SAN FRANCISCO—In a move to protect renters from secondhand smoke, San Francisco may require property owners to reveal whether smoking is allowed in apartment units.
The smoking disclosure policy, which was recommended at a supervisor commission meeting on Monday, would give prospective renters the right to know before they sign a lease whether they might be exposed to tobacco smoke from neighbors or previous tenants.
In an unusual coalition, renters and landlord groups joined forces with the Department of Public Health to collaborate in a yearlong effort to draft the legislation.
In preparation, the renter advocacy group Mission SRO Collaborative, one of the supporters of the bill, conducted a survey among 300 tenants in eleven districts.
The survey showed that a majority of renters are affected by secondhand smoke, while a third thinks it has worsened an inhabitant’s illness. Almost three quarters preferred to know in advance whether the room they moved into was smoke-free, while nearly 90 percent expressed support for such a disclosure policy.
Supervisor Eric Mar, who sponsored the legislation and who has championed several health-focused bills in the past, said it is time to allow renters to make an informed decision about what apartment they’re signing up for.
Kendra Froshman, from the Mission SRO Collaborative, called the ordinance “most equitable.” Responding to fears of renters, the group ensured that the policy would not apply to current leases and no eviction can be handed out due to the change.
The San Francisco Apartment Association, a property owner group, is also in support of the bill.
[The policy is] a common sense approach that creates clear communication between renters and landlords.
—Charley Gross, San Francisco Apartment Association
Charley Goss called the policy “a common sense approach that creates clear communication between renters and landlords.” Goss expects fewer broken leases and fewer nuisance complaints as a result of the ordinance.
Alyonik Hrushow from the Tobacco Free Project at the San Francisco Department of Public Health said they received many complaints from residents about secondhand smoke drifting into their apartments. Since there is “no safe level” for tobacco smoke, she hopes that with this ordinance, smoking in apartments will be gradually phased out in multi-unit complexes.
A 2001 study by the University of Rochester showed that children from non-smoking households living in complexes where smoking was allowed were 45 percent more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke than those living in detached houses. The study said such exposure amounts to the same as smoking a cigarette a day.
The ordinance stipulates that owners of complexes with 50 units or fewer are required to comply within a year, while those with more than 50 units have two years to complete the designation of each apartment.
Since there will be no enforcement, Mar expects peer pressure to be sufficient motivation for compliance. The ordinance will be voted on next year by the full board of supervisors, and observers expect it to pass.
Smoking indoors in San Francisco is already strictly limited. It is banned in indoor and outdoor restaurants, public buildings and transport, and in common areas of multi-unit complexes. Smokers have to keep a distance of 10 feet from entrances or smoke at the curb.
With this disclosure policy, San Francisco is following a trend of 10 Bay Area cities, including Oakland and Richmond, which have already passed similar ordinances.
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