It seems like every few weeks, a new ordinance is enacted somewhere that limits what we can or cannot do in public places. No smoking in restaurants? Cool, I like to actually savor my food anyway. Bars? No problem, your bedroom won’t smell like an ashtray the next morning from the pile of clothes on the floor or in the hamper. Public recreational areas? Of course not, there are children there!

But in recent years, a new movement has emerged to ban smoking in apartment units and condo/co-ops, as examined in a recent New York Times article. In most cases, the decision to prohibit smoking in multifamily residences isn’t being mandated. Rather, individual apartment owners are banning it in some of their properties primarily due to concerns over the effect of second-hand smoke.( Full disclosure: I used to smoke. I still do enjoy a cigarette on an occasional basis. But I despise smoking indoors, so I share the same anti-smoking sentiments that many non-smokers do.)
In major markets across the country, a handful of firms have made the move to ban smoking in on or more of their apartment properties, not only inside units and common areas but also on terraces and patios: Pan Am Cos., Related Cos., Archstone, AMLI Residential, McCaffery Interests and Trammell Crow Residential, among others. Kenbar Management in New York has taken it one step further; at one of its newest buildings, 1510 Lexington Ave., smokers can’t even use the sidewalks that wrap the property, which takes up almost an entire city block. ( Now, what the management is going to do about passersby lighting up is another question.)Even the Department of Housing and Urban Development has recommended that public housing agencies bar smoking in housing projects; to date, about 50 agencies have forbidden smoking in their buildings.Some municipalities have even mandated that smoking be banned in shared housing. In Richmond, CA, for instance, an ordinance was passed in July 2009 outlawing cigarette smoking, and in Belmont, CA, a smoking ban was passed two years ago and went into effect this month for units with shared floors or ceilings-effectively, all multifamily properties.
The City of Calabasas, CA near Los Angeles has a proposal on the table to ideally ban smoking in 80% of multifamily properties by 2012 ( which conjures up images of Warsaw ghetto-like communities for the other 20% of otherwise ostracized properties). Officials in Menlo Park in Northern California are debating a similar proposal.Aside from the health benefits, the smoking ban is helpful in other ways. Some firms are using it as a marketing tool for their residences; there’s even a website where such properties can be listed on the Smokefree Apartment House Registry. It limits the risk of fire from smokers who may fall asleep with a butt in their hands, or who haphazardly dispose of their cigarettes. There’s also the cost issue-it’s easier and cheaper to clean a non-smoking unit when it comes down to turning it over to a new tenant.And for some firms, limiting residents’ smoking improves indoor air quality, which is one of the factors taken into consideration when aiming to achieve LEED status on their projects. Trammell Crow Residential this week unveiled the second phase of its Alexan CityView on the Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor, touting the New Jersey project as an example of healthy living and green building practices.While this movement is a breath of fresh air for non-smokers, for those who oppose, it has become a civil liberties issue worthy of calling in the ACLU. After all, smoker or not, apartment tenants do pay rent to live in their homes, and condo or co-op residents own their residences outright.Regulating whether one can or cannot partake in a legal activity in one’s home is a sticky situation, and there are concerns that limiting what people may do in their own residences is a slippery slope to navigate. What’s next? A ban on cooking cabbage, fish or curry indoors? Taking it a step further, can a landlord ban loud music because it disturbs others? How about a colicky, crying baby in the middle of the night? Or an obese tenant whose heavy footsteps make his downstairs neighbors feel like they’re in an earthquake?
No residents over 300 lbs permitted on upper floors!!    Crying prohibited after 10 pm!!     Malodorous foods banned!!

(Okay, now I’m getting silly, but you get my point.)Some observers agree with the health benefits of smoke-free environments, but question how wise of a business decision it is. Apartments are suffering as weak demand is cutting into occupancies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20.6% of all adults over the age of 18, or some 46 million people in the US, smoke. Do landlords really want to snub a significant portion of would-be renters just to appease others?

Then there’s the enforcement issue. Sure, tenants who violate anti-smoking policies can get hit with fines and even face eviction. But who is responsible for the violators? Can a non-smoking tenant sue the management over a neighbor who flouts the rules? What about chain smokers that may smoke outdoors, but bring the residual smells into their units? ( Anyone who is familiar with a smoker knows that the smell lingers, permeating one’s clothes and body.)Concerns over safety arise, too. What happens when a tenant gets a nicotine fit at 3 am, goes downstairs to satisfy the craving and gets mugged on the isolated, dark street? Does that tenant have a right to sue the landlord because it was forced into an unsafe situation?Measures to limit tenant activities in a multifamily property are tricky, especially when it becomes policy and not just a matter of general courtesy to one’s neighbors. If you’re an apartment landlord or manager, what do you think about these latest developments? Have you considered enacting similar measures? Do you think it should be mandated, or left to the building ownership? And if you have banned smoking or other activities, what do your tenants think about it? PS: While doing research on this topic, I came across some other questionable activities apartment tenants partake in. Do you know what your tenants are doing?
In some metropolitan cities, apartment tenants are commandeering building rooftops, and sometimes their own terraces, to breed bees for honey. These aspiring beekeepers aren’t exactly professionals, and generally have to keep their activities on the hush-hush; most municipalities outlaw urban beekeeping.
As someone who is afraid of bees and has many sting-allergic friends who have to carry around epi-pens, I’m not too fond of the prospect of thousands of bees living on my neighbor’s patio.And in some cities, the “organic living” movement has some households raising their own chickens. While the majority house their fowl in small backyard coops, there are some New York families with coops in the co-ops. Most municipalities do allow people to have chickens as pets, but ban roosters (could you imagine those wake-up calls?).For most of these folks, the hens provide eggs, but others have no qualms about using them for meat. Let alone the concerns about any diseases the chickens may carry and the incessant pecking and clucking that may bother some neighbors, there is the problem of the proper and hygienic slaughtering and disposal of said poultry.I think I’d rather live next to a smoker…

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