As a society, we are very aware of the dangers posed by smoking and secondhand smoke. Tobacco use is the leading cause of disease and preventable death in the United States. But smoking doesn’t just impact our health; it also affects the buildings and homes we live in – from potentially increasing the risk of fire and property damage to raising insurance costs and legal liability. Most property managers will tell you that they  field complaints from homeowners about their smoking neighbors, and complaints aren’t just about their health and safety, but about their lifestyle. Issues like increased litter, fire hazards created by discarded cigarette butts, unsightly and smelly ashtrays in common areas, and, of course, secondhand smoke drifting into their units are only some of the complaints.

As the list of smoking-related complaints continues to grow, many condominium and other managed communities are opting to ban smoking to some extent. For those that choose to go 100% smoke-free, smoking is prohibited inside individual residences as well as outside, including common areas such as lobbies, swimming pools, and grounds. Some communities opt for a less restrictive policy, allowing smoking in designated outdoor areas or in individual homes only. Regardless of which approach your community association decides to take, all no-smoking policies benefit residents by protecting their health and their property, while also improving their quality of life.

Below are a few guidelines to follow if your community is considering implementing a smoke-free policy.

Consult your governing documents and association attorney

Some restrictions can be implemented through Board-made rule, while others may require an amendment to the governing documents. Regardless of which process you will have to follow, your governing documents should clearly outline the steps to take and what percentage of votes you will need to make the change. You also want to consult your association attorney who can provide guidance and make sure you understand and adhere to your association’s governing documents and don’t run afoul of state laws.  

Form a committee

Smoking is a very personal decision, therefore, it is important to handle a no-smoking policy with a bit of care. Inviting homeowners to be a part of the process is a critical early step to garnering resident support. When forming your committee, aim for a diverse group – consider homeowners, Board members, and perhaps even medical or public health professionals. Their first order of business should be to review the current situation and assess the level of support this type of policy will receive from residents. Once they’ve done so, they can begin researching options and work on developing the policy. How do they get started? We’re glad you asked…

Solicit homeowner feedback

There are lots of decisions to make when establishing a no-smoking policy. That’s why the next step in the process should be to survey your residents. Should the community strive to be 100% smoke-free or is it better to designate some smoking areas? Should the ban include individual homes altogether or just balconies and patios? Should this only apply to residences that share connecting walls? What about the pool area? Fitness room? Clubhouse? Playgrounds or dog parks? Soliciting resident opinions will help you understand how big an issue it is to residents and to what extent they will support the policy. Once you have this information, you can call a special meeting to discuss the feedback you received. Understanding where your stakeholders stand and what they want will go a long way in helping you develop a policy that meets the needs of the majority.

Communicate with homeowners

If an amendment to the governing documents is required to implement the no-smoking policy, then a homeowner vote is usually needed. Your property management company can work with your attorney on a communication to homeowners, which includes detailed information on the proposed policy, the percentage of homeowner votes needed to change it, how the Board and management team plan to enforce the new policy and other relevant issues. You can communicate this information via an informational meeting, which allows you to address their questions and concerns or send the information via email, newsletter, special notice, etc. You can even go one step further by providing helpful articles about the benefits of quitting smoking with resources to help your smoking residents kick the habit. When communicating the information to your residents, remember to emphasize that no-smoking policies address more than health and lifestyle concerns; they also benefit residents from a safety standpoint and may even lower insurance costs.  

While not all residents will totally embrace a no-smoking policy in your community, there are benefits to going smoke-free and these benefits should be communicated clearly to residents.

If you are trying to obtain LEED certification, a no-smoking policy may help you achieve that more quickly. The US Green Building Council (USGBC), which is responsible for assigning LEED Certification, has emphasized the importance of controlling environmental tobacco smoke as a prerequisite for certification, in both new construction and existing building operations and maintenance. In fact, controlling environmental tobacco smoke is considered so critical by the USGBC that it is weighted more heavily as a credit toward LEED certification than several other issues.

Additionally, data shows that beyond the health benefits to residents, going smoke-free protects ventilation equipment, wall treatments, carpets and valuables in buildings. If going smoke-free can enhance the quality of life of residents while also enhancing the value and desirability of your community, it is definitely something your association should consider.  For more information on going smoke-free, visit FirstService Residential, North America’s condominium association management leader.
Thursday October 27, 2016