Smoke-Free Policies: Why do it?

There are three main reasons that multi-unit housing properties are going smoke-free: to keep up with industry trends, to provide health benefits to residents and employees, and to save money.

Industry Trends

According to the National Center for Healthy Housing, smoke-free units are quickly becoming the industry standard in multi-unit housing.

Public Housing and Affordable Housing

In 2009, 2010, and 2012, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued notices strongly encouraging Public Housing Authorities and affordable housing managers to implement non-smoking policies. On July 31, 2018, HUD took all of its housing 100 percent smoke-free, inside and within 25 feet of buildings. Local housing authorities are allowed to go further, such as including all tobacco products and all grounds.

Click here to learn about N.C. property managers' views about smoke-free policies as a growing trend.

Tax Credits for Privately Owned, Government-Subsidized Housing

Developers of government-subsidized housing can receive tax credits from the NC Housing Finance Agency (NCHFA) to help finance development of affordable housing. To qualify, the developer must agree the property will have a smoke-free policy. This requirement went into effect in the agency’s 2015 Qualified Allocation Plan. It reads: “Owners must prohibit smoking in all indoor common areas, individual living areas (including patios and balconies), and within 25 feet of building entries or ventilation intakes. A non-smoking clause must be included in the lease for each household.”

Health Benefits

Smoke-free housing supports public health and safety. Smoking materials are the leading cause of residential fire deaths, and the evidence is clear that secondhand smoke is harmful for health. Secondhand smoke causes respiratory problems, heart attacks, cancer, heart disease, and birth defects. Children, pregnant women, and elderly populations are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of secondhand smoke. In multi-unit housing, secondhand smoke travels from smokers’ units to non-smokers’ units and common areas. The only way to fully protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke is to eliminate smoking in indoor spaces. Air filtration and ventilation may improve air quality slightly but they do not remove enough of the tobacco contamination to make the air safe to breathe.

Click here to learn what N.C. property managers have to say about the health benefits of smoke-free policies.

Cost Savings

Smoke-free housing is less expensive to maintain than housing that allows smoking. To clean a unit where a smoker has lived, owners spend two-to-three times as much as when cleaning a non-smoker’s unit. Smoking-related costs may include cleaning and repairs, trash removal, fire damage, fire insurance, other insurance, administrative costs and operating costs.

A cost study performed by Smoke-Free Housing New England in 2009 found the costs of rehabilitating a smoking unit were seven times higher than that of a non-smoking unit.

How much do you spend to rehabilitate a unit where a smoker has lived? Consider general cleaning, painting, and replacing or repairing vinyl flooring, carpets, countertops, and blinds.

Click here to learn more about cost savings at N.C. properties.

Smoke-Free Multi-Unit Housing Cost Calculator. Tobacco Education Clearinghouse of California (Aug 2017). The resource was developed to help property managers and tobacco control staff assess the actual cost of turnover at the local property level instead of relying on turnover cost averages. Keep in mind that the costs are from California, so they may tend to run higher than costs in North Carolina.

Some insurance companies offer discounts for smoke-free properties. American Family Insurance offers a smoke-free discount for property owners in all 50 states. Details here.


Common Myths about Smoke-free Policies

“A smoke-free policy will increase my vacancy rate.”

Many North Carolina housing managers with smoke-free properties say that tenants reacted positively or neutrally to the policies. Surveys have found that a majority of renters would prefer to live in a smoke-free apartment building. Up to one-third would even be willing to pay more in rent to do so. Giving residents plenty of advance notice of the policy change, offering cessation resources to smokers, and earning positive media coverage are effective public relations strategies to minimize negative reactions. Read success stories from smoke-free North Carolina properties.

“A smoke-free policy is discriminatory.”

Smokers are not a protected class of citizens under the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. Federal courts have consistently upheld the view that smoking is not a protected constitutional right. Therefore, landlords may prohibit smoking in individual units and common areas. Private property owners have the legal backing to implement smoke-free policies in order to protect public health and the environment.

A word about individual rights to smoke
For more information, please read the Legal briefing from the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium.

“It will be a nightmare to enforce.”

Many landlords have found that smoke-free policies are easier to enforce than they expected. In a 2011 survey of housing professionals with smoke-free properties at the NC Affordable Housing Conference in Raleigh, 88 percent reported that enforcement of the no-smoking policy was not difficult. Experienced landlords recommend giving residents plenty of notice, adding clear language about the smoking policy to the lease agreement, and posting smoke-free signage on the property. Managers also encourage residents to help enforce the policy by reporting secondhand smoke if they smell it. If a resident is violating the smoking policy, mangers may handle the situation as they would any other lease violation. For more information, see our section on enforcement.


NCDHHS, Division of Public Health