that a ban on smoking for new tenants who move into public or section 8 housing is permissible in all 50 states." You may be required to allow existing tenants to continue smoking until the time of their lease renewal. A letter from the Seattle HUD office (PDF) states that "there is no written HUD policy requiring the grandfathering of any tenant" but HUD approval is required for changes to the model lease, and changes can be made only to comply with local or state laws or local management practices in assisted housing. Changes can be made to "House Rules" without HUD approval.

Q. Wouldn't no-smoking rules only work in high-end properties?

A. No-smoking rules appeal to people from all walks of life. While it is true that people with higher incomes and education levels tend to smoke less, most people don't smoke no matter what their background. In Oregon 17% of adults smoke and in Washington 15%; only 30% of low-income people smoke. Our recent Market Survey found that only 16% of Portland-Vancouver metro area renters smoke on a daily basis, and only 11% of renters allow smoking in their units. Three out of four renters do not smoke at all. Many lower income people have children, are elderly, or are disabled, and these groups are particularly vulnerable to the health hazards of secondhand smoke and may be especially interested in finding non-smoking housing.

Q. Where can I advertise my smokefree property?

A. Landlords can advertise their smokefree properties through any of the following resources: