Despite the number of smokers in the UK hitting a record low, one in six adults are still lighting up, according to the latest official report published in the Office for National Statistics. In a study conducted recently, it was found that 12% of tenants have secretly smoked in their “no-smoking” property. This makes smoking an issue for many landlords, as there is a very real possibility that your tenant may smoke in your property. And, just like tenants who secretly keep pets without their landlord’s permission, landlords have a choice to make when it comes to enforcing a smoking ban in their property. Often this is a very personal choice made by the landlord, based on their personal feelings toward smoking.
At the end of the day, whether you agree with it or not, your tenants are adults who are responsible for their own life choices and habits. As the landlord, it is most reasonable to not permit smoking in your property, based on the smoke damage it may potentially cause to your interior and increased cost of maintenance. However, you cannot reasonably justify the ban to tenants based solely on your demonisation of smokers. You may personally despise smoking, but you won’t gain your tenants’ respect from verbally insulting or vilifying them. If questioned, you need to state the facts. Namely, how it affects you as the property owner.
Of course, landlords who smoke themselves tend to be a bit more sympathetic toward their tenants’ smoking habits and can therefore be more relaxed about letting to smokers.
Why shouldn’t tenants smoke in rented properties?
The three main complaints against smoking tenants are the long-term smells, stains and the increase in fire risk to the property. Once-white walls after a while may turn a yellowy off-white, and every surface in the home may develop a fine coat of discolouring residue produced from the smoke particles released into the air. The smell of stale cigarette smoke can be difficult to remove from carpets and furnishings, deterring future tenants should the property not be fully deodorised once the smoking tenant moves out.
Most of the time, the costs of cleaning the property and repainting the walls to hide its history of tenant smokers can be taken out of the tenant’s deposit. This will rely on you having taken a detailed inventory at the beginning of the tenancy, so that you can claim some of the deposit on the grounds of smoking stains on the walls and fabric.
On the other hand, smokers can cause just as much damage to your interior in terms of smells and stains as an enthusiastically experimental cook who hasn’t quite mastered the art of cleaning up after themselves. And the risk of fire is surely more troubling when you’re renting to an avid, but irresponsible, candle collector. But you wouldn’t interrogate prospective tenants specifically on their cooking and candle-lighting habits, would you?
How can you stop tenants from smoking?
Though you can’t actually stop a tenant from smoking in your property, if you include a clause in the tenancy agreements not permitting tenants or their guests to smoke tobacco or (any other substance) then you have every right to evict them if they do so. Though, without evidence other than your reports of the smell, it may difficult to evict your tenant on this basis alone. So, although the law is very much on your side for this one, the reality is that you’re going to have a hard time persuading the court – especially if your tenant is otherwise a first-rate tenant who always pays their rent on time.
In which case, you may want to rethink your blanket ban on smoking. The fact that your tenant is perfect in every other way, keeps the property looking respectable and never fails to pay their rent, may outweigh the benefits of a non-smoking tenant who damages the property in other ways and isn’t as reliable with their rent payments. If they are a long-term tenant, especially, then it may be worth keeping them there as the period of unoccupancy may cost you more than the cleaning of the property. And, let’s face it, if they’ve been there for a good few years then you’ll probably need to do a big clean for the next tenant anyway as there will be all the usual, unpreventable wear and tear.
If the tenant simply must smoke despite your wishes, you may be able to politely encourage them to only smoke outdoors. Sure, realistically they may not do that all year round, but by asking them in a friendly manner they are more likely to make the effort when they can. And even half of the time will make a difference.
If you aren’t concerned about smoking in your property but you let a house share, then your house share will have to comply with the Smoke-free (Exemptions and Vehicles) Regulations 2007 legislation. This means that legally you cannot permit smoking in communal areas of shared residential premises. You will have to state in the tenancy agreement that smoking is not allowed in the social areas of the shared accommodation, such as the kitchen, hallways or living room, in accordance with the law. If your tenants have individual agreements for their own private rooms, then legally it is your choice whether you allow them to smoke privately in their room or not.
And so the easiest solution is to be sure that you select a non-smoking tenant in the first place, but even this doesn’t guarantee that your tenant won’t take up smoking later during their tenancy.
Do smoking tenants affect the cost of landlord insurance?
The short answer is: not really, no. Most insurers are unlikely to ask whether the property is no-smoking or not when providing landlords with a quote, and so are unlikely to increase your premium because of the fact. But just because insurers don’t ask you, don’t assume that it’s not important and just included in the standard cover.
Insurers tend to be firm believers in the old saying, “where there is smoke, there is fire”. Many insurers will not pay out if a fire was caused by someone falling asleep with a lit cigarette, and you will not see this clause in your policy. This is why you should always check to see if things like this are covered by your landlord insurance, and pay to have the clause inserted if you are concerned about the risk.
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