Smoke Free Housing

Secondhand/drifting smoke is a major concern in residential housing buildings in San Francisco.  Secondhand smoke is the combination of the smoke produced by a burning cigarette and the smoke exhaled by a smoker.  It contains over 7,000 chemicals, many of which are can cause cancer.  Secondhand smoke is especially dangerous for infants, children, elderly, disabled, and pregnant women.  Exposure to secondhand smoke can lead to the development of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.  Secondhand smoke kills over 40,000 nonsmokers in the United States annually.  Aside from the well known health impacts, second hand smoke also damages the structure of a building, which may require expensive restoration to remedy.  In 2005, it was estimated that restoring a two bedroom apartment formerly inhabited by a heavy smoker could costs $8,000.  Higher-end estimates suggest it could even cost up to $15,000 per unit restoration.

In 2010, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors amended Health Code Article 19F (second-hand smoke law) to only allow smoking at the curb (outdoors) and prohibit smoking in common areas of multi-unit buildings.  The amendment also requires that the operators of multi-unit buildings to post signage stating that smoking is only allowed at the curb or if no curb, at least 15 feet away from entryways, exits, and operable windows.  This provides some protection for renters from external and some internal sources of second hand smoke.

Unfortunately, the smoke free protections afforded by the 2010 amendment to the San Francisco Health Code (19 F) do not extend to privately owned or rented units.   A state law, introduced as Senate Bill-322, which went into effect in January 2012, allows property owners to prohibit smoking in their units.  However, many tenants in San Francisco, especially those in rent controlled units, are still allowed to smoke in their units.  Rent Board Rules and Regulation 12.20 does not allow property owners to evict a tenant based on a unilateral decision, i.e. forcing a tenant to be a smoke free.  Therefore, if a lease does not contain a specific clause prohibiting smoking in the unit, the tenant is allowed to smoke in the unit (smoking optional unit).

In 2013, the Tobacco-Free Coalition partnered with Dolores Street Community Services and the San Francisco Apartment Association to come up with a common sense step forward in protecting all San Franciscans from drifting smoke in their homes.  The Housing Smoking Disclosure Ordinance, 19M, allows landlords and tenants to gain and share more information.  Tenants will able to determine the smoking status of their potential unit as well as neighboring units prior to entering into a rental agreement.

The Tobacco Free Project has also developed a guide for assisting tenants in addressing drifting second hand smoke in their buildings.  This guide is available in English, Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, and Tagalog.  Please check the tabs to the right to view the guides.


(Updated March 2024)