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New secondhand smoke laws for property owners and tenants

No property manager enjoys receiving complaints from an angry tenant against a neighboring tenant. Many complaints seem vindictive, frivolous or overblown; however, legitimate complaints about behaviors that violate lease agreements do occur.

Negotiable tenant complaints

An example of a negotiable complaint is a downstairs tenant who is upset about hours of foot-pounding noise across his upstairs neighbor's floor. He complains. The upstairs neighbor denies his allegation, but she agrees to investigate. Her son-in-law, daughter, and two young grandchildren live with her. When she is home, they are quiet. Pandemonium sets in when she goes to work. The upstairs tenant has a word with her family. They reroute the grandchildren to an outdoor play area during the day to resolve the foot-pounding issue.

Non-negotiable tenant complaints

Non-negotiable complaints are those that can result when lease violations occur, and property owners or tenants take no action. Tenants are aware of their rights and often will not hesitate to seek legal remedy against an owner if a serious tenant problem continues. A property owner may evict a tenant who refuses to remedy a lease violation.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development notified all multifamily building owners of a new law coming in 2018: Tenants cannot smoke in their apartments or within a 25-foot perimeter of the apartment property. The law became effective on July 31, 2018. Building owners can evict tenants who remain noncompliant.

The Surgeon General, through a well-documented series of long-term studies, firmly states that no amount of secondhand smoke is safe. Even invisible traces of secondhand smoke wafting through an apartment building are carcinogenic, with dire health consequences for those forced to breathe it in. Smoke from one apartment dweller can easily drift through an entire building. Researchers tried fans, ventilation modifications and other containment methods, but no system eliminated the problem. Property owners have had to pull down units and rebuild the apartments because secondhand smoke permeated the sheetrock.

More tenants prefer to remain inside their apartments to smoke as the weather grows chilly outside. They are aware of the rules, evidenced by the fact many of them wait to smoke inside until the local rental office closes at the end of each workday. Others, in spite of property managers' ongoing attempts to educate them, still do not realize the seriousness of the situation. Any tenant who is a victim of secondhand smoke, no matter how faint the odor, may have justification in writing a certified letter to the building manager and providing a copy to the property owner. 

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