Santa Maria Sun / News
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 15
Clearing the airTowbes Group is the largest private firm to ban smoking in all of its apartments since the state law took effect
BY JEREMY THOMAS
Smokers in two apartment complexes in Northern Santa Barbara County will have to find someplace else to light up, if they’re to comply with a smoking ban imposed on rental properties owned by the Towbes Group.
A Santa Barbara-based real estate investment and property management firm, the Towbes Group, is prohibiting smoking in the 13 apartment complexes it owns in Southern California, including the Knollwood Meadows Apartments in Santa Maria and Oceanwood Apartments in Lompoc.
Under the new policy, tenants are barred from smoking anywhere on the property, including inside apartments, on patios and balconies, and in all common areas. The ban became effective June 1 for new residents, while existing renters have until Dec. 1 to comply with the restrictions.
Jim Carrillo, Towbes’ vice president of residential properties, said the smoke-free policy evolved over several years, stemming from an increasing number of concerns raised by residents regarding secondhand smoke. Carrillo said any reports of violations would be treated the same as complaints about loud parties.
“We’re not going to be the smoking police,” Carrillo said. “We have a very nice addendum that everybody signs acknowledging the policy, and that addendum becomes part of the lease. So we would treat it the same way that we would any other perceived or potential breach of the lease.”
Residents were handed 60-day notices on April 1, and all prospective tenants are being informed of the policy during the leasing process, Carrillo said.
The ban doesn’t include the company’s for-sale properties in Santa Maria, such as Knollwood Village—a manufactured home park on Bradley Road—or Lavigna, where residents own their own homes. Towbes has other rental communities in Ventura, Carpinteria, and Santa Barbara that are affected—nearly 2,000 units in all.
Though scattered apartment complexes on the Central Coast have enacted smoking bans in recent years, including the Vandenberg Senior Center in Santa Maria and the Santa Barbara Housing Authority, Towbes is the largest private firm to impose a ban on its entire rental portfolio since Senate Bill 332 took effect in January. The new state law codified the rights of landlords to provide smoke-free living spaces for their residents.
Trina Long, a health educator at the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, welcomed the policy.
“It is another tool to help protect the many nonsmokers that we have here in California from the negative and harmful effects of smoke that drifts,” Long said. “We think it’s in the best interest of public health, and it’s also in the best interests of owners of these places, because of the costs associated with turning over apartments when a smoker has been in there.”
If similar policies spread locally, Long continued, it would help alleviate complaints the agency regularly receives from apartment dwellers, many of whom suffer from health problems exacerbated by secondhand smoke.
“Nothing they’ve done works, so we’re usually their last resort so they don’t have to move,” Long explained. “A lot of times our hands are tied because there isn’t a law to point them to, but it’s really about educating them to work with the property owner. If the property owner is against going smoke-free, then it ends up falling back to the person who complained to find somewhere else to live.”
Officials with the American Lung Association in Los Angeles also applauded the move.
“This decision by the Towbes Group is a great step forward in protecting the health of Santa Maria residents,” Vanessa Marvin, director for the American Lung Association in California, said via e-mail. “Residents will now have a smoke-free option for themselves and their families.”
The Sun’s attempts to reach representatives for the largest smokers’ rights groups in California—FORCES and the Smoker’s Club—for comment on the ban were unsuccessful.
Towbes Group’s Carrillo said the company didn’t want to make the new regulations draconian, so temporary designated smoking areas would be provided in less dense communities. He added that the firm has received only two complaints from residents disagreeing with the policy. He said he understands the argument, but feels the legislature did the right thing in giving landlords the choice to provide a smoke-free living space for its tenants.
“There are many [properties where] it’s not going to make a difference; they’re going to continue to have the same policies that they’ve always had,” Carrillo said. “But at least our owner [Michael Towbes] felt that it was important to be able to give the populations we serve the option to live in an environment that was healthier and easier to breathe in.”
As something of a pioneer in a state friendly to tenant rights, Carrillo said the Towbes Group would like to see smoke-free policies such as theirs catch on elsewhere.
“If this raises multifamily living to a different level, then I think it would be great if there were other owners and management companies that went along with it,” Carrillo said. “I would hope to see it spread because I think it’s a good thing for the industry.”
Contact Staff Writer Jeremy Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.