Looking to set a no-smoking policy in your building? We have all heard about the numerous harmful effects of smoking and secondhand smoke exposure. In fact, the state of Arizona addresses the dangers of secondhand smoke in its Smoke-Free Arizona Act. The Act prohibits smoking in enclosed public buildings and workplaces, as well as in enclosed, common areas of multifamily buildings. Furthermore, smoking is also not allowed within 20 feet of the windows, doors, and ventilation systems of these common areas.
Unfortunately, the bad news for condo owners who want to avoid secondhand smoke is that the Act does not apply to private units in multifamily buildings, such as balconies and patios. However, that doesn’t mean that your homeowners association (HOA) can’t go beyond the state’s restrictions.
If your HOA is considering implementing no-smoking policies in your building, this could just be the prime time. Over the past few years, the smoking rate among adults in Arizona has decreased, pointing to a growing number of people making a choice to live a smoke-free life.

The benefits of an HOA no-smoking policy

Smoking can raise far-reaching and long-lasting health concerns, especially in a multifamily building. Not only can smoking increase the risk of fire, it can also cause other types of property damage, such as staining. This can significantly raise insurance costs and create liability issues for your homeowners’ association. Furthermore, in buildings that permit smoking, association board members and their community management company are more likely to receive smoking-related complaints about: 
  • Secondhand smoke seeping into the units of nonsmokers’
  • Discarded cigarette butts creating excessive litter and, especially, fire hazards (a high risk in Arizona)
  • Ashtrays in common areas ruining the property’s aesthetics
Certainly, limiting or banning smoking in your building reduces problems for your association. However, most importantly, implementing a no-smoking policy helps to safeguard residents’ health, reduces the risk to their property, and enhances their quality of life. In addition, studies have shown that buildings with no-smoking policies have higher property values.
Another benefit of establishing a no-smoking rule applies to buildings seeking LEED certification which recognizes buildings that make an effort to create healthier spaces. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which oversees the LEED program, considers the reduction of secondhand smoke to be a high priority. For this reason, it weighs fulfillment of its Controlling Environmental Tobacco Smoke prerequisite heavier than fulfillment of many of its other LEED standards.

Choosing the best approach

Some homeowners associations have established policies that restrict smoking in individual units and specific outdoor areas, such as common and shared spaces. Other HOAs have chosen to enforce a 100-percent smoke free property by prohibiting smoking anywhere onsite. You can gain a lot of insight, support, and information from an experienced community management company, allowing you to make an informed decision on which approach is best for your building.

We also recommend following these four guidelines to successfully create your no-smoking policy:

1.  Start with a committee.
Involving the residents of the building from the beginning is the best way to obtain widespread support. Ideally, the committee should consist of a variety of homeowners, including board members and, if possible, healthcare workers. The job of this committee will be to assess the way that smoking currently affects the community, determine the level of support they have among residents, identify and evaluate the different options, and begin developing a policy. Creating a committee of residents will help ensure that the policy is made in favor of the residents and no one is blind-sided by new policies.

2.  Get feedback from homeowners.
It is important to know where HOA members stand on establishing a no-smoking policy, and surveys are a great way to find out. For example, do they want the building to be completely smoke-free, or do they prefer to limit smoking to specific areas? Will the ban apply to individual units? What about individual balconies and patios?

You can also use this survey to ask residents about their experience with secondhand smoke and if they have had any issues, health or otherwise, due to the secondhand smoke. In addition, the survey will allow you to establish the number of units in your building that have smokers. Once you have collected a significant number of responses, you should plan a special meeting with the board to discuss the results of the survey.

3.  Review your HOA’s governing documents. 
Your HOA’s governing documents will provide guidance on what you need to do and steps you need to take to enact different types of restrictions. For example, some restrictions may only require that your board create a brand-new rule while others may require amending the governing documents themselves, meaning you will need a vote by HOA board members.
It is important to look over your association’s current documents to ensure you understand the proper procedures and the percentage of votes needed to establish no-smoking policies in your building. Most importantly, you should consult with your association’s attorney to make sure you are within compliance with your governing documents.

4.  Keep homeowners informed.
Communication is key in creating and enforcing a new policy within your community. If the new policy requires votes by HOA board members, your community management company can consult with your attorney to make sure that homeowner communications are drafted and distributed according to state and HOA requirements. Read our article, “HOA Policy: Why Consistent Communication is Key”, for some proven communication tips and best practices.
It is also important for homeowners to understand: 
  • Details about the proposed policy
  • The percentage of member votes needed to enforce the policy
  • Plans for enforcement
There are several different ways to communicate policy changes and/or informational resources with residents. You can use the community website, newsletters, emails, and bulletin boards to deliver news and information including articles and resources on smoking and the benefits of quitting. Furthermore, it may also be a good idea to hold special informational meetings where homeowners can be a part of the conversation, get more information, and get a better understanding of what is going on in their community.

Having a smoke-free policy in your building is good for everyone. Not only will residents be healthier and have a better quality of life, but the HOA will also benefit from having a building that has greater value and is more desirable.
Learn how an experienced community management company can help you establish a no-smoking policy in your community or building. Contact FirstService Residential, Arizona’s community management leader.

Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Consult with your association attorney.
Thursday February 09, 2023