Smoke-Free Multi-Unit Housing FAQs

Smoke-Free Multi-Unit Housing FAQs

Have a question that isn't listed here?
Contact your contract administrator or state SFMUH lead Keri Schneider at

I'm new, what do I need to know?

Welcome! Clear Gains is the statewide initiative that supports local work promoting smoke-free housing policies. The Wisconsin Smoke-Free Air law prohibits smoking in common areas such as laundry rooms, lobbies, and hallways. SFMUH policies protects renters from secondhand smoke exposure in their units. There is a variety of resources to aid you in this work.

  • Clear Gains is the statewide initiative supported by staff at the ALA and TPCP and is a collection of statewide organizations. The Clear Gains website contains resources for property managers and owners on the benefits of going smoke-free. The Clear Gains Housing Finder lists smoke-free housing across the state. This is free advertisement for property managers and a useful search for individuals looking for smoke-free housing.
  • Smoke-Free Multi-Unit Housing Toolkit on Tobwis contains all resources that are found on Clear Gains along with resources specific to coordinators. Tobwis is the go-to resource for coordinators.
  • Coalition Resources may include a previous MUH Assessment of a specific jurisdiction or tracking information of where previous outreach was conducted.

If you have any more questions contact your contract administrator or state SFMUH lead Amanda Dederich.

What are the talking points?

Smoke-free policies are profitable, popular, and legal as highlighted in the Clear Gains in Smoke-Free Housing Leave Behind .

  • Profitable: Focus on the economic benefits of smoke-free policies as a primary strategy. A smoke-free policy saves the property manager money as it can cost up to 6 times more to clean a smoking unit!
  • Popular: Your interest is in health and you don’t have to hide that since healthy environments is a part of the reason smoke-free housing policies are so popular.
  • Legal: No state or federal law prohibits a property manager from implementing a smoke-free policy.

Are e-cigarettes included in a smoke-free policy?

The current recommendation and Clear Gains Sample Lease include e-cigarettes for a number of reasons.

  • Enforcement issues: many e-cigarettes look like conventional cigarettes making enforcement difficult if e-cigarettes are not included in the policy
  • Fire hazards: e-cigarettes have caused fires due to improper charging
  • Health effects: the health effects of e-cigarettes are unknown and e-cigarettes have not been proven effective as a cessation device

Many property managers are unaware of e-cigarettes and may be interested to know the main concerns of e-cigarettes as they:

  • Produce more than water vapor
  • Are not regulated and haven’t been proven safe
  • Are not approved to help smokers quit

What if a property manager wants to grandfather tenants?

Grandfathering is not recommended as the clause in the lease allows current tenants to smoke while prohibiting new tenants from smoking. The grandfather clause can be for a defined period or it can be until the tenant vacates the property. Although it may sound like grandfathering could ease the implementation process, there have been observable negatives:

  • Enforcement difficulties: It is difficult to know who is and who is not violating the policy.
  • Grandfathered “smoking” units: Smokers of the building sometimes congregate in the grandfathered units.
  • Not smoke-free: A grandfather clause does not create a smoke-free building because smoke is still present and can travel from unit to unit.
  • New tenants deceived: New tenants may feel deceived as they believed they were moving into a smoke-free building.

Can I implement a smoke-free policy if I have tenants with a mental illness?

Yes, the implementation of a smoke-free policy may help these individuals decrease the number of cigarettes they smoke which may help them quit altogether. Individuals with mental illnesses can and do quit smoking and it is a common misconception that these individuals need to smoke in order to cope with their disease. Refer to the Mental Illness and Smoking Cessation Fact Sheet for more information.

What do I do if a property is already smoke-free?

Great! Thank them for have a smoke-free policy in place that protects the health of their tenants. Ask them if they are interested in their property being listed free on the Clear Gains Housing Finder and help them get set-up if they want.

What can I do if a resident calls?

Residents have rights to smoke-free living and sometimes reach out for help on addressing secondhand smoke exposure. Here are a few recommendations when helping residents address secondhand smoke exposure:

  • Record the name of the property for possible management outreach
  • Refer residents to the Clear Gains website and the materials they can find there; specifically the Secondhand Smoke Health Risks and Residents’ Rights
  • Refer residents to the Wisconsin Asthma Coalition's Controlling Asthma in the Home: A Guide for Landlords and Tenants . Also in Spanish and Hmong .
  • Suggest residents take action in the following ways:
    • Document when smoke is coming in the unit including specific dates and times, any steps taken to keep the secondhand smoke out, and any health problems because of the secondhand smoke exposure
    • Communicate with the smoker directly expressing their concerns or with the property manager to discuss the problem and potential solutions.
    • Reach out to neighbors to determine if they have similar experiences or conduct a survey to determine if other residents prefer smoke-free housing.