My wife and I recently fixed up a house to rent that was previously
owned by a heavy smoker. The entire house _reeked_ of old tobacco when
we bought it. We removed all the wall-to-wall carpet, we screbbed all
walls and ceilings with bio-degradable TSP substitute, primed (with
Kilz) and painted (two coats) all walls, ceiling and trim. The oak
hardwood floors were thoroughly scrubbed. We also had professionals
come in a clean the HVAC ducts, replaced the standard air filter and
are now cleaning the broken electrostatic air cleaner in the HVAC.
However, our new tenants say there's still a stink of tobacco smoke,
and they're concerned enough for their 1-1/2 year old son's asthma that
they're saying they'll have to move out if we can't get rid of the
We can't go back and re-prime the walls and repaint with something like
B-I-N (which I discovered doing some research in the newsgroup). What
other _reliable_ options do I have for abating the old smokey stench
the tenants say is in the house?
Fixing the electrostatic air cleaner migfht help a lot.
They use ozone to remove smoke smell after fires, from what I've read.
If this would help, you could rent an ozone generator and use it in the
house when they go on vacation. There are probably a lot of smoke
pollutants left in the ducts and other inaccessable locations.
On 12 Jul 2006 12:56:34 -0700, with neither quill nor qualm, "Kyle"
Repair the air cleaner NOW! It'll really help if there are odors in
Where in the house do they smell smoke? Any particular rooms/areas?
Let them move out and continue your smoke abatement without them if
necessary. If they're opaque enough to confuse odor with asthma,
they're not your ideal tenants by any means. When (not if) the kid has
an asthma attack, one of their litigous friends will talk them into a
lawsuit against you, and you'll pay even when you show that you have
done everything right. Nobody needs that.
Do you smoke? If so, you're out of luck. You'll never smell anything.
If not, does the house smell like smoke? If not, tell them you've
tried everything AND LET THEM MOVE OUT!
When I quit smoking 19 years ago, I got new carpeting and padding,
washed the walls, ceilings, drapes, and inside and outside of the
cupboards and closets. After a few weeks, the smell was gone, and I
have a -picky- nose. I can't stand to go inside a home which has had
smoke damage from a fire even after supposed renovation. Cigarette and
cigar smoke is much less piquant, luckily.
This new house I bought 4 years ago had a heavy smoker in it before
me. It was horrible to walk into. I had a cleaning service come in and
do the walls. They forgot to do the little office off the garage and
it still reeks, but I seldom go in there. Good primer and paint cover
what small amount of odor it has after cleaning.
TIP: Don't forget the closets and small niches, inside the cupboards,
attics, basements, etc. Everything exposed to smoke will smell forever
unless washed and painted. Shellac helps exposed wood if you don't
want paint on it.
One last thing: if there are any openings or crevices into the areas
behind the walls, smoke will have found its way there. Caulk every
tiny opening into the house well. Sash windows hide some of these
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go back reprime with BIN and repaint. what did you do with the floors?
might seal with outdoor polyurethane.
The smoke odor gets in the wood and even concrete:(
soon smoking will die out, just as assuredly as it kills people
You might as well fix this and ONLY rent to non smokers. Yoiur NOT
fixing it for the tenant you are investing in your future!
We will possibly do that when these tenants move out - hopefully not
until the end of their lease!
The floors we scrubbed by hand with Murphy's floor cleaner, and they
seem to be OK.
Don't I know it. My father and I did an abatement in my aunt's house
when she quit smoking just before her first fight with breast cancer.
We got it all, and the house was fine...nothing nearly as persistent
and nasty as this. But when the walls are a dingy semi-tan white
rectangles on them from where a wall hanging was for 25 years, you know
you're in for fun.
We can only hope. Not just for the welfare of those of us who can't
handle being around smokers (I have a minor deficiency in my immune
system where I cannot remotely tolerate vegetation smoke such as
tobacco or burning autumn leaves), but for the health and well-being of
those who are killing themselves one drag at a time.
Exactly why we bought this house. We're not in it to make money off the
tenants' rent, but to have their rent cover our mortage and expenses of
ownership while we build equity.
