CITY HALL — There could be more anti-smoking laws on the way in Santa Monica.
The City Attorney’s Office recently released a report detailing laws passed by other California cities that require landlords to designate units in apartments and condominiums as smoking or non-smoking, listing variations that could be adopted locally.
The information item came in response to a City Council request in January following the passage of an ordinance banning smoking in all common areas of apartments and condos, asking how City Hall might develop an additional law that would require that the units be designated and then disclosed to potential renters and/or buyers.
Adam Radinsky, who heads the Consumer Protection Unit with City Hall, said that there is no ordinance in the works as of yet.
“We have heard from owners that there is a desire to reduce smoking overall in units but there are concerns about impacting the rights of rent-controlled tenants and of course council has also voiced that concern,” he said.
The city of Oakland in 2007 became the first in California to require the designation and disclosure rule for all landlords and condo sellers. Radinsky said that Oakland officials have not experienced any problems with enforcement of the ordinance, which has actually resulted in a reduction in the number of smokers that live in units because of the disclosure paperwork that is required when renting or buying a unit. Approximately 85 percent of apartments in Oakland are non-smoking today.
Officials in Calabasas passed an even more stringent law that requires 80 percent of all apartment buildings be permanently designated as nonsmoking. The law will not go into full effect until 2012.
Even more strict is the ordinance in Belmont which requires that all units be nonsmoking. Violations of the law can be considered as material breaches of a lease.
The report suggests that the council could consider an ordinance similar to the one in Oakland, which would require that landlords survey, designate and disclose the status of each unit. If the council decides to go with a stronger measure, it could require that a smoking unit lose its status once it’s vacated.
The survey will allow landlords to determine which units have smokers and which do not, setting the designation accordingly.
While the smoking ban in common areas went into effect in early spring, City Hall still receives complaints from residents about smoke that wafts in from adjacent units, balconies and patios.
There have been no cases that have gone to Small Claims Court as of yet. The ordinance established a method through which residents could challenge a neighbor who smokes in a common area, allowing them to seek damages of at least $100 in court. The penalty goes up to $200 and $500 for the second and third offenses in the same year.
Councilman Bob Holbrook said he isn’t sure if a designation and disclosure ordinance will cut down on the number of complaints from residents because there could still be neighbors living in units with different statuses, leading to the same issue of drifting smoke.
“It won’t really solve the problem if half the units are smokers and half aren’t,” he said.
He added that there are also concerns, specifically those voiced by the renters rights community, about such laws being used by some landlords to evict tenants.
“You don’t want to put anybody out of their unit and that is what the Rent Control Board is worried about — that there will be some schism developed where people are trying to evict other people for their smoking habits,” he said. “It’s a tough situation.”