Smoke-free status a plus for Chicago apartments
From Chicago Tribune:
Maurice Ortiz says that people of a certain age are incredulous when he mentions that, not so long ago, passengers were allowed to smoke on airplanes.
Banning smoking there and in other public environments has become such a given in many communities that it's hard to remember back to the day when, say, the co-worker in the next cubicle could routinely light up. But banning it in private spaces is a more, shall we say, combustible topic.
A few communities, mostly in California, have made it illegal to smoke anywhere in apartment buildings because of the risks from inhaling secondhand smoke that seeps into nonsmokers' units or is wafted through ventilation systems. Other cities have considered such laws then backed away, saying that smoking in one's residence is a private matter.
Nonetheless, even in the absence of legislation, smoking increasingly is becoming a no-no in Chicago rental apartments.
Ortiz, who is marketing director of the Apartment People rental agency in Chicago, said that if the days of tenants lighting up in their apartments aren't numbered, smokers are at least getting a hard look from more landlords.
Sure, the landlords' social consciences may be at play here, but there's another motivator pushing Chicago apartment buildings to go smoke-free, and that's a green one, as in money.
A new survey by the Chicago Tobacco Prevention Project concluded that about one-third of all renters in the city would be willing to pay more to live in smoke-free buildings.
The survey didn't ask the 400-plus renters it interviewed how much more they'd be willing to pay, but Ortiz said owners of large buildings have taken note of public sentiments and are promoting their no-smoking requirements as an amenity, just like a swimming pool or proximity to public transit.
Ortiz estimates that, just among the buildings his company represents, about 2,000 units in larger high-rise buildings have gone smoke-free. Add to those hundreds more in smaller buildings, down to two-flats and three-flats, not to mention individually owned condominiums whose owners have decided to rent them out as smokeless, he said.
To a large extent, these are purely bottom-line decisions, he said: The costs of "de-smoking" a unit -- repainting walls or shampooing or replacing carpeting, for example -- after a smoker has moved out are significant.
Researchers in 2009 concluded such turnover costs to landlords were as much as 90 percent higher for apartments that had been smoker-occupied versus nonsmoking units, according to the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, which is collaborating with the Chicago Department of Public Health on the Chicago Tobacco Prevention Project.
"Owners tell me they have to repaint, even if there isn't a scratch on the paint," because the scent of smoke clings to the walls, Ortiz said.
The economic sands have shifted for landlords, giving them the freedom to say yea or nay to smoking in their buildings, he said. While the for-sale housing market has faltered, rentals have gotten back on their feet, to an extent, and now some of them have the luxury of saying no to smoking.
"In the past, (landlords) were afraid they'd alienate renters, because the market hasn't been that solid in the past three or four years," Ortiz said. It didn't make economic sense to turn away otherwise qualified renters, he said.
Now, he said, landlords are financially confident enough to invest in rehabbing their units, and they don't want smoke to ding their investments.
"To bring in a smoking tenant is still a deterrent to a lot of people," he said. "You walk in and you don't want to smell smoke."
Well, mostly. Apparently it's like perfume to some people.
The Chicago Tobacco Prevention Project survey asked renters, "If you were looking for a new place to live, would the smell of tobacco smoke make you more likely or less likely to live there?"
Turns out, 6 percent said such a scent would be a plus for them. And 31 percent said it would make no difference.
In the survey, 50 percent of the renters said they'd either strongly support or support somewhat a building rule prohibiting smoking in indoor common areas and in individual units, technically not a majority. Indeed, 40 percent of the renters said they'd oppose such a rule. (About 26 percent of the respondents said they smoke regularly or occasionally.)
Ortiz said he's not anticipating a massive shift toward nonsmoking rentals here, but he senses a change in landlord attitudes.
"The good majority are smaller landlords who have had their apartment buildings for 20 or 30 years, and they're thinking they're going to rehab them in order to keep up with condo conversions" that are their competition in the marketplace, he said.
"They're saying, 'I don't want any more smokers.' "