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Smokers becoming less welcome in apartments

Allen Norwood
Allen Norwood writes on Home design, do-it-yourself and real estate for The Charlotte Observer. His column appears each Saturday.

If you’re a smoker, you might have a harder time finding an apartment to rent in the years ahead – especially if it’s a newer, nicer place.

Smoking bans are becoming more common across the country, industry watchers say – even here in tobacco country. One company based in Charlotte, which manages property in 10 states, has earned kudos for banning smoking in a couple dozen facilities.

“There has definitely been an increase,” said Irene Gammon, spokesperson for the Greater Charlotte Apartment Association. “And it has been really well received. … One of our members, Ginkgo Residential, has been a leader.”

Newer complexes are most likely to ban smoking, Gammon said.

It’s easier to prohibit smoking in the original lease contract for the first tenants. Converting a complex to nonsmoking as leases expire can be a drawn-out process. And, of course, existing tenants who smoke might fuss.

It’s such a headache that Tommy Lawing Jr. of Lawing Realty advises the owners of property his company manages that a ban might not be worth the trouble. He says that bans are hard to enforce, and that a prospective tenant’s creditworthiness and past rental history are more important considerations.

He agrees with Gammon, though, that heavy smoking takes a heavy toll on an apartment – and never mind the risk of fire.

I’m a former smoker. I also used to help clean and paint apartments between tenants. Sometimes it’s even hard to make out the original paint colors in the bedroom of a heavy smoker. Were those walls blue or green? Was that ceiling ever white?

How many coats of primer and paint will it take to cover the smoke stains – if we’re lucky?

Then, of course, there’s the odor. Soft surfaces like carpets and drapes hold the stale smoke smell. Running an ionizer for several days will help. But future tenants with sensitive noses might still object.

In a story earlier this year in Property Management Insider (, a Ginkgo executive said that the cost of turning the apartment of a smoker averages $2,000 to $4,000, instead of $500 to $800 for a nonsmoker. In one case, the company spent $12,000 – and ended up replacing all the ductwork.

Ginkgo’s Scott Wilkerson said that three-quarters of tenants preferred a smoke-free environment.

Gammon points out it doesn’t make a lot of sense for apartment owners and managers to tout environmental certification – and then allow smoking.

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