Smoking and HOAs
Are residents complaining about drifting cigarette smoke? Worried about fire hazards? Tired of picking up cigarette litter? Wanting to maintain the highest possible property values? You are not alone. To minimize the risks associated with smoking and increase property values, homeowner associations across the U.S. are adopting no smoking policies. In a recent survey of Oregon Community Associations Institute members, 74% said no smoking policies are "desirable for HOAs."
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Below are steps to guide the process. Additional tools can be found at smokefreehousinginfo.com including sample legal language, materials on financial benefits, legal questions and a more detailed version of these steps.
Step 1 - Constructing our no smoking rule.
Familiarize yourself with, and talk to your attorney about, the different methods of adopting a no smoking rule for your community association. These include (a) Amendment to Declaration, (b) Amendment to Bylaws, and (c) Board Resolution. Reaffirm the HOA's general rule against nuisances. Find sample legal language for all three methods at the website listed above.
Where do you want to prohibit smoking? Indoor common areas (lobby, hallways, community rooms); inside the units; outdoor general common areas (trails, playground, parking lots); outdoor exclusive use common areas (balconies, porches, patios); within a certain distance from the buildings (such as 25 feet), or everywhere on the property, inside and outside. If you designate an outdoor smoking area, make sure it is far enough away so the smoke doesn't drift back into the buildings.
When will rule go into effect? Allow time to gather owner input and educate residents. A summer date may increase compliance because it gives smokers a chance to get used to smoking outside.
How will the rule be enforced? Spell out the steps to enforce the rule and the penalties for infractions. Reference homeowner association rules to see how other violations are handled.
Step 2 - Get owner input.
Conduct a resident survey to give people the opportunity to voice their opinions, include them in the process, and to act as a preliminary "vote." A survey might uncover areas needing special attention and may decrease opposition. Find a sample resident letter and sample survey questions at the website above.
Step 3 - Educate owners.
A super-majority of owners may be needed to approve the rule change so take time to educate them on the benefits of a no smoking rule and to share the survey results. Use newsletter articles, notices on the website, signs in a lobby, etc.
Step 4 - Voting.
To promote voting, use multiple communication channels including letters to owners, newsletter articles, web notices, signs throughout the community, and knocking on doors to collect proxies. Since it may be difficult to obtain the required number of votes in a fixed time period (due to owner absence, etc), consider leaving the voting open until a quorum is reached.
Step 5 - Implementation.
Mail each resident a copy of the rule change or bylaw amendment as soon as it has passed. Make them aware they could be held financially responsible for violations on the premises and that the rule applies to everyone, including guests and tenants. Post no smoking signs at entrances, hallways and other conspicuous areas. If you find someone smoking in an area where it is prohibited, post a no smoking sign there too. Remove ashtrays, clean up cigarette butts and repair cigarette damage in common areas so that it does not look like a smoking area.
Step 6 - Enforcement.
Respond promptly to complaints of smoking. Ask those who complain to document when and from where the smoke likely originated. Consistently follow-up and enforce in a timely fashion. Taking the same steps in the same time period for every complaint and rule violation sends a clear message to everyone that smoking is not allowed.
Second hand smoke is a proven killer and far surpasses the definition of "nuisance". The wise board heeds the message to protect the health and property of all HOA members.
Information from the Oregon Smokefree Housing Project. For more innovative homeowner association management strategies, subscribe to www.Regenesis.net.
Written by Richard Thompson for www.RealtyTimes.com Copyright © 2012 Realty Times All Rights Reserved.