The 13 multifamily properties managed by Santa Barbara-based The Towbes Group Inc. has become the largest apartment portfolio in California to self-impose a no-smoking policy within the individual units and common areas.
The 13 apartment communities are located in the cities of Ventura, Goleta, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Santa Barbara and Carpinteria and represent 1,995 units, according to Jim Carrillo, vice president of residential communities for The Towbes Group.
“Our goal has always been to provide a healthy and safe environment for our residents and guests, and the hazards of smoking are well documented,” Carrillo said. “In addition, keeping our units smoke free will result in reduced cleanup and maintenance costs over the long term. For example, one of the biggest challenges for a landlord is removing the tobacco smell and residue from walls and carpets when a resident leaves.”
He said the response from the existing and prospective residents of The Towbes Group’s properties has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Most of our residents are nonsmokers who would prefer to live in a smoke-free environment, and judging by those who are looking to rent in our communities, there is a strong demand for smoke-free housing in the Tri Counties,” Carrillo said.
The Towbes Group took advantage of the statewide legislation that went into effect in January that allows landlords to prohibit smoking in rental units, he added.
“The percentage of (California) smokers is down to 15 percent,” Carrillo said. “We realized that the non-smoking population might be an undeserved community because as long as smoking is allowed, 85 percent has the potential of being affected by secondhand smoke. If we are smoke free, we might be a losing customer here and there but we’re also serving a significant portion of the population by allowing them to breathe easier.”
Secondhand smoke exposure in multi-unit housing is a serious health threat because it drifts from other units, balconies, patios and common areas, according to the Center for Tobacco Policy & Organizing, a project of the American Lung Association in California. The most effective way to address this problem is for landlords to adopt a policy that restricts smoking within units.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, also reports that separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposure of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke.
Living in close quarters with neighbors can be tough, especially with smoking neighbors, added Leslie Swanson, a resident at Towbes’ 200-unit Sumida Gardens Apartments in Santa Barbara.
“We were both thrilled to learn of our home going smoke free,” she said. “We can now leave our patio door and windows open knowing that we are no longer bringing in secondhand smoke. That’s especially important to us when we welcome our first son home in July.”
Aside from general health concerns, cleaning smoker’s apartments costs about twice as much, Carrillo said.
“When an apartment is occupied by someone who chooses to smoke, it triples the paint cost alone,” he said. “That just covers the walls, then you look at the cabinets and counter tops that may need intense cleaning and sometimes replacement.”
There are 23 jurisdictions in California that have adopted an ordinance prohibiting smoking in all or a certain percentage of units in a multifamily community, none of which are in the Tri-County area. While Carpinteria is the only city in Santa Barbara County to ban tobacco use in public places, it does not restrict smoking in rental units.
While there are several apartment communities in the Tri-Counties that are smoke free, the numbers are still surprisingly small, Carrillo said.
“With nearly 2,000 rental units in our portfolio, we are providing those who wish to enjoy smoke free living a much greater choice,” he said.
Current residents will be given a six-month grace period to comply with the non-smoking policy.
— Bruce Beck is a publicist representing The Towbes Group.