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 everyday. 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 or condo homes. At the same time, TEC works with landlords to educate them about the benefits of developing smoke-free policies for the apartment or condo 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 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 or condo? If you have struggled to resolve this issue and to 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 struggling with a neighbor's smoke try the following 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 or condo, 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 and/or write a letter - We recommend discussing the issue with your landlord. They don't live in your apartment or condo 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. 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.

3) Document the smoking - Write down what a typical day in your apartment or condo 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?

4) Contact the Health System- We are here to promote the health and well-being of the community. We will work with you to mediate the secondhand smoke problem. 

5) Contact your City Council - In some cases, tenants suffer secondhand smoke exposure and are unable to find a resolution with their landlord and neighbor. Cities can adopt smoke-free multi-unit housing ordinances to protect all residents multi-unit housing from experiencing secondhand smoke.

6) Consider legal action - Legal action is a last resort. The Tobacco Prevention Program cannot provide legal advice or support for legal action. 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:

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, everyday an increasing number of properties are transitioning to a healthier, safer, and more economically viable smoke-free status.  Civil code section 1947.5 (sometimes known by its bill number, SB 332) allows landlords to make their properties 100 percent smoke-free.  For more information on landlords' right to make properties smoke-free, click here. 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 policy
  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, Daly City has adopted protections for renters by requiring smoke-free common areas and individual units in 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 list of local smoke-free housing policies will continue to grow.