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How to identify smoke damage in your rental property

Posted on 2017-06-29

How to identify smoke damage in your rental property

For the majority of landlords, smoking indoors is a big no-no. In most tenancy agreements, smoking will be prohibited as the damage and issues it can cause are deemed too high. Nonetheless, this doesn’t stop some tenants from flouting the rules and smoking indoors regardless.

In this blog, we outline some of the tell-tale signs you can look for to work out if your tenants have been breaking the rules. We also look at the ways you can address the issue with tenants and repair any damage that has been caused.

The signs

Cigarette smoke tends to linger, even if attempts have been made to cover it. In many cases, tenants who smoke indoors will do their best to cover their tracks – perhaps by using scented candles, air fresheners or plug-in diffusers, or simply opening all doors and windows to try and remove the stench. If, when visiting your rental property, there are clear attempts to disguise or cover certain smells, this could be a sign that smoking has been taking place.

As we know, cigarette smoke tends to stick very well to clothes and furniture. More often than not, you will be able to tell if smoking has been taking place in a room – it will be apparent on curtains, drapes, carpets, upholstered furniture and linen. The smell of smoke will cling to floors, walls and ceilings and is very hard to get rid of completely.

What’s more, cigarette stains can be left on walls, surfaces, curtains, light fixtures and lamps. The stains will generally be yellow or brown – and may only be very small – but could also act as a tell-tale sign that something is up. Smoke stains will generally show up on wallpaper or paintwork, even if the walls have recently been repainted. In fact, repainted walls themselves could be another sign that tenants haven’t been sticking to the rules of the tenancy agreement. Nicotine eventually sweats through even the toughest sort of paint – and attempts to cover stains will generally fail in the long-term.

In addition, cigarette butts in the front or back garden is another possible sign that tenants have been up to no good. While smoking outside of the property may be allowed, it may also be the case that tenants have tried to cover their tracks by smoking inside and then hiding the offending cigarette butts outside of the property.

There may also be signs in the house of cigarette butts that have been casually thrown away or discarded in haste. The tenants may have had the best of intentions for hiding the evidence, but this may have slipped their mind. Furthermore, there may be evidence of ash trays being used – or other items acting as temporary ash trays such as mugs, bowls and plates – which you may also spot during a routine inspection.

Cigarette burns on carpets and furniture are also nigh-on impossible to disguise, and if drastic efforts have been made by tenants to keep certain parts of the property out of bounds or out of view, this may also arouse suspicion.

Yellow-brown dots on walls, particularly surrounding doorframes, are a sure-fire sign of nicotine stains. Some tenants will smoke in the bathroom, with the extractor fan on or hanging out the window to try and limit the chances of any tracks being left behind, but given the condensation caused in a bathroom stains are likely to become apparent. Ditto the kitchen.

Cigarette ash and residue may also be apparent on window sills, behind furniture or hidden underneath pictures, electrical items and games consoles. It’s stubborn, and will find its way into all manner of places.

In other words, if smoking has been taking place in a house, it should be fairly apparent, even if drastic steps have been taken to disguise it. If you know the tell-tale signs to look for, then you should be able to work out for sure if smoking has been taking place indoors. In some cases, if you confront tenants about this, they may admit it. In other cases, they may deny the accusations. This is when some diplomacy and tact will be required.

The tenants

Flying in, wildly accusing tenants of smoking indoors, is not the best approach, especially if your suspicions turn out to be unfounded. In most cases, it will be clear if smoking has been taking place or not. In other cases it will be more ambiguous, and you will need to make sure you don’t offend or alienate your tenants.

It needs to be made clear to tenants what is stated in the tenancy agreement so there is no confusion or crossed wires. Some tenants may simply be unaware of the rules and regulations regarding smoking, and you will need to make this clear to them. Others may be fully aware of the prohibition on smoking in the tenancy agreement and have chosen to flout these rules regardless.

Again, confrontation and disputes is something no landlord wants – so adopting a conciliatory tone and going through with tenants their rights and responsibilities when it comes to adhering to the tenancy agreement is the best approach to take.

Where damage has been caused, and repairs are needed, you must make it clear to tenants that they’ve signed a tenancy agreement which stated that smoking was not allowed in the rental property. As a result, their deposit will have to be used to offset any damage caused.

Repairing the damage

If damage has been caused by tenants smoking indoors, there are steps you can take to reverse this. This will probably require a thorough and deep clean carried out by a professional cleaning company. It would also be a wise move to get rid of any affected furniture and carpet to ensure the problem is dealt with efficiently. While this may cost in the short-term, it will be worth it in the long-term – and there are measures in place to ensure you aren’t left out of pocket by the actions of your tenants.      

A smoke damage restoration service may also be an option you wish to explore, although this is only likely to be necessary if damage is particularly bad.

As a landlord, there isn’t a great deal you can do to prevent tenants from breaking the rules when it comes to smoking. In the vast, vast majority of cases tenants will adhere strictly to the tenancy agreement, but a small minority may seek to break the rules. You need to be clear from the start with tenants about what exactly your rules are with regards to smoking, so no mixed messages are received, and you may want to remind tenants about this periodically.

Copies of the tenancy agreement should be given to tenants on the day they move in, and you may even wish to produce a ‘house rules’ document to confirm for sure what is and what isn’t allowed in your rental property.

If tenants still decide to smoke in your rental property, regular inspections of the property (agreed in advance with tenants) will help to nip this in the bud. You should also work with your letting agent to ensure the chances of smoking taking place are minimised. For the vast majority of tenancies, this won’t be an issue. But it’s best to be prepared for every eventuality, to have a strategy in place if smoke damage becomes an issue. 

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