SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Wednesday that allows landlords to prohibit smoking in their apartments, but Santa Monica property owners say the measure doesn’t go far enough.
Senate Bill 332, put forth by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), was intended to expand the availability of smoke-free housing in California by allowing landlords to prohibit smoking in rental units.
At present, landlords have the ability to prohibit a number of things in their leases, including pets, noise and waterbeds, but the law has no provision about tobacco smoke.
As of Jan. 1, 2012, that right will be spelled out in law.
“With the governor’s action today, we will see the availability of smoke-free, multi-family housing grow throughout California,” Padilla stated in a press release.
The law has provisions to follow all federal, state and local requirements that pertain to changing the terms of a rental agreement or lease, and that takes the teeth out of it, said Wes Wellman, president of the Action Apartment Association, a landlord rights organization.
“The law is all smoke but no fire,” Wellman said. “It really doesn’t address the problem. Landlords for some time have prohibited smoking for new rentals if they chose.”
At present, landlords are not explicitly prohibited from restricting smoking in apartments, and many already do because it makes their lives easier, Wellman said.
It saves owners from hefty cleaning costs between tenants, which can run between $5,000 and $15,000 by some professional estimates, and potential liability from non-smoking tenants that are harmed by a neighbor’s secondhand smoke.
The only difference after January 2012 will be that apartment owners can write a prohibition against smoking into the lease itself.
Existing leases, on the other hand, can’t be touched, which means that the law only codifies rights that landlords already had rather than giving them new ones.
“I don’t see how it in any way advances the cause,” Wellman said.
Esther Schiller, executive director of the advocacy group Smoke Free Air for Everyone, celebrated when she heard the news.
“Hear, hear!” she said.
Although she acknowledged that landlords do have the right by omission, relatively few realize it.
“As a landlord, you don’t come into the business knowing everything,” she said. “Some landlords belong to apartment associations and get the information that way. Most landlords don’t, and don’t have the information they need.”
This week, Schiller will be attending a convention for new and prospective landlords to give them details on their rights and responsibilities. She’s thrilled to be able to say that landlords can choose to make their apartments smoke free by law.
“It’s marvelous,” she said.
The Santa Monica City Council discussed banning smoking in multi-family buildings in late June.
While the measure got serious support from Mayor Richard Bloom and Councilmember Terry O’Day, who wanted the proposal to go further than just designating some apartments smoking or nonsmoking, it found resistance elsewhere.
Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis and Councilmember Pam O’Connor were hesitant to restrict rights on a legal activity like smoking.
“My concern with any state law or local ordinance is that it not jeopardize existing tenancies or make it hard for us to continue with sound affordable housing policies or homelessness,” Davis said Wednesday.
City Hall has supported initiatives that put homeless in housing without requiring them to get off drugs or alcohol, and Davis worried that an unintended consequence of such a law might make it harder to pursue some of those policies.
The law could also hurt low-income people who, according to federal statistics, smoke more on average than wealthier or better-educated people.
The Center for Disease Control reported that in 2009, 31.1 percent of adults who lived below the poverty level smoked versus 19.4 percent of those who lived at or above the poverty level.
Davis described it as a “tough balancing act” between individual rights and protecting non-smokers from the known health risks of secondhand smoke.
City and state officials give the issue attention because of the dangerous health risks associated with secondhand smoke.
Smoke is insidious, and can snake its way through ventilation shafts, door jambs and windows into the homes of non-smokers.
According to the American Cancer Society, secondhand smoke has over 4,000 chemical compounds, of which more than 60 are known or suspected to cause cancer.
In the United States alone, secondhand smoke is responsible for an estimated 46,000 heart disease-related deaths in non-smokers and 3,400 lung cancer deaths in non-smoking adults.