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What private landlords need to know about smoking

Smokers are a beleaguered bunch. They are dwindling in numbers and have become social pariahs. The campaigns to persuade people to quit smoking have been such a success that figures from Public Health England show only 16.9% of the adult population now smoke compared to over 50% thirty years ago. That's just one in six adults who feel the need to light up. And those figures will continue to fall.

Which is all very commendable but what has that got to do with private landlords? Glad you asked.

Smoking presents a dilemma for landlords. Do you stop your tenants from smoking in your property? How do you stop them? Is it within your power to stop them? We'll answer those questions but we'll also look at whether smokers could present a hidden opportunity for landlords.

What's the problem with smokers?

Smoking is a bad habit which can damage a person's health. But the issues landlords have are more of a financial nature. Smoke can make a property smell. It can also discolour paintwork. All in all, it means the landlord will need to redecorate once the smoker leaves the property. And that costs time and money.

There is also another risk with smokers. Cigarettes are a common cause of house fires. A fire in their property can be a disaster for private landlords. Another reason why many don't want to let to smokers.

Can I stop tenants smoking in my property?

In theory yes.

You can try to prevent the issue arising in the first place when advertising your property. You can state in your advert you will only accept non-smokers. Of course, the effectiveness of that depends on prospective tenants admitting they smoke. There is also the thorny issue of discrimination. An aggrieved renter with time on their hands could kick up a fuss.

The tenancy agreement is another weapon private landlords have in their crusade against smokers. You can insert a clause specifically preventing your tenant, their guests and visitors from smoking inside the property.

All of which is pretty straightforward. Of course, enforcing this is more difficult.

Enforcing a smoking ban

Let's face it, there isn't a lot you can do. You have to take your tenant on trust. If the tenant says they aren't smoking you have to take them at their word. You can't exactly install video cameras and monitor them 24/7 to make sure they aren't having a crafty cig. No. Honestly, you can't do that.

If you think your tenant is smoking

OK, you have a clause in your tenancy agreement which forbids your tenant from smoking. But you suspect the opposite. Maybe you've even seen them smoking in the property when you did a repair.

If they have been smoking the tenants have broken the tenancy agreement. Surely you have the right to evict them? Technically perhaps.

The issue, of course, is gathering evidence. How on earth can you do that? At least to the level, a judge would grant a possession order. And to be perfectly frank it is extremely doubtful any judge would make a person homeless because they smoke.

Trying to evict a tenant because they broke a no smoking clause in the tenancy agreement is very probably going to be an expensive waste of time and effort.

Post tenancy

If you are convinced smoke has caused damage to your property you can claim redecoration costs back from the tenant's security deposit. But again this is fraught with difficulty.

Yes, you may be able to detect the lingering odour of tobacco but you can't prove a 'smell' to an arbitrator in a dispute hearing. Showing damage to the property even with photography and your inventory is also going to be difficult if not impossible.

So, all in all, it does look a little bleak if you do have a tenant who is a secret smoker. It's easier to say than do but the best course of action is to find a tenant who is an honest non-smoker.

Could smokers be a hidden opportunity for landlords?

Even though the numbers of smokers have plummeted there are still 7.2million adult smokers in the UK. That's an enormous number. Many of those will rent privately.

This could present an opportunity for the landlord who is prepared to buck the trend and advertise their property as welcoming smokers. At a price of course. Smokers may be prepared to pay a premium for the 'privilege' of being able to enjoy a cigarette in their own home.

Communal areas

Just a word about smoking in communal areas. If your property has areas used by multiple tenants those areas must be no smoking. These areas can include shared living rooms, toilets, kitchens etc. Remember you must display the correct notices so tenants are aware they are unable to smoke.

As one of the UK's longest established online letting agents, you'll find good tenants faster by listing your property with MakeUrMove.

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