Smoke-free housing is a possibility


Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 9, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Placing restrictions on cigarette smoking within apartment buildings and converting individual apartments to nonsmoking units would be easy changes for apartment complexes in Gainesville to make, said the regional marketing manager for Paradigm Properties in Gainesville.

However, the choice is usually left to residents, Sara Henning said.

It is feasible for properties to make this conversion because it would reduce apartment cleaning costs and could even be used as a positive marketing tool, said Anna Snitchler, a property manager for three Paradigm Properties apartments.

Nevertheless, property managers are reluctant to ban smoking because it would be difficult to keep track of what residents do in their private apartments without making those residents feel like their privacy was invaded, Snitchler said.

"Property managers don't necessarily want to be watchdogs," said Snitchler, who manages Arlington Square and The Landings.

"It is hard to tell a resident what they can and cannot do in their own home that they're paying for," said Snitchler. "It just boils down to saying it in your lease."

However, thousands of apartment complexes across the country have restricted smoking in their units in response to health concerns and a growing movement for non-smoking apartment housing.

In general, complexes in Gainesville that lease apartments by the bedroom are nonsmoking complexes, such as Royal Village, Campus Lodge and University Club apartments.

One way to enforce this policy would be through additional cleaning costs and penalties, said Scott Tomar, a former tobacco researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office on Smoking and Health.

Paradigm in Gainesville currently applies such a policy with its smoking units, and its residents are informed of the policy in their lease and are billed for any excess cleaning needed after moveout, said Henning.

"We want people to enjoy their homes, but we don't want them to be destroyed," Snitchler said. "Smoking can cause damage."

Apartments rented by heavy smokers must be cleaned two or three times and walls often need to be repainted because of cigarette tar stains. Carpets, furniture and appliances must also be replaced because of damages caused by cigarette smoke, Henning said.

"It costs us more in the long run to have residents that smoke," Henning said.

If a resident specifically wants nonsmoking housing, Paradigm can currently provide this in its apartments where bedrooms are individually leased, but the decision to smoke in an apartment that is traditionally leased is left up to the resident and roommates, Henning said.

"If residents are willing to pay for damages, it's hard to tell them that they can't smoke," said Snitchler.

Some in the real estate industry view a ban on smoking in apartment buildings as discriminatory. In addition, some property managers claim that it could hurt their business by deterring smokers from living in their complexes.

This has not been an issue for Paradigm. As long as options are provided for smokers, providing nonsmoking housing could be used as a positive selling point for properties, as more people begin to ask for it, Snitchler said.

A nonsmoking policy could also attract smokers who don't want their apartments to smell like cigarettes, said Kirk Williams, a Paradigm Properties resident who smokes.

When a person smokes inside their apartment, the smoke filters around the room through the air conditioning vents and causes the apartment to smell bad, said Williams, who lives in Lexington Crossing.

If smoke circulates through air filters and back into apartments, it can also cause negative health effects similar to secondhand smoke.

"While residents have the right to smoke in their homes, they do not have the right to expose others to deadly chemicals," Tomar said.

A smoker's roommates probably wouldn't appreciate secondhand smoke in their apartment either, Williams said.

"I think it's just a common courtesy thing," he said.

An apartment's smoking policy is not an issue in most smokers' decisions on where to live; as long as it is allowed outside, "you can just step outside the door and smoke," Williams said.

"Most smokers I know don't smoke inside," Williams said. "I don't think anyone would not live in an apartment because it was nonsmoking."

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