Beverly Hills Will Ban Smoking in Multifamily Properties

After winding its way though the policy machinery for the past year, Beverly Hills City Council has unanimously supported a policy to regulate smoking in multifamily properties (including condominium buildings). Councilmembers spoke up strongly on Tuesday in favor of banning smoking in all apartments, for both new and existing tenancies, and will phase-in the prohibition over an accelerated one-year period. That means all smoking ceases in multifamily properties by January 1, 2019. Read the press release.

Update:  City Council formally (and unanimously) adopted the multifamily smoking ban at the October 3rd meeting. The first phase of implementation affects common areas and – importantly – all new tenancies. Starting January 1, 2018 smoking is banned on patios and balconies and in the the units themselves for new tenants. If you are an existing tenant coming off a lease and you absolutely must smoke, your only option is not to renew the lease and instead go month-to-month. But your time is short: by January 2019 smoking is banned in all units. We would like to point you to an official announcement of the policy, but the city has never bothered to update its pre-adoption press release from September. Nor does it mention the new policy on any rent stabilization webpage. Lame!

Renters Alliance polled our members this summer and found keen interest: more than three-quarters of our respondents agreed to ban smoking in both building common areas and apartments. When asked about the common areas only, support dropped off as only one in six respondents thought that was sufficient. And just a few of our 50 total respondents said they would leave the policy decision to the building’s management (which is allowed under state law).

The city’s own survey earlier in the year affirmed support for a ban throughout apartment buildings. More than two-thirds of the city’s 78 respondents experienced second-hand smoke over the previous year. Nearly all said it drifted into their apartment from the outside; three-quarters said smoke also came from another apartment.

When the city asked whether regulations should extend to indoor common areas, outdoor common areas, and/or inside apartments too, three-quarters of respondents said that indoor and outdoor common areas should also be regulated.

Support dropped off marginally for extending regulations to rental apartment interiors (two-thirds of respondents agreed it should). However the prospect of designated in-building smoking areas received scant support. A majority of respondents overall said smoking should be regulated in condominiums too.

An interesting caveat about the responses. A question asked if the respondent was bothered but had not complained to management. One-third of the 49 who said they were bothered “did not feel comfortable complaining” or otherwise feared “getting in trouble” with management. Another reason for strong tenant protections!

A Bit of Background on the Process

In August 2016, City Council expressed preliminary support for extending a smoking ban to multifamily housing. Public health was the overriding concern (as reflected in the text of the current ordinance):

Smoking ban in multifamily ordinance excerptsThen last fall, Health and Safety Commission reviewed the policy options. To guide the Commission, city staff reached out to residents in multifamily housing with a survey. (The results are paraphrased above; read the entire staff report for the figures.)

With survey results in hand, the Health and Safety Commission at the June 26, 2017 meeting voted 3-1 (one commissioner was absent) to recommend that the city prohibit smoking throughout all indoor & outdoor common areas and personal dwellings & balconies in both apartments and condominiums properties. The Commission recommended a one-year phase-in period for existing leases and a two-year phase-in period for condominium units.

City Council then agreed to move ahead with the policy. This week Council formally affirmed it. Councilmember Mirisch summed up the Council perspective. “This is the right thing to do. It is a policy with teeth. And it was a long time coming.” He added that the city should materially support a resident who wishes to stop smoking. “We should be at the forefront — whatever we can do” including public education and smoking cessation treatments.

Vice-Mayor Gold (a physician) agreed. Instead of framing strictly in terms of public health, though, he evoked an essentially conservative theme:

Personal freedom sounds good, but it’s not absolute…it should have limits even on its impact on the individual. I’ve spent too much time dealing with the healthcare consequences… and you can’t help but wonder if this is not the time and place for that personal freedom to be restricted. The cost to themselves and their families and society is extraordinary. I cannot be on the side of personal freedom in this matter. — Vice Mayor Julian Gold

Mayor Bosse and councilmembers Friedman and Wunderlich were also completely supportive of the new regulations.

Enforcement is the Weak Link

The policy will rely on the Community Development Department’s Code Enforcement Program to respond to smoking complaints. The staff report explains:

Only if the violation is observed, and after multiple attempts to achieve compliance through education of the municipal code and City restrictions, the City may attempt to remedy the situation through the issuance of a misdemeanor citation. - Staff report.

That will sound familiar – and possibly distressing – to tenants. How could code enforcement also police the conduct of their own neighbors? Practically speaking, how can officers enforce a smoking ban when an officer only appears long after the alleged offense occurs? Time will tell if the new multifamily smoking ban is mostly about messaging, or if it is an effective tool to use to discourage in-home smoking by the approximately 8% of city residents who do smoke today.