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(photo by Byron Kennerly)

CITY HALL Smokers who live in apartments will have to kick their habits — at least in common areas — after the City Council on Tuesday passed its latest ban against lighting up.

The newest ordinance concerns common areas of all multi-unit residences, prohibiting the act in apartments and condominiums where tenants have complained about problems with sharing spaces with smokers, some claiming they have developed asthma.

The law, which the council will formally adopt on second reading at a later meeting, joins a handful of similar bans in the city, including ones that prohibit smoking at the beach and many outdoor areas.

The most recent version of the ordinance addresses concerns that landlords would use it to evict offending renters, specifically stating in the language that it cannot be used as grounds to terminate tenancy and clarifying that smoking in common areas shall not be considered a violation of law under a lease, according to Adam Radinsky, who heads the Consumer Protection Unit in the City Attorney’s Office. The council sent an earlier draft of the ordinance back to staff in October after several rent control advocates had expressed concerns that the ban would lead to evictions.

The ordinance also establishes a method by which residents could challenge a neighbor who smokes in a common area, allowing them to seek damages of at least $100 in Small Claims Court.

The law does not require landlords to create smoking areas for their tenants.

City Hall is expected to conduct a public education campaign before the ordinance takes effect.

A group of residents pleaded with councilmembers to adopt the ordinance, some asking that the law be strengthened in the future.

Santa Monica resident Beth Miller suggested that landlords be required to disclose which units permit smoking to prospective tenants, adding that she was told there were no smokers in her building, only to learn her neighbor was one.

“If I had known this, I would not have moved into this apartment,” Miller said.

The ordinance has its fair share of critics, including rent-control advocates who fear that low-income residents will be disproportionately affected.

Several other cities have adopted similar ordinances, including in Calabasas and Oakland, which also has a rent control law.

“The seriousness of the problem of tobacco smoke in apartments is finally beginning to be understood in Santa Monica,” Marlene Gomez of Smokefree Air for Everyone (SAFE), said. SAFE is a support network of individuals who have been disabled by secondhand smoke.

Marilyn Korade-Wilson, a resident and member of the Rent Control Board, said that while she appreciates the inclusion of tenant protections in the ordinance, she believes it will still have an impact on the poor, disabled and minority groups.

“This action will create litigation between neighbors,” she said. “Those with sufficient income will hire attorneys.”

Property owners have also been outspoken against the ordinance, some arguing that it forces landlords and managers to act as the police.

“We are not here to issue citations,” Robert Kronovet, a property owner and manager, said. “It is nonsense because it is an unenforceable ordinance,”

Kronovet, who also serves on the Rent Control Board, argued that the ordinance “doesn’t have teeth” and believes that it might backfire and lead to battles between tenants in court.

Bill Dawson, the president of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, echoed the concerns, adding he believes the ordinance is another step toward infringing on tenants’ private lives.

Dawson, who is the vice president of Sullivan-Dituri, a property management company, said that he believes an education program encouraging property owners to set up smoke-free units and smoke-free buildings could be a better solution at the moment.

“I think it’s well intended but I’m very concerned that the precedent of setting up tenants to sue each other is a bad one and further unforeseen problems could arise out of this,” he said.

melodyh@smdp.com