No-smoke housing campaign expands

Posted Feb. 09, 2009, at 7:34 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Smokers in Maine already face a number of limitations on where they can light up. Most workplaces, restaurants, bars, government buildings, public events and modes of public transportation are smoke-free, and recently it became illegal to smoke in your own vehicle if anyone under the age of 16 is present.

Now, a smoke-free housing campaign that began in southern Maine in 2003 is pressing into the northern half of the state, aiming to encourage more landlords to prohibit smoking in their multifamily rental units.

Bonnie Irwin, district tobacco coordinator with the Bangor Region Public Health and Wellness program, said Monday that ads will start appearing this week in weekly papers in Aroostook, Washington, Hancock, Piscataquis and northern Penobscot counties as well as in the Bangor Daily News. The newspaper campaign will be followed next month by a direct mailing to about 175 landlords.

today’s poll

Do you think smoking should be prohibited in rental units?

Yes

No

The informational blitz is being funded through a grant from the Partnership for a Tobacco-Free Maine, the state’s tobacco prevention and control program. The message is aimed at both publicly subsidized apartment housing and private rental properties, Irwin said.

“We’re hoping to create awareness of the smoke-free housing initiative and to let landlords know there is no legal barrier to enacting a smoke-free policy,” Irwin said. In addition to pleasing nonsmoking tenants, she said, no-smoking rules cut down on the cost of repairing, cleaning and painting rental units between tenants.

Replacing burned carpets, painting over smoke-yellowed walls and woodwork, and cleaning the residue of toxic chemicals contained in cigarettes from appliances and other surfaces can cost landlords plenty, she said. In addition, since most home fires originate from careless smoking behavior, she said, smoke-free landlords could see a drop in the cost of their property insurance.

Amy Olfene, director of the Portland-based Smoke-Free Housing Coalition, said more than 40 percent of Maine’s privately owned apartment buildings and more than 70 percent of public housing projects have gone smoke-free since 2004, most in southern and western Maine. Individual policies differ, with some landlords simply requiring tenants to step outside, some establishing a 25-foot no-smoking zone around buildings, and others banning smoking outright anywhere on the property.

“Smoke-free policies are about protecting the health of the residents and the value and safety of the property,” Olfene said. A statewide survey of tenants conducted by her organization between 2004 and 2006 found that 78 percent prefer to live in a smoke-free home, even if they are smokers, she said.

Kathy Baldacci, who manages rental properties in Bangor, said the decision to go smoke-free at The Schoolhouse, a former high school renovated into a 60-unit apartment building on Harlow Street, was a good one. The policy took effect in September 2008.

“The overall response from my tenants was that they were ecstatic,” Baldacci said. A few did move out because of the new policy, she said, but most have been appreciative.

Baldacci said she worked closely with the Smoke-Free Housing Coalition, which provided informational packets for tenants and other support.

“It was time,” she said. “[Smoking in the building] was a huge expense and safety issue.”

But David Giroux, who manages rental properties and is also president and founder of Pro Realty in Bangor, said he has “never given any thought” to no-smoking policies.

People who don’t smoke can tell right away if an apartment smells of cigarettes and typically choose to look elsewhere, he said.

“They either like the unit or they don’t,” he said of prospective tenants.

At the Bangor Housing Authority, longtime director Elsie Coffey said all of the city’s 567 apartment units went smoke-free in 2007, as well as the authority’s administrative offices. Enforcing the policy can be a challenge, she said, especially in the sprawling 442-unit Capehart development.

“Some people are great; you see them standing out there 25 feet from the buildings,” she said. But others do smoke in their apartments, and Coffey said there’s not much she can do about it.

“We don’t have a patrol that goes door-to-door and sniffs,” she said.

If indoor smoking is detected during the course of routine maintenance or inspections, a warning is issued, according to Coffey. To date, only one noncompliant tenant has been threatened with eviction, she said.

Irwin said enforcing a no-smoking clause in a rental contract should be no more complicated than enforcing a no-pets policy.

“If someone violates the rule, it’s an infraction of their lease,” she said.

“No one is asking anyone to stop smoking,” she stressed. “A no-smoking policy just asks them to take it outside.”

The smoke-free housing initiative is endorsed by the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office.

On the Web: www.smokefreeforme.org.

mhaskell@bangordailynews.net

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