Considering a Smoke-Free Policy? Property Managers Share Top 5 Tips
By Randa Griffin
Multifamily communities across Florida have begun implementing smoke-free policies that prohibit smoking in apartment units and other indoor spaces, near buildings or amenities, or anywhere on the property. Property managers across the state have testified to the benefits of smoke-free policies, which help combat the harmful effects of second-hand smoke, bring turn costs down, and keep property grounds cleaner.
Transitioning a community to a smoke-free policy, however, can often feel like an overwhelming task for property managers. FAA has compiled the top five tips from property managers on how to implement a smoke-policy as seamlessly as possible.
- Have a Plan. Before announcing any new policy, property managers and their entire team need to be on the same page with a clear plan. William Stearns is the property manager of Dwell Nona Place, a community that implemented a 100 percent smoke-free policy when it was built. Stearns said although his community had an advantage because it started as a brand-new, smoke-free property rather than transitioning, it’s still important to cover all your bases. Stearns suggest incorporating the policy into the resident’s leases or adding a smoke-free addendum, such as the one available with the FAA Lease.
If your community is making the transition to a completely smoke-free property, some resistance is expected from residents who smoke or have guests who smoke, so making sure your team has a firm understanding will show a unified approach to the new policy.
"Talk about it, incorporate it into your daily mantras, and condition your site team, maintenance included," Stearns advised.
Setting a date to begin enforcing the policy, planning informational meetings with residents and reaching out to resources such as Tobacco Free Florida are all ways to begin making a smooth transition.
- Give Residents Time. Allison Granell, community manager of Costa del Sol, made the transition to 100 percent smoke-free with her community in 2017. One of her top tips was to give residents ample time before implementation to react to and accept the new changes.
"Definitely give more than a month’s notice. Give five or six months for this transition and for this to sink into people," she said. "Put it out there in a newsletter or a mass email early."
Communicating the change consistently with residents and future residents is key. Put the information about the new policy in multiple emails, newsletters, or resident updates so everyone is clear and frequently reminded of the coming changes. This will give residents time to wrap their heads around the change, adjust their lifestyles or living arrangements, and ask any questions they may have.
A major decision Granell said she made was to not hold residents to their lease if they wanted to break it as a result of the new smoke-free policy.
"We weren’t going to hold people back," she said. "If this was a decision we were making that was going to make them not want to live here anymore, because they still wanted to be able to smoke where they lived, we were going to allow them out of their lease."
Granell said she was prepared to accommodate a lot of upset residents, but only a couple asked to be let out of their lease. "It was really shocking! With 144 apartments we expected a lot more."
- Take Advantage of Resources. Through a partnership with the Florida Department of Health and Tobacco Free Florida, the Florida Apartment Association provides resources for property managers looking to adopt smoke-free policies. FAA can connect communities with a local Tobacco Free Florida representative who can provide information and assistance throughout the entire process. These representatives can help plan Q&A meetings with residents, provide printed resources with information, connect interested residents with smoking cessation specialists, and provide free patches, nicotine gum, and other support. All of the assistance of Tobacco Free Florida is free for property managers and for the residents. Susan Jenkins from Tobacco Free Florida assisted Granell and her team when they went smoke-free.
"We had been talking with Susan Jenkins, and she was easing our minds," said Granell. "Susan said she would walk you through this and come and do a meeting with residents so they could ask her questions." At the meeting, Jenkins and a smoking cessation specialist were able to answer residents’ questions. j
These advocates from across the state are available to help educate property managers on how to implement their smoke-free policies and even lifestyles, so property managers don’t have to take on the burden of dealing with questions regarding smoking and health on their own.
"Susan was very friendly with everyone and made it clear that it's not about the smoker, it's about the smoke, and that kind of took the personal aspect out of it," said Granell.
- Treat Smoke-Free Policies as an Amenity. Communities should stand by their policies and be proud of them, especially when presented to new potential residents. Making your community’s smoke-free policies front and center on your website and advertisements, communicates to residents a united and proud front.
Stearns says the way people react to the policy is all in how you sell it. "One of the things to think about is how you’re going to package it. You don’t sell it as a negative, you sell it as a positive," he said. "You sell it as an amenity."
Smoke-free policies are quickly becoming luxury accommodations and marketable amenities, especially since according to the state Department of Health, 84.5 percent of adults in Florida do not smoke. Signs informing the guests of residents of the smoke-free policy or pointing out designated smoking areas around the property help prevent misunderstandings.
FAA offers three levels of smoke-free certification for multifamily communities: blue, silver, and gold. These annual certifications allow properties to display an acrylic plaque and window decal front and center in their leasing office or club house, so anyone coming through the doors is made aware of the policy. Certified communities can use the FAA Smoke-Free Certified logo on their website or other promotional materials. The certification requires a lease or contract that prohibits residents and guests from smoking in the areas specified by the level of certification, a policy that prohibits employees from smoking in the areas specified by the level of certification, and a $95 annual fee.
- Take Enforcement Seriously. A policy is only effective when enforced, so consistent and attentive follow-up is necessary — but not always easy.
"It takes effort," said Stearns. "It’s positive reinforcement, and being proud of what you’re doing."
Many communities opt to follow a three-strike policy, which gives residents documented warnings before they’re ultimately in jeopardy of having their lease terminated. Stearns says his community has had to evict two families who didn’t comply with the no-smoking rule. "We’re very strict about it," he said. "It’s a three-strike policy, and you have to be able to make that call when you’re a smoke-free property."
Make sure your whole team is on the same page and understands the procedure for documenting infractions. It’s important to stay consistent and not let things slide by without following-up. Implementing the policy is often easier than property managers anticipate, even dealing with unhappy residents.
"Residents understood why we were doing what we were doing, because it makes sense on so many levels. It was a lot easier process than I expected. I was sort of dreading it at first because I thought we’d get so much backlash at the beginning, but we didn’t," said Granell.
These tips can help make your smoke-free policy effective and keep residents happy by taking into consideration the needs of the community as a whole, as well as each individual.
"I've actually had some residents come to me, some of the ones who were angry when we told them we were doing this, and say, ‘you saved my life actually. You know my doctors have been telling me for months to quit smoking and then you forced us to do it where we live and that just really helped me transition to a smoke-free lifestyle,’" Granell said. "They actually thank me after and it's pretty amazing because that wasn't necessarily our goal, but if residents want to take this and run with it, that's great. I'm glad it benefited their health."