Tenant Tool: How to Go Smoke-Free Where You Live


Strategy 1: Making Your Case and Building Support

There are multiple steps for each strategy listed below. Click on a tab to learn more about that step.

Start by Learning the Facts

While a lot of people have heard that secondhand smoke is harmful, few people actually know just how harmful it is.  Study and learn the health facts included in this toolkit so that you can speak with authority on the health consequences of secondhand and thirdhand smoke.

Find the Source of the Secondhand Smoke and Document the Problem             

  • When do you smell smoke: all the time? only in the evening or morning?
  • Where is the smoke entering your unit?
  • Where do you think it is coming from?
  • Keep a log of when and where in your unit you smell smoke.

Once You Know the Facts, Look for Solutions

The most effective way to eliminate secondhand smoke exposure in a multi-unit building is to convince your landlord to establish a smokefree policy. Just like prohibiting pets, landlords can prohibit smoking at their properties, even in individual units. It is both legal and easy to do, and will probably save the landlord money.

Get Testimonials

Have others confirm the presence of secondhand smoke in your unit or their own. The consensus of neighboring tenants, friends, maintenance personnel and others can be very convincing.

Build Consensus Among the Other Tenants and Get Their Support

Ask neighbors in the building whether they are experiencing the same problem. Talk to them about the benefits of a smokefree building. Have them document the problem just like you did. Send letters to other tenants asking them to get involved. Keep track of all conversations and correspondence.

Keep Track of All Symptoms and Illnesses

  • Document any health problems you and your family are experiencing as a result of secondhand smoke in your apartment.
  • Health problems may include ear infections, sore throats, asthma attacks, and bronchitis.
  • Ask your health care provider to write a letter stating that the secondhand smoke causes your family to be sick.

Make a List of the Solutions You’ve Already Tried

  • What steps have you taken? View our quick fixes for short-term solutions.
  • Fans, air fresheners, and other “smoke eaters” will only mask the problem, but trying some of these temporary solutions might help you illustrate the situation to your property manager or property owner.

Strategy 2: Talk to Your Building Management

Write a Letter to Your Building Manager or Property Owner

  • Introduce the problem by explaining to your landlord that drifting secondhand smoke is a serious problem in the building.
  • Recommend adopting and implementing a smokefree housing policy as a solution.
  • Encourage other tenants to write letters expressing their concerns about secondhand smoke in the building.
  • Start a petition and get as many tenants as possible to sign it in support of a smokefree policy and share it with your landlord or management company.
  • If appropriate, include a copy of a letter from your doctor explaining your health problems.
  • Keep copies of any correspondence.

Follow Up by Approaching Your Property Manager to Discuss the Situation

  • Be positive, polite, and stick to the issue.
  • Ask your property manager and neighbors to work together to solve the problem instead of getting angry or arguing.

Provide Management with Resources to Go Smokefree

  • Tell your landlord or management company about the many benefits of going smokefree.
  • Provide management with information on how to adopt a smokefree policy by using the tools and materials available from the DC Smokefree Housing website.

Offer Solutions

  • Work with your property manager and offer to brainstorm or implement solutions.

Possible solutions include:

    1. Conduct a resident survey.
    2. Hold a residents meeting.
    3. Relocate to a different building on the property or a different part of the building (either you or the person who is smoking).
    4. End your lease early so you can move to a smokefree building.

Respond to Your Landlord’s Concerns Through Education

  • Smokefree policies are a growing housing trend. A substantial number of apartment buildings in the District of Columbia are already smokefree. Smokers are welcome in these properties. They just need to smoke outside.


  • Emphasize that building owners can legally make their buildings smoke free.


  1. For HUD (Housing and Urban Development) units, you can share with your property manager the HUD notices that show HUD encourages smokefree policies.


  1. For HUD units, point out that changing “House Rules” may be easier to accomplish than making a formal lease change.


  • Smokefree policies are easy to enforce. No-smoking rules are largely self-enforcing. They attract tenants who support smokefree policies. Tips for enforcing smokefree policies are available from the DC Smokefree Housing Toolkit and from the Smokefree Places Project at breathedc.org.


  • Smokefree policies should not increase liability. With a properly drafted smokefree policy, landlords are given the flexibility and time they need for compliance. The real threat of liability comes from ignoring the problem and allowing secondhand smoke exposure to continue.


  • Implementing a smokefree policy is easy and inexpensive. When current tenants renew their leases, the landlord simply has them sign a lease addendum that prohibits smoking. New tenants sign when signing their lease. The DC Smokefree Housing website has a copy of a sample smokefree lease addendum available.

Strategy 3: Work with an Outside Authority

Contact Breathe DC

  • Breathe DC can provide you with information, help you write letters, or suggest further steps to take. Talk with the Smokefree Places Project staff to discuss your situation. They will offer you resources and tools for your situation, and discuss what other options are available to you.

Consider Contacting the Following:

Share Your Story

  • Place your testimonial on the DC Smokefree Housing website.
  • Contact local elected officials such as a city council member or local legislator.

Sources for the above listed strategies: Living Smoke Free (MN) & The Massachusetts Smoke-Free Housing Project