Smoking butts out of multifamily business

For years it’s been known that smoking is bad for your health, and it has been subsequently banned inside of restaurants, offices and outside building entrances. With a the help of a grant from Maricopa County, the Arizona Multihousing Association wants to foster smoke-free programs at apartments as well.

“The purpose of the grant is to educate apartment owners, developers and operators about the advantages of registering their properties as smoke free properties,” said Tom Simplot, president and CEO of the AMA. “Those advantages are fiscal. It costs a lot less money to turn an apartment when there has been a non-smoker there.”

When a non-smoker moves out of a unit, he explained, there is not much to do before turning it over. An property owner may need to clean and replace carpet or repaint the walls. When turning over an apartment that had been smoked in, expensive chemicals and professional services are involved. Sometimes, Simplot added, appliances have to be replaced.

“The smoke penetrates into the walls, into the filters, it permeates a home and there is a several thousand dollar cost to eradicate that,” Simplot said. “You have a smoker in one unit, and non-smokers in the surrounding units, and they are all impacted.”

Because it takes longer to clean a unit formerly rented by a smoker, it remains vacant for longer and doesn’t generate revenue.

In addition, during renovations managed by Anna DiSabato, district supervisor for Dunlap and Magee Property Management, units that were smoke-free and in smoke-free buildings (117 in total) leased 15 percent quicker than their smoking counterparts.

“This whole first year is about educating, once they go smoke free, then we move on to enforcement,” said Sharon Hosfeld, smoke-free community coordinator at AMA.

There is some concern among operators that by going smoke-free, they will inadvertently exclude part of the market.

“If you are the operator of a senior housing community, we know statistically that seniors smoke more, because their generation grew up smoking,” Simplot said. “They are probably not as able to give up smoking. So, there is some resistance based on some of their residents’ concerns.”

Overall, less than 20 percent of adult Americans smoke, with more than 85 percent saying smoking was not allowed in their homes.

In a 2012, a Maricopa County survey suggested that 7 out of 10 respondents would choose to live in a smoke-free community.

Right now, the AMA’s first step is asking its members to survey their residents about living in smoke-free communities.

“Once these surveys come back to the property manager, they are shocked to see that people usually don’t smoke and many would like their community to go smoke-free,” Hosfeld said.

Other forms of smoking can also be a concern for operators. Marijuana, although not found to be damaging to properties, can cause legal troubles for landlords if it is allowed. An owner who knowingly allows the possession or distribution of marijuana on his or her property could be classified as a conspirator and face up to 20 years in jail and up $500,000 in fines. The best course for landlords is to prohibit it in the lease, according to Donald Eby, an attorney and partner at Robinson & Henry.

The new wave of e-cigarettes also appear to be harmless to properties and neighboring tenants. The main component in the e-cigarette liquid is very similar to the substance in fog machines, and even at frequent use would not cause any lasting damage. Unlike cigarettes, the main by-product is water. Long term research has not be conducted at this point.

“We are disseminating the data, the scientific data that is already out there, and basically translating that into a language that we share with our members,” said Simplot. “We reach out to our people and have a real conversation about things.”