The city of Santa Monica’s prohibition against smoking has now sifted through the walls of new multi-unit apartment buildings and condominiums.

In a 4-2 vote July 10, the Santa Monica City Council approved an ordinance that will ban smoking in newly constructed multi-unit residential properties as well as in existing units that become vacant.

If approved on a second reading later this month, the law will additionally require residents living in apartment and condo complexes to designate their home as either smoking or non-smoking. Those who fail to designate would automatically have their unit deemed non-smoking.

The records of all units’ smoking status will be kept by landlords, who will disclose that information to current and prospective tenants. Anyone with a medical marijuana card who wishes to continue smoking inside their unit would also have to declare smoking status.

The new ordinance follows a trend of anti-smoking protections in recent years in the city, where the council previously banned the activity in common areas and balconies of residential properties but did not cross into the interior of apartments and condos.

Several other regional cities had enacted smoking bans in multi-unit properties prior to Santa Monica’s approval, including Pasadena, Baldwin Park, Compton and Huntington Park.

Many residents told the council stories of family members with asthma suffering from the effects of secondhand smoke and their inability to enjoy being in their own homes because of smoke wafting in through vents and windows from a neighboring unit. Council members in favor said the ordinance was needed to protect the health of residents and improve the quality of life of many inside their home.

“We’re way behind the curve here; Santa Monica is a follower here,” City Councilman Bobby Shriver said of other cities that have taken the step to prohibit multi-unit smoking before Santa Monica.

“I’m tired of listening to folks who say that we have to protect the tenancies of chain smokers.”

Councilman Kevin McKeown, who along with Councilwoman Pam O’Connor voted against the ban, voiced concerns about potential stigmas or harassment those declaring smoking status could face.

“This is going to go very quickly from document and disclose to demonize and displace,” McKeown said. “We might as well hammer a big ‘S’ onto their front door.”

McKeown noted that he has spent his entire time on the council working to ensure that renters don’t get encouraged to move for one reason or another and he fears that the smoking disclosure could lead to another impetus for landlords to get rent-controlled tenants to leave. The councilman added his problem is not with encouraging people to give up smoking but he has concerns of equity issues with the law.

“I’m not fine with the impact this is going to have on very real people,” he said.

Shriver disputed that certain people would be stigmatized because of the disclosures, noting that all hotels have created smoking and non-smoking floors, and said the need to protect rent-controlled residents from unwarranted displacement has been a concern long before smoking designation.

Councilman Terry O’Day said, “We’re protecting renters, we’re not targeting renters with this.”

In urging the council to adopt the expanded smoking ban, Esther Schiller, director of the Smoke Free Apartment House Registry, said there are lower maintenance costs for non-smoking units and the prohibition would also protect buildings from possible fires.

“It’s simply a good business decision for a landlord to adopt non-smoking policies,” she said.

Marlene Gomez, associate director of the group Smokefree Air For Everyone, noted that smoke can move into homes through cracks, ventilators, vents and pipes, and she cited a study that found children in multi-unit residences have higher levels of tobacco smoke in their blood even when there are no smokers living in the home.

“Drifting smoke in apartments and condos is not just a Santa Monica problem, it’s a national and international problem and many cities in California are leading the way (with smoking bans),” Dr. Trisha Roth, a pediatrician, told the City Council.

Enforcement of the new ordinance will be done primarily by informal communication and if necessary, through small claims court. Residents in violation would face a $100 fine on the first offense and up to $500 for a third violation in the first year.

The City Council directed staff to return with a recommendation on a firm date to prohibit smoking in all units, including those where smoking is currently allowed.

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