Council eyes new smoking restrictions for apartment complexes next year

Ordinance would ban smoking in units, on balconies, within common areas

Apartments around Pleasanton are on track to face more stringent smoking rules after the City Council gave initial support to an ordinance establishing the new restrictions Tuesday.

Chief among the proposed new city regulations, which would take effect at apartment complexes early next year, is banning smoking inside individual units, on balconies and patios, in all indoor and outdoor common areas and within 25 feet of those locations.

"It's exciting that the concern of this community, as well as this council, is to protect people from the public health risk of smoking and secondhand smoking," Councilwoman Karla Brown said Tuesday night at the Pleasanton Civic Center.

Recommended by the Pleasanton Housing Commission and city staff and supported by many apartment complex owners in the city, the proposed restrictions come as a result of a council priority to address health concerns associated with secondhand smoke for residents and families living in close quarters at rental apartments, according to assistant city attorney Larissa Seto.

In addition to the onsite bans, "No Smoking" signs would need to be posted around the complex, and the smoke-free rules would need to be disclosed in tenant leases. The property owners would have the option to create a designated smoking area outdoors at least 25 feet from non-smoking areas.

Set for formal adoption later this summer, the new ordinance would apply to all apartment complexes under single ownership and control where at least two units are being rented -- but it wouldn't apply to adjoining homes like condos or townhouses where units are individually owned.

"It just seems to me that we're only getting halfway there by just going after the rental market," Vice Mayor Jerry Pentin said Tuesday. "When we have shared walls, we have shared secondhand smoke and I just don't think we're going as far as we need to go."

"We're really not attacking the whole problem just doing rental properties," Mayor Jerry Thorne added.

Seto said officials only met with the rental apartment community in line with the council priority and didn't check with condo or townhouse groups or homeowner associations for input, plus enforcement might be tougher in those complexes.

Council members directed city staff to solicit community feedback on smoking restrictions for condos and townhouses and then return with a recommendation some time next year after the apartment rules take effect.

Though focusing on traditional tobacco products, the proposed ordinance also places the same restrictions on e-cigarettes and recreational marijuana smoking. However, qualifying residents could smoke medical marijuana in their apartment with a doctor's note showing they need marijuana to treat their condition and cannot use marijuana edibles, THC pills or other non-smoking alternatives.

Seto likened the medical marijuana provision to an apartment that doesn't allow pets making an accommodation for a service or support animal.

Pentin wondered if the ordinance should go a step further to avoid medical marijuana smoking in apartments as best as possible.

"Can we codify that you need more than proof that you need medical marijuana, but that you need to be able to smoke it in your apartment and not join the outside smoking area?" he asked. "That would be a change I would like to see to this ordinance."

City Manager Nelson Fialho later pointed out that officials would have to research whether such a rule would be a legal restriction for a medical marijuana user, posing the question of what happens if an apartment complex opts not to have a designated smoking area.

The council asked city staff to examine the medical marijuana component and return with a recommendation.

Council members heard from a handful of speakers from the near-empty chambers Tuesday night, all offering support for the proposal in large part.

Representatives of the Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, Alameda County Public Health Department and Tri-Valley Smoke-Free Coalition endorsed the ordinance but urged the council to expand the restrictions to condos and townhouses.

Bill Mulgrew, representing the Rental Housing Association local branch, also voiced support but pushed for including medical marijuana in the ban, arguing it would be unfair to put the burden on property managers to judge a medical need.

As for enforcement, the ordinance puts the onus on owners and property managers to take the lead by informing residents and guests about the rules, documenting complaints, actively seeking compliance through lease terms and only after that point would city staff become involved in addressing continued violations, possibly with a citation and a fine.

An ordinance like this would typically take effect 30 days after adoption, but the proposal calls for holding off for six months to give property managers enough time to implement new procedures and update lease terms as well as allow residents to make housing choices in light of the new rules.

The restrictions are on track to start Feb. 18, 2018, with the council approving the first reading of the ordinance Tuesday night and formal adoption scheduled for July 18.

Some tenants might be able to keep smoking in their unit for almost a year beyond that. The restrictions would be required for new leases and leases renewed after Feb. 18, but landlords could choose to keep the old smoking rules in place for up to a year for tenants who renew their existing lease before Feb. 18.

There's a chance final ordinance adoption might not take place next month. If city staff returns with a new recommended provision for medical marijuana, the council would have to hold a new first reading and then schedule final approval for a following meeting.


