County to ban smoking in and around low-income apartments

Smoking will be banned at 1,000 low-income apartments in Jackson County starting Sept. 1 to protect children and to prevent thousands of dollars in damage caused by nicotine stains, the Jackson County Housing Authority has decided.

"We started getting more and more complaints," said Cara Carter, director of tenant services. "It stinks. You should be able to open your windows without a neighbor downstairs chain smoking on their patio."

Carter, who quit smoking two years ago, said her agency is just catching up with the no-smoking laws that have swept the nation in recent years. On Jan. 1, landlords in Oregon are required by law to inform renters of smoking policies in rental units.

Newer apartment complexes built by the housing authority already ban smoking, but enforcement will begin in September at some of the existing apartments and full compliance at all the units is expected by Jan. 1, she said. About 2,500 residents live in housing authority apartments located in almost every community in Jackson County.

The renters will receive letters notifying them of the new rules, which will apply to porches, patios and parking lots as well as apartments' interiors.

Heather Price, a tenant at Lilac Meadow apartments in Central Point, said the ban is just fine with her and her 3-year-old daughter, Shyanne.

"She's got medical issues," the 22-year-old mother said, pointing to her daughter.

Price's boyfriend, Richard Hon, is a smoker, so the ban would mean he will not be able to smoke on the front porch or back patio.

He said he understands smoke is bad for children, many of whom were playing around the apartment complex.

"That's why I don't smoke in the house," he said.

Price added, "But he leaves the door open and throws his butts, and she gets into them sometimes."

She said she's not particularly happy about Hon smoking near the apartment, even with the door closed, because the smoke wafts in through the windows.

"I yell at him every time he goes out," she said.

Hon said he would take advantage of any programs the agency might offer to help people kick the habit. He said he wasn't looking forward to a long walk to the nearest public sidewalk to have a drag.

Price said it's a good idea to ban smoking around the apartments, but thought it a little extreme to also include the parking lots.

Carter said her agency is working with Smokefree Oregon to find ways to get compliance with the new rules and to find ways to help smokers.

She said her agency expects some tenants may not readily comply with the smoking ban. In some cases enforcement will be difficult, she said.

It will ultimately be a judgment call, Carter said, but a tenant would have to fail to heed repeated warnings before being evicted.

At some apartments where compliance might be difficult, Carter said, the housing agency is looking at building small structures in remote areas of parking lots that would be designated for smokers.

Besides health problems, cigarettes cause thousands of dollars in damage to apartments, she said.

A typical smoker's apartment needs a minimum of $2,000 in repairs to make it ready for a new tenant, sometimes as high as $5,000. A non-smoking apartment typically costs about $400 in repairs.

In some cases, several coats of primer and paint are required to seal up a wall, but that doesn't always work in bathrooms.

"The nicotine sometimes bleeds out after the new tenant takes a shower," she said. "We've had to replace the drywall."

Even after everything has been cleaned, the acrid smell of cigarettes still offends some new tenants.

"You can never get it out all the way," Carter said. "There is always that lingering smell."

In addition, cigarette butts have caused bark fires near some apartments, she said.

Most tenants in the apartment complexes don't smoke, Carter said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or

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