MODESTO -- Modesto-area property and apartment managers are split on the merits of proposed legislation that would ban smoking in all of the state's multiunit dwellings.
"It's tough to make a decision that says we require every smoker to stop smoking immediately in their home," said VIP Management property manager Chad Brown, whose company operates three large complexes with more than 750 units total in Modesto. "Personally, there's nothing I want more in properties than to have them stop smoking. I'd love to do that, but it doesn't seem practical."
Last week, Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, introduced Assembly Bill 746, which would restrict smoking in owner-occupied residences and rental units. The legislation is in its early stages and would have a lot of hurdles to pass before becoming law.
But it could have an impact on millions of Californians who no longer would be able to smoke tobacco in their rental condominiums, duplexes and apartment units. Stand-alone rental homes and units are not included in the legislation.
California has about 3.6 million smokers, and the California Department of Public Health said their habits can affect others by increasing the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic lung problems and other diseases through secondhand smoke.
Landlords have the authority to prohibit smoking in rental units, but the bill would take the policy statewide.
Claudia Arreola, apartment manager at Park Knolls Apartments in Turlock, said smoking is allowed in the 350 units. The complex caters to California State University, Stanislaus, students, with about half of its residents attending the university.
"I think a ban would make it more difficult for us," Arreola said. "It would be harder for us to rent units. I see people smoking now a lot."
At Stonebridge Apartments in Modesto, leasing consultant Kristie Monarrez said the 286-unit complex allows smoking. She said she wouldn't expect a ban to change much for them.
"It could go both ways," she said. "It might impact us a little because we have some smokers here. But it could be a good thing and attract a lot of people who are nonsmokers."
Some Modesto apartments have gone nonsmoking, and managers said they've been pleased with the results. Monterey Village Apartments went smoke-free 11 years ago. When the 120-unit complex made the switch, it grandfathered in some tenants. But now those few have moved on and there is no smoking inside or in public areas.
"I don't think it affects it at all," said property manager Erika Eberhardt. "No one has gotten upset when they see it on our applications. In fact, we've had a good amount of people who want to live here because of it. In fact, we get more people upset because we don't take animals."
Eberhardt said the change was made because of damage done to units by smokers, which can include yellowing of the walls, blinds and screens. Apartments must be thoroughly cleaned, from carpet to duct work and beyond, to get out the smell of smoke. That cleaning can cost thousands of dollars.
The Village Apartments, a 44-unit complex in Modesto, banned smoking about five years ago. Property manager Mary Sedgeman said the move has made the property safer for all tenants, and not only because of the hazards of secondhand smoke.
"I believe that it has cut down on the fire hazards," she said. "We don't have the people smoking in bed or anything like that that could cause a big fire."
Brown, whose VIP Management operates Valley Oak, Live Oak and West Dale Commons apartments in Modesto, said in the 25 years he worked in rentals, he knows of at least four fires caused caused by smokers. Although his properties allow smoking, he said the company has considered creating smoke-free units. He said its insurance company even has offered a 10 percent discount if complexes are made nonsmoking.
Over the years, he said, the popularity and acceptance of smoking has declined. VIP's complexes used to offer ashtrays in the pool areas; now, all smoking is banned there.
"Smokers are not a protected class," he said. "We offer fair and equitable treatment of all residents. But in this case, smokers destroy our apartments and cause higher risk and extreme difficulty in turning over and re-renting apartments. No one wants to live with someone else's smoke. So I'd love to see it happen. But I think it's probably better to allow properties to address it themselves."
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on www.twitter.com/turlocknow.