New Bill Would Allow Landlords to Ban Smoking

Monday, April 28, 2008
CBS 13

California apartment complexes could be declared smoke-free zones under legislation that's scheduled to be considered this week by a state Senate committee.

Sen. Alex Padilla says his bill would ensure that owners of rental housing have the option to ban smoking.

"The way the law is (currently) written..., it's not explicit for landlords to declare smoke-free housing units without being sued," he said. "We're trying to make the law a little more clear, a little more explicit."

The bill, scheduled to be heard Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, would allow landlords to ban smoking on all or a portion of their property, including in any building on the site.

Tenants could continue to smoke inside their homes until their pre-smoking ban rental agreements expired. A violation would be considered a breach of the agreement and could lead to eviction.

The bill includes several findings about the health effects of tobacco use, including the fact that an estimated 38,000 Americans die each year because of breathing second-hand smoke.

"We need to recognize the rights of nonsmokers," said Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat. "We share the same walls, the same ventilation units."

Debra Carlton, a spokeswoman for the California Apartment Association, a landlords' group that supports the bill, says apartment owners can face lawsuits no matter which way they go on the smoking issue.

"Smoking has become a source of conflict between smokers and nonsmokers," she said. "Some owners who have set nonsmoking standards are challenged by smokers who claim they have a right to smoke on their own property.

"At the same time, owners who don't set nonsmoking standards have been sued by tenants."

Padilla's bill takes a middle-of-the-road approach that some health groups think doesn't go far enough. Some advocates for the poor, however, think it goes too far.

It could result in month-to-month renters, many of whom are poor, having as little as 60 days to quit smoking or find new places to live, said Cindi Alvidrez, a legislative assistant with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which lobbies on behalf of the poor.

"What we don't want to see happen is having low-income families evicted and losing their rent-control protections when other means to prevent or quit smoking haven't been addressed," she said.

Bill Phelps, a spokesman for the Altria Group, owner of Philip Morris USA, said the nation's largest tobacco company has not taken a position on the bill.

California already bans smoking in enclosed workplaces, including restaurants and bars, and near the entrances to state buildings and around children's playgrounds.

A bill signed last year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger bars smoking in motor vehicles carrying children.

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