It recently became legal for California landlords to forbid apartment renters from smoking in their units, but few property owners do so.
In a decision affecting nearly 2,000 units in 13 apartment complexes, the Towbes Group Inc. of Santa Barbara said it has become the largest apartment portfolio in California to impose a no-smoking policy on individual units and common areas.
Starting this month, new residents of Towbes Group's apartments in Ventura, Goleta, Santa Maria, Lompoc and Santa Barbara may no longer smoke in their units. Residents who moved in earlier have until the end of the year to comply with the new restrictions.
In addition to addressing secondhand smoke concerns, the prohibition on lighting up offers a financial boost to landlords, said Jim Carrillo, a Towbes vice president. His company "turns" about 1,000 units a year, which means they must be cleaned for new residents. The process costs about twice as much if the last tenant was a smoker.
"You can mask it with paint, but in order to totally remove the residue you have to scrape the walls," Carrillo said, then put on primer and more layers of paint. Countertops and cabinets may also need intense cleansing treatments.
The landlord was partly inspired to make the change after spending $4,000 on insulation, caulking and other efforts to find and cover every possible opening between a smoker's apartment and a nonsmoker's apartment.
Since a majority of the company's tenants were nonsmokers, company officials reasoned, "Why not go smoke-free?" Carrillo said.
The state Legislature approved a law that went into effect in January allowing landlords to prohibit smoking in rental units.
Developer Sares-Regis made a new 580-unit apartment complex in Pasadena smoke-free last year, even though the state ruling wasn't in place. Tenants and visitors who felt compelled to puff could be seen lighting up across the street from the 8-acre Westgate Apartments near Old Pasadena.