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Advice needed for a delicate situation

LAJennifer

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Mar 2, 2005
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2,020
I own an apartment building in another state (my folks manage the day to day stuff). I usually fly in whenever there is a tenant turnover. I can't do that this time because I am in the process of a move. My parents are handling it very well. The units are Beautiful and super nice. The first prospective tenant enters the unit and the first thing she said is that she can smell smoke. I'm certain it turned her off the unit.

The older lady upstairs (so sweet and takes care of the place) is a smoker. We inherited her when we bought the building.. When it was brought to my attention that the lower level units were covering up the vents the smoke is coming through, she was told she will have to smoke outside. Obviously she isn't doing that - and the current tenant underneath never complained so I wasn't aware. But now he is moving out and my prospective tenants can smell smoke in the unit. Her unit is considerably under market as most of her rent is paid by HUD.

I'm going to give her a call tomorrow and wondering what to say. I don't want to be mean - I want to be reasonable. Are there any contraptions you can buy that sucks up the smoke? Would opening a window and smoking out that window fix the problem?

Just trying to brainstorm solutions without having to take further action. But on the other hand, if she is costing me money . . .
 

monarch64

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You could look into purchasing a smoke-eater (or two) for her unit. Still, if she is smoking inside or even directly outside the unit I think other tenants will be able to smell smoke if they are sensitive to it (that is, if they are not smokers.)
 

centralsquare

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That's a tough situation! I'm not how well devices can pull the smoke away...the fact that so many states have laws about smoking 20 or so feet away from buildings (and similar types of restrictions), I'd think it'd be hard to control the smoke. Her lease doesn't say she can't do that, right? So you have to use the carrot instead of the stick? Anything you can do to motivate her?
 

Cehrabehra

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centralsquare|1312439073|2983847 said:
That's a tough situation! I'm not how well devices can pull the smoke away...the fact that so many states have laws about smoking 20 or so feet away from buildings (and similar types of restrictions), I'd think it'd be hard to control the smoke. Her lease doesn't say she can't do that, right? So you have to use the carrot instead of the stick? Anything you can do to motivate her?
What about when her lease is up putting something in there - you know what? I'd contact a lawyer in that state and find out what your REAL options are!
 

swingirl

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Apr 6, 2006
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5,660
Add more fresh air intake into the ventilation system.
Change, clean or install better filters in the ventilation system.
Restrict the amount of air exhausted through the ventilation system from the residence of the party who smokes.

...along with some legal notification to the smoker.
 

zoebartlett

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12,450
When we rented an apt. once, it reeked of smoke. We loved the place so much, so it didn't deter us, but we asked that the unit be professionally cleaned (including carpets) before we moved in. I know the rental company brought in some sort of smoke eater/air purifier and left the windows open for a bit. I was wary that that would work, as the smoke smell was really strong, but it did. Maybe you could try something like that.

I'd have an honest conversation with the upstairs tenant. I'm not sure if you've put in something in her lease about not smoking, but I'd definitely do that in the future. I'd let her know that you'll need her to step outside when she chooses to smoke, because her actions are causing other potential tenants from choosing your other unit because of the smoke smell. There are so many other reasons, too. I was going to suggest mentioning that the smoke smell was bothering your former tenant but that doesn't seem to be the case. I know you probably don't want to make waves since you inherited her when you bought the building and she's sweet to look after the place, but I'd be firm (polite of course, but firm) that you can not allow her to smoke inside anymore (for safety reasons, too, aside from just the odor issue).

Hope this helps!
 

kenny

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Tough one.

My first step would be to consult my attorney since laws vary by location.
Keep in mind the possibility of future legal action against YOU if other tenants hold YOU liable for harm from exposure to second hand smoke.
What if a court rules you didn't do enough to mitigate the smoke and another tenant's baby is harmed by second hand smoke while mom was pregnant?

Being nice to the older lady her may hurt YOU in the long run.
Being nice and being a landlord/lady are not always compatible.
 

Amys Bling

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11,025
kenny|1312467198|2983979 said:
Tough one.

My first step would be to consult my attorney since laws vary by location.
Keep in mind the possibility of future legal action against YOU if other tenants hold YOU liable for harm from exposure to second hand smoke.
What if a court rules you didn't do enough to mitigate the smoke and another tenant's baby is harmed by second hand smoke while mom was pregnant?

Being nice to the older lady her may hurt YOU in the long run.
Being nice and being a landlord/lady are not always compatible.

couldn't agree more! Smoking in public places has become a legal issue and you have to figure out the legal recourse for yourself and for being the owner of the building. You can still be nice and matter of fact about it with your tennant, but you shouldn't tip-toe around the issue because you are being nice.
 

smitcompton

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Hi All,

The appropriate contact for the laws and/or rules would be HUD, who will be able to tell you in a minute whether you are able to restrict her smoking in her own apartment. If I remember correctly, a landlord uses a HUD lease for tenents that it subsidizes.