And while you cannot legally turn down a tenant who is a smoker, you
can put a clause in the lease that prohibits smoking of any kind inside
the house by either the tenants or visitors.
Not specifically with regards to smokers, but my understanding from
consulting with other landlords is you are not allowed to discriminate
against any _reasonably_qualified_ potential tenant. This includes not
being able to deny a qualified applicant on the basis of their personal
habits, including smoking, unless those habits pose a public health
risk, such as leaving trash in the yard and the like.
Now, if you want to turn down a smoker as a tenant and say that their
being a smoker is the reason, you could make the argument that the
smoker poses a potential hazard to the house and a danger to your
investment - how many house fires were begun last year because of
careless smoking? - but you would be involved in a costly legal process
at that point and someone could still argue that there are ways to
protect yourself in that case.
One possible way of protecting yourself legally and not having to worry
about discrimination claims is to set a different scale for the
security deposit (say, double what it would be for a comparable
non-smoker tenant) on the basis that smokers have a higher probability
of causing damage to the property than non-smokers...smoke permeation
of surfaces, burns in floors/carpets, etc. not to mention the
above-referenced fire hazard. The downside is that you may find a
tenant who's a smoker who's willing to plunk down that super-sized
security deposit and then you're stuck with a tenant you don't really
want and have to deal with the aftereffects.
Wow! Lucky you! Where did you find these tenants? After all of that
cleaning, any lingering odor would almost have to be outside the living
space it seems. Perhaps, if it is doable, putting caulk along all of
the baseboards would eliminate the air movement through wall spaces.
Just a thought. Another option, that I wouldn't be very inclined to do
myself, would be to call up a restoration company that cleans up after
fires - tell them what you have done already and see what they have to
offer. A kid with asthma, huh?
Bingo. The husband told us the smell gets worse when the AC kicks in,
so we're tracking down the source in the HVAC.
BTW, part of the sensitivy stems from the fact that the wife is
pregnant. The hormones have ramped her odor sensitivity into low-earth
Thanks to all who made CONSTRUCTIVE suggestions and observations (yeah,
I'm lookin' at you, Nightcrawler!).
There are three things that may make the tenants seem a little more
reasonable to y'all:
(1) I have what's known as IgA deficiency (I'm lacking antibodies
in places like the lining of my nasal passages) and therefore can sit
in a room with two stinky cat litter boxes and not smell a thing;
therefore my sense of "no, I can't smell anything" is not to be
relied on. While my wife and I worked on the house with the windows
open because of paint fumes and the like and there wasn't really a
chance for the smoke stink to build up while we were there...I will say
when we would get there first thing in the morning, you could smell
that old stink. So the tenants ain't makin' it up.
(2) The lady tenant is a pediatrician and instructor at Johns Hopkins
School of Medicine, so she's got some credibility and is not Ms.
Crackpot McWeirdo who got her medical knowledge from the
conspiracy-theory sites on the Intarwebs.
(3) When reviewing the tenants' application, we spoke with their
previous two landlords, who had only glowing things to say about them
and that they never made frivolous requests.
We pulled the cleaner assembly out of the electrostatic cleaner and it
immediately made a difference. I thought it was excessive, but my wife
bought a pretty pricey air purifier for the tenants.
The hardwood floors were covered with wall-to-wall carpet, so I think
the scrubbing with wood floor cleaner would be sufficient to get
whatever little amount of smoke made it through carpet and padding.
Cracks and crevices we're just going to have to live with, as well as
the exposed joists in the back of the basement and other places where
smoke could have gotten.
My wife called GE (the maker of this particular electrostatic cleaner)
and our best guess is this unit is ~30 years old. We either have to
replace it with another electrostatic cleaner or come up with some way
of scrubbing the tar and nicotine build-up off the filter frame as well
as the inside of the unit. I think I'll also have to find a flat
piece of HEPA filter material which I could fit into the filter frame.
Repainting the house is NOT an option at this point; but perhaps when
the tenants move out at the end of the lease. Replacing the HVAC is
also not an option since it is only 8 years old.
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