The dangers of both smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke have been highlighted in recent years. It’s reported that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in both the United States and Canada. Smoking affects more than health too. It affects our physical environment and the buildings and homes we live in, by increasing risks of fire and property damage, raising insurance rates and increasing legal liability.
Property managers will tell you about the complaints they receive from homeowners about their neighbors who smoke. It’s not just about their own health and concerns about secondhand smoke either. Homeowners and residents complain about increased litter, fire hazards from improperly discarded cigarette butts, overflowing ashtrays in common spaces and, of course, that secondhand smoke.
In response to the complaints, many managed communities and condominiums are considering banning smoking to some extent. Those choosing to go 100% smoke-free are banning smoking outside, in common areas such as lobbies and pools, and in individual residences. Other communities are opting for a less restrictive policy, allowing smoking in individual homes, as well as in designated outdoor areas.
Take a look at our guidelines to help your community go smoke-free without lighting fires in the process.
1. Always check governing documents and ask your association attorney.
Some restrictions can be implemented through Board-made rule. Others may require an amendment to your association’s governing documents. Regardless of which process you must follow, your governing documents should clearly outline the steps to take and what percentage of votes you will need to make the change. Be sure to consult your association attorney; they will provide guidance and make sure you follow your association’s governing documents and don’t run afoul of state laws.
2. Create an investigative committee.
Smoking is a very personal choice. Therefore, it is important to handle consideration of 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, include diverse points of view: homeowners, Board members, and perhaps even medical, environmental or public health professionals (try to find those experts within your community before seeking them outside). The initial task should be to review the current situation. 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. What’s the next step?
3. Get input from homeowners and residents.
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 allow smoking in designated 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? Playgrounds or dog parks? Clubhouse? Fitness room? Soliciting resident opinions will help you understand how big an issue smoking is to residents and how they want to change the existing situation. Will they support a partial restriction? A full ban? Once you have gathered this information, call a special meeting to discuss it. Understanding where your community members stand and what they want will go a long way toward helping you develop a policy that works for as many people as possible.
4. Be open and transparent with homeowners.
While not all residents will quickly 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 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.
This information should be communicated in an informational meeting, which allows you to address their questions and concerns immediately, or you can send the information via email, newsletter or special notice. Go one step further by providing helpful articles about the health and financial benefits of quitting smoking, along 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 also lower insurance premiums too.
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.
Some data shows that, beyond the health benefits to residents, going smoke-free protects ventilation equipment, wall treatments, carpets and valuables in the same building. If going smoke-free can enhance the quality of life of residents while also increasing 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, Georgia’s community association management leader.