Can You Smoke Outside Your Apartment?

Whether you are a smoker or a non-smoker, knowing what your rights are as both parties can significantly reduce the amount of conflict you need to have in your life.  

Being able to smoke outside of a rental property is 100% up to the decision and desire of the landlord. Typically, they will designate the apartments and outside areas as smoking or non-smoking in the lease agreement. 

There are definitely misconceptions on each side of this issue, and while there will always be disagreements, hopefully, this will give you the information you need to resolve whatever situation you are going through.  

So, whether you are a smoker or non-smoker, whether a tenant trying to exercise their lungs with a few smoke sticks, or whether you are that neighbor that just can’t take any more 2nd hand smoke from your neighbors…  we have the answers to your questions!

Can A Landlord Tell You Not To Smoke?

Where does a landlord’s right to tell you what you can and can’t do in your apartment or outside end, and your rights begin? 

A landlord can tell you not to smoke on their property whatsoever. It is their property, so they set the rules.  If there are designated smoking spots on the property, this should be outlined in the lease agreement. 

While this may seem like it sucks if you are a smoker, this is the law.  The same goes for most foreign countries as well, but it is not enforced to the level that landlords in the United States enforce it.  

When you break it down, the tenant is on the landlord’s property.  Just like if you were to go over to your friend’s house, they have particular rules that guests adhere to, and can do this because the guests are on their property.  The same goes for the relationship between the landlord and the tenant.  

The tenant is simply on the private property of the landlord for such an extended period of time, a written agreement, called the lease, is written up to go over all the rules that the landlord wants followed and adhered to if you are going to be on their property for such a length of time.  

I can tell you that while most apartment complexes have gone to non-smoking over the last 30 years, there STILL are apartments out there you can find that do allow smoking.  And if the property doesn’t allow smoking, virtually EVERY one has a designated space for people to smoke in.  It is very rare to see an apartment complex that prohibits smoking whatsoever on their property. 

You are more likely to run into this situation with a little old lady who has 5-6 units and is a busybody and has nothing else better to do.  In a rare case like this, you should just find another place.  But the BEST thing to do is be clear on the smoking policy before you even move in, so you’re not signing a lease for a year or longer just to have your neighbors you’ve never met turn you in for something you thought you could do, at least outside. 

If you are still curious about whether or not a landlord can prohibit smoking outside or not, I have written an entire article on just this issue which you can find by just clicking the link. 

How Do Landlords Enforce No Smoking?

Landlords enforce No Smoking by giving written and verbal warnings to the tenant who is breaking the lease agreement, and finally, if the behavior doesn’t stop, it can lead to eviction. 

Technically, a landlord can evict you immediately if you are smoking on their property against their wishes because you are breaking the lease.  I’ve never heard, either from a tenant or from a landlord, that they have ever been evicted or evicted someone because they were smoking one time.  

Eviction is usually only reserved for the most egregious of offenses.  There has only been one time in my life where I had to evict a smoker after the first incident.  The people in question were having a party, it was 2:00 AM on a Saturday morning and the neighbors were calling non-stop because all of their units were smelling like smoke.  Well, it was cold outside, and having a smoke on the balcony slowly transitioned into just a bunch of people smoking inside the apartment.  

Went over there to give them the warning, and they were fairly beligerant about it, and basically told me to piss off.  Not the thing to do to the owner.  So, I gave them a final warning, and went back to bed.  Not an hour later, I start getting calls again from the neighbors that they are smoking hard core in the apartment AGAIN, now weed is involved and this is just out of control.  

Went over there a second time and their attitude was essentially, “well, we are already getting a warning, may as well make it worth it.”  And gave zero cares about everyone else in the apartment building.  Not cool.  

So, called the cops for noise, and evicted them immediately.  About two days later when they had sobered up and realized they were evicted, they couldn’t believe that I was actually doing it, and had a bit of regret for their decision.  

But outside of a random circumstance like that where there were a bunch of other things going on, usually eviction is NOT the first choice of action that the landlord takes.   

Whenever I deal with tenants and their smoking habits now, it is usually because a neighbor complains and I have to go address it.  If their apartment smells like smoke, they are probably causing a legitimate gripe from whatever neighbor complained.  However, if they are going out on their balcony or porch to smoke and not littering the ground with butts all over the place, I am usually pretty lenient on them and just ask them to respect others as much as anything.   

