Where There’s No Smoke

Apartment communities win points with residents by banning cigarettes

April 12, 2013

Michael and Alyson Hanish, who both work in health-care fields, chose to live in a building where smoking is not allowed.

For Alyson Hanish, living in an apartment previously inhabited by a smoker would never work. “I’m allergic to smoke and really react strongly to it,” she says. “I don’t even like being in an overall environment that allows smoking.”

So when she was looking for an apartment in 2011, she knew she wanted to rent a unit in which no former tenants had smoked. Then she found something even better: an available apartment at North Bethesda Market, a complex that is entirely smoking-free (11351 Woodglen Drive, North Bethesda, Md., 866-926-6603).

In the D.C. area, people have grown used to smoking bans in workplaces, restaurants and bars. Now, a growing number of apartment complexes in the District and surrounding areas are making smoking a no-no — driven by resident demand.

“People want choices,” says Samuel Simone, managing director at Mill Creek Residential Trust, a development company. That company’s Trilogy NoMA project (151 Q St. NE, 866-997-3792) will offer one building in its three-building development that is completely nonsmoking. (It’s expected to open in May.)

Hanish and her husband, Michael, a physical therapist, wanted the choice to inhabit an apartment that was good for their well-being. “We’re both in health professions,” says Hanish, 26, who works as a pediatric nurse and is currently studying for her doctorate in nursing. “Living healthily is important to us.”

Especially now that she’s pregnant with their first child. “It’s really nice knowing that the air is healthy to breathe,” she says.

That kind of eco-friendly environment is something a lot of apartment complexes are touting these days. Indoor air quality plays into LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifications from the U.S. Green Building Council, so forbidding smoking can be a way to rack up some LEED points.

It can also lure residents like the Hanishes who have allergies or who just don’t want to live anywhere near someone who’s lighting up. After all, cigarettes smell, and secondhand smoke can drift under doorways or through the vents.

The Millennium at Metropolitan Park (1330 S. Fair St., Arlington, 866-333-7158), which opened in 2010, was the first property built by local real-estate developer Kettler to be totally smoking-free. Its 300 units leased in less than a year. Now the company has six more apartment projects in the works throughout the metro area, all of which will be completely nonsmoking.

“We feel like it gives us a competitive advantage,” says Nicole M. Jones, Kettler’s marketing director.

It’s not just new buildings that are saying no to smoking. After a 2005 fire — started by a cigarette — claimed two lives, the multibuilding Blairs community in Silver Spring (1401 Blair Mill Road, Silver Spring, 855-727-6640) decided to outlaw smoking in all of its units — more than 1,400 total.

“We did a survey of the Blairs, which revealed that only 4 percent of the units had people in them who were smokers,” says Ed Murn, development director for the Tower Companies, which owns the property. “So we made an actual policy change.”

Even smokers sometimes prefer to keep smoke out of their homes.

“We’re finding that people who do smoke choose to smoke outside quickly and then go back into their home, or they choose an apartment with a balcony,” says Pei Pei Chan, general manager of Flats 130 at Constitution Square (130 M St. NE, 866-300-2916), whose phase-two building, currently nearing completion, will be smoking-free. According to Chan, renters won’t pay any kind of premium for an apartment in the nonsmoking building.

Banning smoking is good for property managers, too. It helps complexes save on maintenance and upkeep. When an apartment has been occupied by a smoker, it requires more work to get it back on the market than readying an apartment where a nonsmoker resided. The carpet usually needs to be replaced; smoke can also damage the paint, walls and cabinets.

“It’s much more costly from the standpoint of materials,” Murn says. “Then it also takes you longer to turn over that unit.”

Of course, while many applaud antismoking policies, not everyone is a fan.

“There still is a perception that you have a right to do what you want within your four walls,” says Angela Bradbery, co-founder of Smokefree DC, a citizen-based group that promotes smoke-free environments in the District. “But in apartments, you can’t do whatever you want. What you do affects the people around you. You can’t have band practice at three in the morning, and there’s a reason for that. So a nonsmoking policy just has to be explained in that light.”

Based on the phone calls she gets from people fed up with secondhand smoke intrusion in their apartments, Bradbery thinks there are plenty of renters out there who’d love the chance to live in a nonsmoking apartment building.

“It’s one of those kinds of things for which there’s a lot of pent-up demand,” she says.

Sign of the Times

Changes in attitudes about smoking make it easier for buildings to ban it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of American adults who smoke decreased from 20.9 percent in 2005 to 19.3 percent in 2010. And according to the American Lung Association, the prevalence of smoking declined more than 50 percent between 1965 and 2009. “The younger generation has grown up with smoke-free bars and restaurants,” says Ed Murn of the Tower Companies. “They almost expect a building to be smoke-free.” B.L.

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