I have never heard yet, that a person could be restricted from smoking in their own apartment .

Good Luck,
Annette
 

Octavia

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smitcompton|1312479066|2984138 said:
I have never heard yet, that a person could be restricted from smoking in their own apartment .
There's actually a trend toward smoke-free buildings in some cities, where smoking anywhere on the property is forbidden (including inside apartments). However, I don't know if it would be permissible to do that in the middle of a tenant's lease, since it changes the terms and conditions of the contract. My gut feeling (but I have not researched it, either generally or under the specific facts of this situation) would be that a no-smoking clause could be inserted when the lease comes up for renewal, but LAJen is likely limited to just asking the tenant if she'd agree to smoke outside while using other remedial measures in the vacant apartment for the time being. And while you could probably convert it to a no-smoking building over time, I think it would have to be a blanket rule applicable to all new leases (eventually all units in the building) so as not to be discriminatory. However, definitely talk to someone familiar with the local housing laws, since different jurisdictions have different rules and regulations.
 

Circe

Ideal_Rock
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Hm. As a former smoker and the child of a life-long smoker, I'm kind of wondering how much you have to smoke for it to be sensed by other tenants! I'm guessing the building has central air? If that's the case, I'd look into whether something could be done to block the vents on her end, if she were amenable, with the installation of an exterior AC; in the meantime, a good air purifier set right by the vent should do the trick.
 

centralsquare

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Messages
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Octavia|1312481438|2984177 said:
smitcompton|1312479066|2984138 said:
I have never heard yet, that a person could be restricted from smoking in their own apartment .
There's actually a trend toward smoke-free buildings in some cities, where smoking anywhere on the property is forbidden (including inside apartments).
Some cities have banned smoking outside. Didn't NYC ban smoking in most outdoor places a few months ago?
 

Circe

Ideal_Rock
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centralsquare|1312484536|2984218 said:
Octavia|1312481438|2984177 said:
smitcompton|1312479066|2984138 said:
I have never heard yet, that a person could be restricted from smoking in their own apartment .
There's actually a trend toward smoke-free buildings in some cities, where smoking anywhere on the property is forbidden (including inside apartments).
Some cities have banned smoking outside. Didn't NYC ban smoking in most outdoor places a few months ago?
Yep: at this point, you can't smoke within 20 feet of most entrances (which is broadly interpreted by most smokers as, just don't stand there sucking on your stogie: you can keep walking), you can't smoke in outdoor eateries, you can't smoke in public parks, and you can't smoke in Times Square. Thing is, while you technically "can't," I don't really see most cops chomping at the bit to enforce this one. So unless you start making citizens arrests ....

The trend towards smoke-free buildings is a very real one: one of the apartments I was looking at this weekend is very proud of going smoke-free, and told me flat-out that they're writing it into all their leases for new tenants, and if you sign that lease and they catch you lighting up, you will be evicted. That said, there's nothing that they, or any landlord, can do without having such a clause in a lease: as yet, no state has made it illegal to smoke in your own home.

For the most part, I find the whole thing a little silly ... but I'd never thought about the central-air cross-contamination issue. It just makes me wonder if central air is worth it, though - I mean, if you can ban cigarette smoke, can you ban cats and/or dogs because they could trigger allergies through the central air? How about things like heavy perfume or cleaning fluids, which can trigger some people's asthma very badly? Just seems like a slippery slope that's much better handled on a case-by-case basis by conscientious landlords ....
 

Imdanny

Ideal_Rock
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Jan 21, 2008
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6,186
LAJennifer|1312436225|2983826 said:
Would opening a window and smoking out that window fix the problem?
Absolutely not.

Also, regarding your idea of a device to filter the smoke, it would not work either. Theoretically, the air in an entire unit could run through a filter, but any such device is likely to be small, inadequate, and the smoker in the unit is free to, and would, not exhale next to the device, and is likely to smoke in any room she chooses.

Cigarettes create a lot of smoke. If you see a single lit cigarette's smoke, outside, in the right light, you can see a vast amount of smoke, even though it is created by a very small fire.

I believe that you should not consider any other solution than to reiterate the smoking outside policy. Please check with your state's landlord tenant code, but in my state this falls under "house rules" and the landlord has a legal right to prohibit smoking in a dwelling (and in fact on the landlord's entire property).

If I were you, I would reiterate your requirement that the tenant not smoke inside, and I would do this is writing.

If the tenant still refuses to follow your policy, I would take legal action to evict her.

Landlord tenant code is a business relationship, and I don't believe that trying to be nice, friendly, or diplomatic would do any good in your case since you have already tried this, and your tenant has refused to comply with your wishes.
 