9 people like this
Posted by NdnaJnz
a resident of Mohr Park
on Jun 21, 2017 at 9:54 am

The city is begging for a couple of lawsuits here. I have never been a smoker. And I agree second hand smoke is annoying, a nuisance, and harmful. However, I don't see how you can tell someone who has already purchased a condo that they can no longer smoke inside their own house. Good luck with that.

Also, for the medical marijuana issue in apartment complexes, what about cancer patients in treatment, who are using medical marijuana to help cope with associated pain, nausea and other discomforts? Are we going to tell those people they have to go hang out in public within a "smoking area"? And what about the cigarette smokers who do not want to be exposed to marijuana smoke?

3 people like this
Posted by Common Sense
a resident of Del Prado
on Jun 21, 2017 at 5:09 pm

How about the sidewalk, parks, and playground? We need to ban smoking at our streets and parks too!

6 people like this
Posted by Jack
a resident of Downtown
on Jun 21, 2017 at 9:53 pm

What is the difference between condos, townhouses, and apartments as it pertains to second hand smoke?
Smacks of class-warfare... If you're rich enough to own in Pleasanton, you get one set of rules, you get to smoke... If you are a renter, you get another set of rules, you can't smoke in your home... How does the smoke know the difference?

Like this comment
Posted by justwondering
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2017 at 10:03 pm

Smoking is already banned at parks and special events downtown such as First Wednesday

1 person likes this
Posted by Jtjh
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jun 22, 2017 at 10:10 am

It seems to me that a city-wide ban would increase the risk of fire.

A city ordinance might just stop habitual smokers from renting the apartments. (Though not necessarily. It's easy to lie. Others, desperate for accommodation may start off with good intentions, but fail.) But I doubt whether such a ban would have much effect on visitors and others who will enter the apartment blocks. Nicotine is addictive. Those who cannot smoke openly are likely to do so clandestinely - as they do elsewhere. In a large apartment block, this has potentially catastrophic results.


4 people like this
Posted by long time landlord
a resident of Downtown
on Jun 22, 2017 at 5:53 pm

As a landlord for more than 4 decades I have never, not even once, considered a smoker for a tenant. My fire insurance policies have been reduced because of that restriction. All tenants are required to sign a legal document stating that if they or anyone on my property smoke they will be evicted immediately for cause. In addition, if a fire is started on my property the tenant who smoked will be liable for 100% of all costs to me including rebuilding and lost rents. This is a perfectly enforceable contract and I have had to enforce it exactly once. A small fire started as a result of a tenant allowing a guest to smoke. The tenant paid for rebuilding, repainting, all interior work and had to pay for all of the other tenants to live in hotels. The tenant also had to pay me for all lost rents. It held up in court. It's a filthy and dangerous habit.

2 people like this
Posted by Sam
a resident of Oak Hill
on Jun 23, 2017 at 7:38 am

@long time landlord

Smoking is a dirty, unhealthy habit. Wasn't aware, though, that it was a significant fire hazard or that insurance companies took smoking into account when determining insurance premiums. Don't recall ever giving our house insurance company any information on the non-smoker/smoker status of the people in our family.

4 people like this
Posted by long time landlord
a resident of Downtown
on Jun 23, 2017 at 10:58 am

The discount only applies to a landlord policy on rented property, never had one available for my personal residence.

Like this comment
Posted by Jtjh
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jun 23, 2017 at 12:03 pm

That's a disappointment. We've always been a non-smoking household, too, and any insurance discount would be a bonus. :-)

Thank you, though, Long Time Landlord, for your interesting response concerning your own experience. I'm surprised that you've been able to enforce your policy so successfully. We had a rental property abroad and a "No pets" rule, but, having to use management companies, found it almost impossible to police. I guess that, even when it doesn't result in fires, smoking always leaves rather more "evidence".

I see that our City Council has agreed to the proposal. And - to my surprise - that other local cities already have similar ordinances, which I presume they are managing to implement successfully. So perhaps my fears were unfounded and/or I was unduly influenced by recent horrific news stories of fires. I hope so.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Couples: "Taming Your Gremlin" by Richard Carson
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,076 views

Thoughts on the state of the economy
By Tim Hunt | 1 comment | 394 views


Nominations due by Sept. 17

Pleasanton Weekly and are once again putting out a call for nominations and sponsorships for the annual Tri-Valley Heroes awards - our salute to the community members dedicated to bettering the Tri-Valley and the lives of its residents.

Nomination form