Step 1: Assessing your situation

The ease and speed of transitioning to a smoke-free rental building depends on several factors including how many units and renters you have, what kind of lease agreements they have signed, what your turn-over rate looks like, and whether current tenants would support a potential policy. Before moving forward with a smoke-free policy, it’s a good idea to assess where you currently stand.

Setting yourself up for success

The purpose of this step is to gather data so you can make informed decisions regarding smoke-free policy development. Properly assessing your situation, such as determining the extent of the problem and determining factors that may help or hinder your smoke-free policy implementation, will help you come to a solution.

Build support over time by doing thorough groundwork. A great first step is understanding the benefits and incentives and legal implications of a smoke-free building. You will also need to understand what residents think about their building becoming smoke-free and their readiness to accept policy change. This will help you in developing both a policy and implementation plan that will be supported by and meet the needs of most residents. This may require data collection through a survey or multiple one-on-one conversations. Be sure to read Step 2: Engaging tenants, staff and other relevant stakeholders before planning any data collection that involves reaching out to tenants or other stakeholders.

Property managers or landlords of medium-sized or large buildings may want to strike a committee to assess the issue.

Questions for committees to consider

  1. How does a smoke-free policy align with our organizational goals and values?
  2. What is our long-term vision in developing a smoke-free policy?
  3. Where and how are residents currently being exposed to second-hand smoke?
  4. How are we currently tracking and managing complaints about smoking? What does that data tell us?
  5. How much demand is there for smoke-free housing among residents? How much opposition?
  6. What are the potential costs or cost savings of implementing a smoke-free policy?

During this assessment phase, book a meeting with your insurance company. Find out if they would offer you any discount on your property insurance if you implemented a smoke-free policy. Estimate how much money you would save in the long term both on insurance and on turnover costs by going smoke-free. Consider whether or not you would be interested in translating any of those cost savings into incentives for current tenants to fast track the process of signing new rental agreements. Options could include offering a month of free rent or offering a rent reduction.

Conducting a survey

How are you currently tracking and managing complaints about second-hand smoke exposure? What does that data tell you? If you don't have a good understanding your residents' opinions, it might be worthwhile to conduct a survey to gather more insight. If you are interested in piloting a smoke-free policy in one or two buildings, a survey can tell you which buildings may be the easiest ones to start with. Surveys can also serve the dual purpose of alerting residents about potential changes while demonstrating respect for their input at an early stage in the decision-making process.

Sending out a survey will evoke a reaction from those who would be strongly supportive of or opposed to any type of smoking restriction. Anticipate reactions and be prepared with your response. You may want to let them know that you value their input and provide some information on your rationale for looking into the issue.

Information to collect in a tenant survey

  • The number of tenants who currently smoke
  • Where smoking is currently taking place in the building
  • How often current residents are involuntarily exposed to second-hand smoke
  • Where involuntary smoke exposure seems to be coming from
  • The level of resident support for a smoke-free policy
  • Which type of policy would be most supported (e.g.; including individual units, balconies or all grounds with a designated smoking area)

Download a sample tenant survey and cover letter.

Encourage greater participation in your survey by offering an incentive such as a draw for a prize for all those who participate.

Seeking understanding

A smoke-free policy is not meant to ostracize any of your residents. Smoking can be a very powerful addiction. Many smokers may want to quit, but their addiction to nicotine is a significant barrier. Try to be considerate of these challenges and adopt a posture of understanding before you begin engaging residents who currently smoke.

Also, be prepared to listen to and understand people who will be affected by a smoke-free policy in other ways, including people with serious illnesses, disabilities or mobility issues, and people who use tobacco for religious purposes as many Indigenous people do.

While it is 100% legal to implement a smoke-free policy, all policy makers must understand their duty to accommodate groups that are protected under human rights legislation. Protected groups include persons with disabilities and individuals who use tobacco for religious purposes. Accommodation does not mean exemption from a smoke-free policy, but it does mean making an effort to find mutually agreeable solutions that do not expose other residents to secondhand smoke on an ongoing basis. For more information on protected groups and your duty to accommodate see the legal section and policy development section of our FAQs.

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