While yes, it is my property, and no, I don’t want my property damaged, having a tenant who RESPECTFULLY enjoys their habit is a completely different situation than a tenant who doesn’t give a care in the world to their surroundings or other people in the building.  

When I deal with someone smoking in a unit I don’t want smoking in the unit, I give them a verbal and written warning at the same time.  If it happens again, I give them another written warning with the notice that this will be the last warning, and the next one is eviction.  The third time, they are out.  Technically, I COULD just boot them on the first go-round, but I like to have paying tenants in my complex, so a bit of flexibility can really help everyone get along.  

Can You Refuse To Rent To A Smoker?

Landlords can refuse to rent to someone who smokes because being a smoker isn’t a Protected Class. 

A protected class would be singling out a group of people based on their sex, skin color, or religion.  Being a smoker isn’t something that is “protected” in the United States.  If a landlord wants to not rent to you because you are a smoker they are free to do so.  

Many people forget that they are still on the landlord’s private property when they are renting out an apartment from them.  The landlord is the one who sets the rules because it is still their property at the end of the day.  Think what you want about that reality, but that doesn’t change the way things are right now.  

Being a smoker is simply a choice, like gardening, or playing basketball.  If your landlord decided to randomly ban basketball from his property, while weird, would still be 100% legal, because it’s their property. 

Landlords aren’t particularly in the habit of making arbitrary rules like this unless something has gone on repeatedly in the past that is causing other tenant’s concern.  And they are in the business of making money, so alienating potential customers isn’t in their best interest.  

This is why even though apartment complexes may ban smoking inside your apartment, virtually every complex is going to have a place where people can smoke and ash when they go outside.  And again, if this isn’t the environment you want to live in, simply look for another place to live. 

Can You Smoke On The Balcony Of A Non-Smoking Apartment?

This is one of those issues where if it isn’t spelled out specifically in the lease, you are going to find out the rules from all of the neighbors, more than likely coming in the form of a complaint. 

Technically, if the apartment is non-smoking, that includes the balcony as well, but for practical purposes, most landlords are going to prefer you smoke on the balcony as opposed to in the apartment itself.  

If you have neighbors who are a stickler for these sorts of things, they are probably going to complain about you if you have a smoke out on your balcony.  You can pretty much count on it.  Now, if it says in the lease “No Smoking”, then they have a legitimate complaint.  However, if the landlord or manager has said that “Smoking anywhere outside is fine”, then that person has the right to smoke on their balcony.  

This comes with a few caveats though.  The primary one being, you cannot disturb another person’s enjoyment of their apartment with your smoke.  For you to be left alone and do what you want peacefully, you also have to respect those very same rules for other people as well. 

One of the main reasons that apartment complexes have a no smoking policy, to begin with, is that it can be a nuisance to others.  If you are enjoying your habit and not interfering with anyone else’s life, then a landlord is going to be hard-pressed to hold your feet to the fire for something that’s not impacting anyone else. 

While the apartments we have are technically “No Smoking”, I have never booted anyone for smoking on their balcony.  Allowing that is a heck of a lot better than having to tear things out of the inside of an apartment because it is saturated with smoke.  

And most landlords are going to do the exact same thing I did.  Their big concern is that the inside doesn’t smell like perpetual smoke, that’s all.  They could care less about where you smoke outside for the most part.  If someone DOES end up saying something to you, it’s probably because either smoke is constantly rolling through their window, or the lease doesn’t allow smoking on the property at all, which is rare.  

How Can Landlords Tell If You Smoke?

There are plenty of people out there that think they can smoke in their apartment if they just keep the windows open, or smoke in the bathroom with the fans on and nobody will notice.  Let me tell you, that is NOT the case. 

A landlord can tell if you smoke simply by walking into your apartment.  Whether cigarette smoke or weed smoke, it will still leave a smell in the walls or anything that has a porous surface.  

Now, you may not THINK that your apartment doesn’t smell at all, but that is only because you are used to the smell.  Having someone from the outside come in that has never been in your apartment before, and they are absolutely going to notice a smell.  

