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LA's New Campaign for Smoke-Free Apartments

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The majority of tenants and landlords support the move to smoke-free buildings, says a survey

Los Angeles is getting serious about eliminating the scourge of secondhand smoke from its apartment buildings after finding that most Angelenos who rent are subject to harmful fumes right in their very homes. According to a UCLA survey, 80 percent of renters in LA either live in a building that does not have a smoke-free policy. In an effort to tout the benefits such a policy could have for both tenants and landlords, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a $3 million, three-year campaign to promote smoke-free apartment buildings in the city of Los Angeles, reports the Daily News.

Called Smokefree Apartments Los Angeles, the program is helmed by the combined partnership of UCLA, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, and the American Lung Association, and aimed at educating landlords on the benefits of instituting smoke-free policies for their buildings.

The support for smoke-free apartments is overwhelming. In a survey of 1,000 renters conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, 82 percent of respondents said they would support their building going smoke-free. Even smokers like the idea: 85 percent of respondents who were smokers voiced their support for the ordinance.

So, what's standing in the way of Los Angeles apartments going 100 percent smoke-free? A large stumbling block is the large amount of rental units that fall under rent control. Even if a landlord wanted to make their building smoke-free, many are not at liberty to do so. Landlords that own rent controlled buildings built before 1978 cannot institute any new policies for their tenants, rules on smoking included. To get a policy like that on the books would require help from the Rent Stabilization Board.

Only landlords of market-rate rental units are allowed to change the smoking policy of their building at will, and the SALA campaign is hoping to persuade them. Compared to the overwhelming majority of tenants that want smoke-free apartments, landlords are a little less jazzed about banning smoking. Only 55 percent of landlords surveyed support the change to smoke-free apartments. But that's still a majority, and with the combination of current smoke-free landlords reporting "no negative effect on vacancy rates" and the estimated $4,935 saved in maintenance when apartments don't house smokers, more landlords might soon be swayed.