LAJennifer

Ideal_Rock
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Mar 2, 2005
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Great advice from you all! I will respond individually shortly.

Kenny, you brought up a great point that being a landlady and being nice doesn't always go hand in hand. You are SO right! It is a fine line, for sure. We always hear horror stories about crappy landlords and I try so hard not be one of those. BUT, at the end of the day, it IS a business.

The building is in West Virginia. Landlord/tenant laws in that state are very outdated and tenants have very little rights. That's good for me, I guess, but I still try to be fair. Her lease is month to month and can be terminated by me (or her) for any reason. I negotiate the annual rent increases (for her unit) with the Housing Authority and they always offer to start procedures to terminate her residency if I want to raise the rent higher than what they can approve. Obviously I've never wanted to do that - but the tenant knows I can and she has feared that I will ever since I bought the building.

I think I will give her a call and tell her the situation and just see what her reaction is. I may state that I will turn off her central A/C and install a window unit if she can't comply. I will also consider amending the lease at months' end to state no smoking inside the building.

Thanks all! You guys are the best!
 

zoebartlett

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smitcompton|1312479066|2984138 said:
Hi All,

The appropriate contact for the laws and/or rules would be HUD, who will be able to tell you in a minute whether you are able to restrict her smoking in her own apartment. If I remember correctly, a landlord uses a HUD lease for tenents that it subsidizes.

I have never heard yet, that a person could be restricted from smoking in their own apartment .

Good Luck,
Annette

We own a condo that is not our residence, and we will only rent it out to a non-smoker. I just don't trust that a tenant who smokes will only do so outside, even if we make it a stipulation in the lease. Luckily, our tenant doesn't smoke so it's a non-issue, but we're glad we have it in writing.
 

maplefemme

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May 12, 2011
Messages
874
I don't know what your laws are for your State but here, if you put no smoking in the unit as a restriction on a lease, the tenant HAS to comply, if they don't you can evict, even if you have a year long lease.
I would speak with her to let her know that next month's lease you are drawing up papers to make the building non smoking. It can be very civilly done, I'd actually do it for all tenants so it's fair.
I would not be happy smelling smoke in my unit from other tenants, I wouldn't rent such a unit and I'd leave if it couldn't be resolved in an existing building I was living in.
I'm not anti-smoking, I don't care what people do, it's their right, I just don't want to breathe it myself.
 

centralsquare

Ideal_Rock
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Oh, interesting. When does the lease agreement end? Seems like you just need to inform her she needs to move out (or agree not to smoke) three months before that.
 

smitcompton

Ideal_Rock
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Hi,

Thanks, this is interesting to me. I learned something today. At least for West Virginia.

Annette
 

LAJennifer

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Well, I talked to her today. I left her a message yesterday explaining the situation in the most pleasant way possible. I stated that she has been told not to smoke in the unit and that I want and try to be understanding of her circumstances but that if it continues to seep through the vents that I will have to consider turning off her A/C and installing a window unit.

She left me a message this morning and she kind of went off on me. She was very upset and couldn't believe that I would "threaten" to turn off her A/C. She went through a whole laundry list of things that she does to take care of the property (sweep the steps, line up the garbage cans on the curb, etc. - for the record, she does do these things but no one asks her to or expects her to and, frankly, it has nothing to do with the current issue), and that she feels like we want rid of her (we don't - we just want ALL the units to stay rented). She also said that nobody has ever told her that she can't smoke in the unit (I saw and heard my DH tell her just that - it was a little over a year ago).

So, I call her back to have a discussion. It was almost comical and actually quite sad. I let her vent for a little while and she reiterated that no one has ever told her not to smoke. I stated that she absolutely has been told, by my DH, and I saw it and heard it with my own eyes and ears. Her response (and this is where it gets funny), "No one has ever said that to me. If I had been told not to, then I wouldn't. I would NEVER break the rules." So I said, "ok, so what if I told you that now?" She said, "you can't. It's not in the lease." I almost cracked up. Told her I could put it in the lease next month. She said I can't because the lease renews each year for a year. I informed her that she is actually month to month and I can terminate for any reason with proper notice according to the law (again, speaking as nice as I can). Then she cried. She completely broke down and went on about how hard the last 10 years have been for her and that she feels horrible about herself because she receives public assistance for her disability (liver transplant), and that her kids are grown and moved away and now she has no one.

I just tried to steer her back to the topic at hand and stated that I don't want to have to further address the issue or alert DH to what is going on (we are totally Good Cop, Bad Cop - and I'm the Good one).

I think I'll try to get back there in the next few months and pay a visit to my contact at the Housing Authority, amend the lease to include "no smoking" and then take it from there. I don't want to be liable or subject my other tenants to second hand smoke.