This is true for smokers and anyone that has a pet.  You yourself will get used to the smell pretty quickly, but when people from the outside come in for the first time, they are almost instantly going to know if you smoke or not or have a pet or not. 

Now, you can definitely try to minimize that smell by doing a variety of things.  In fact, I have an entire article on if you can smoke weed in your apartment and not get caught.  Obviously, we are not trying to persuade people to do this, but limiting the effects smoking has on others and the property is not a bad thing to promote. 

Additionally, you can do other things to make your apartment smell great.  As I mentioned, we all get used to the smell of our own place. It is only once we have been out of it for at least a week or more that we will be able to notice the inherent unique odor of our own homes.  That’s just one of those things.  But everyone else can tell the moment they step through your door. 

If you don’t want your guests, or your landlord, to know about some of your habits, I have an entire article here on How To Make Your Apartment Smell Great.  In it are a TON of tips to not only save you money on your security deposit but also several easy ways to make your apartment smell like a million bucks! 

What Can You Do If Your Apartment Neighbor Smokes?

If you are in the unfortunate position of having to deal with neighbors in your complex that smoke, I feel for you. Second-hand smoke is plenty annoying to deal with, and with most state and city laws, people aren’t around smoke as much as they used to be historically, which makes it all the easier to detect. 

The first thing you should do is Check Your Lease.  In your lease, it will lay out where smokers can and cannot smoke.  Additionally, a quick mention of the problem to the offender can most of the time solve the problem quickly and easily. 

Your lease is essentially like the Constitution for your apartment complex.  It will list out everything you can do and everything you can’t.  A smoking policy is something that will be included on most leases simply because it is a common issue and will more than likely be clearly written out and explained. 

If you still have some confusion with what’s written in the lease policy, simply call your manager or landlord and ask them to explain exactly what is and isn’t allowed per the lease regarding smoking inside or outside of the complex.  

Any landlord or manager will be more than happy to clarify this because if you are calling about someone else in the complex, they are going to want to know about it before any property is damaged, or any more tenants are annoyed with the behavior.  

Check your lease first, but don’t be afraid to call the manager or your landlord and ask.  That way, if you need to have a quick conversation with the individual, you have the facts behind you and know exactly what the landlord would say in the same situation. 

Can My Landlord Tell If I Vape Inside?

It is very difficult for a landlord to tell if someone has been vaping inside their apartments.  Because you exhale water vapor when you vape, it doesn’t leave near the smell as actually smoking would.  

If you have an apartment that has a “No Smoking” policy, which is 100% strict across the board, you are still more than likely going to be able to vape in your apartment.   

I am a landlord myself, and I can tell you, without QUESTION, that I would much rather have someone vaping in the apartment all day than have one person smoke one cigarette in there.  The difference in what the apartment smells like is night and day. 

Obviously, we aren’t encouraging any sort of behavior, but as far as damage to the apartment, which is really the only concern of the landlord, it is virtually non-existent with vaping, as opposed to smoking. 

Now, if you are bothering someone else with your vaping, it’s probably not that you are vaping, per se, but that you are flagrantly abusing whatever rules the lease lays down and giving someone else grounds to say something about you.  Just avoid those situations altogether by being respectful about others in your neighboring apartments.   

But, in the end, your landlord is probably NOT going to be able to tell that you have been vaping in your apartment, nor will they care.  As long as you aren’t giving them a reason to come down on your for something, you can more than likely vape to your heart’s content and no one will be the wiser.  

A landlord can make whatever rules they want regarding smoking because it is their property and smokers aren’t a protected class.  If you are not bothering anyone with your smoking, usually smoking on a balcony or porch is permitted even if the apartment complex itself is non-smoking. 

If you have any questions about what is and what isn’t allowed in your complex, look at your lease, or call the manager or landlord, they will be more than happy to answer your questions for you.  And if it comes down to it, vaping is a MUCH easier way to get your nicotine fix for everyone concerned.

Recommended for You:

How To Smoke Weed In Your Apartment And Not Get Caught

How Often Can My Landlord Inspect My Apartment?

How To Make Your Apartment Smell Great

John Boettcher

Co-Founder of Apartment School and a previous renter turned owner of many multi-family properties across the United States, with many years of experience in all aspects of the apartment, real estate, and investing world.

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