Anyway, I thought y'all might enjoy that little update.
 

kenny

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Well if she swept the stairs, had a liver transplant and even cried on the phone . . . then back off you meanie!
Plus, she gets extra points for being an old woman, since people are not equal.

Shame on you, you evil monster.
Just leave that other unit vacant you money-grubbing landlady.
What's wrong with you; don't you get that this is all about HERRRRRRRRRR?
I mean, this woman lines up the garbage cans for cripes sake - you owe her big time.

(That was all sarcasm.)

Joking aside, I'd say she has done you a favor by making this situation no longer delicate.
Now it's easier to solve this.
 

LAJennifer

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Aw, Kenny - thanks for that. You made me laugh so hard, I cried tears. I appreciate it.

And YES, you are absolutely right. She just made this situation easier to solve.
 

zoebartlett

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Well, at least you talked to her and voiced your concerns. It sounds like a good idea to put a no smoking clause in this woman's lease and then drop by to check on things in a few months. I know you said you'd contact the person at HUD but you could stop by the apt. too to make sure she's in compliance.
 

LAJennifer

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Resurrecting this thread to get some thoughts.

We bought the building 5 years ago and we inherited her as a tenant. She is on disability and most of her rent is paid by the Housing Authority. She is a good tenant, and at this time I have no issues with her. She spent much of last year hospitalized for various complications, but she seems to be doing well now.

The Housing Authority is a pain in the ass and was never in our original business plan, but we didn't want to put the tenant out. The last rent increase we received from them was in 2011. Now, they are saying that the rent increase never should have been approved so they are taking it back. The rental income from this unit will be what we were receiving from them in 2009. The building is 4 units (all 2 bedroom). The rent in the other units exceeds what she pays by $210 a month ($2520 a year). Housing Authority are unpleasant, don't return phone calls, don't want to answer questions, and neglects to inform me of these new changes (the tenant alerted me because she received notice they were cutting the total rent).

I can no longer do business with them. I don't trust them. At the beginning of April I sent them notice that we have decided to end our relationship with Housing Authority and are willing to give the tenant until June 1. All correspondence to the tenant has to come from them - and they haven't told her yet. I worry about her and wanted her to have the full 2 months to plan and deal with this life change. She is going to be very upset. It sounds like they are going to give her 30 days notice.

Should I call her and give her a heads up? I'm not supposed to, but I want her to have a smooth transition and I can't make them do their jobs properly. And, I feel badly for her. She lives in a 2 bedroom in one of the nicest buildings, in the nicest neighborhood, and has been there for many years. She will now have to take a 1 bedroom, in a not so nice neighborhood. Should I offer to pay for her move?
 

JewelFreak

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Holy mackeral, Jennifer! 2009? Right after the crash? Why don't they just ask you to pay her for living there? :angryfire:

Your not being allowed to tell her makes no sense to me. Especially when they aren't exactly on the ball. It's your building, your investment, your tenant with whom you've had a pretty long relationship. Tell her so she has time to find somewhere else. Who can do that in 30 days, for pete's sake? The very definition of heartless bureaucracy!

I'd suggest first offering to give her a hand looking for a new apartment. Sounds like she may not have the emotional or possibly physical energy to get off the dime easily -- so any assistance you give her helps you make this happen faster too. Generous thought, paying for her move -- wait to see if that's the only way you'll be able to get her to vacate on time. She might be able to bankroll it herself, or have friends who can schlep stuff for her.

Good luck! I'm interested in seeing how this goes for you all. Will be thinking of you.

--- Laurie
 

smitcompton

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Hi,

Your lease is with her, not the H.A. She has her financial eligibility with the H.A. They agree to subsidize her portion of the rent. You agree to meet certain standards that the HA has laid out. And they check the dwelling to make sure it meets their specs.
I have never heard of no notifucation to the tenent. Usually both are notified. Don't leave this woman hanging.

This tenent probably needs housing assistance, so she should notify the H.A so they can find her another placement. In my state if the person is disabled and homeless, they get first priority in finding housing for them from the HA.

I had been in housing a number of yrs, and yes if they were an undesirable tenent, we would pay for their move. It was worth it to get rid of them. In this case the HA should help--they may help with some moving expenses.

Notify the tenent.(better read your lease)

Annette
 

LAJennifer

Ideal_Rock
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2,020
Thanks, Jewelfreak and Smitcompton for your insight. I found out today that the tenant has been notified and is looking for a new place. She hasn't called me at all, so she must be ok. I'm just going to keep my distance and let her have privacy during this time.
 

JewelFreak

Ideal_Rock
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Whew, good to know it's working out. Your approach (non-approach, I mean, lol) sounds just right. Hope things go peacefully & on time!

--- Laurie
 
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