I-Team: Smoke-free properties

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – From the mall to your workplace and maybe even where you live; smoke-free properties are becoming more popular.   The 22News I-Team discovered if they are being enforced.

We looked at an apartment complex that created a smoke-free policy close to five years after a lit cigarette caused one of its buildings to burn down.

The Meadowbrook Apartments in Northampton are supposed to be smoke-free.  It’s a policy that started in September.  The tenants the 22News I-Team spoke with  say their building continues to be filled with smoke.

“There’s literally clouds of smoke.  My kids are so used to it now that they know every time we leave the building and come back in, they have to hold their breath until they get inside the apartment, because they don’t want to smell the cigarettes”, says tenant Mara Salgado.

What makes this apartment complex stand out is that in April 2009, one of its buildings was destroyed.  The fire marshal discoed the careless disposal of a lit cigarette started the fire.  12 families lost everything and several pets were killed.  This past July, another fire at Meadowbrook – this was caused by a child playing with a lighter.

In the Meadowbrook Apartments’ smoke free policy they said they would put up signage making it clear that the property is smoke-free.  We didn’t see a single sign.  It also isn’t clear in the policy how they plan on enforcing it, if anyone is caught smoking.

(Since September has their been any enforcement to your knowledge?)
“None, none”, says tenant James Moir.

Preservation Housing Management owns the property.  They’re a non-profit housing organization out of Boston.  They refused several requests for an interview with the I-Team, but sent us this statement.

“Preservation Housing Management takes all complaints regarding violations of the non-smoking policy rule seriously and follows up on any possible violations that have sufficient evidence.”  — Brenda Hernández  senior Regional Property Supervisor, Preservation Housing Management, LLC

“I have complained to the office about it several times and they did not do nothing”, says Moir.

“Management says they come over and they ask them if they smoke and they say no, clearly they’re not going to tell the truth, what stops them from going inside and smoking again, because they can’t force themselves into the apartment”, says Salgado.

A smoke-free policy isn’t impossible to enforce.  Jeanne Harlow is a property manager for the Hampshire Property Management Group.  She told 22news they have successfully initiated a smoke free policy at a complex in Leeds and two more properties are considering it.

“A lot of people are looking for smoke free properties, the health risks of a substantial benefit.  less impact on your neighbors and their children.  second hand smoke has been proven to be a severe health risk”, says Harlow.

Their enforcement policies include a face to face meeting, and repeated offenses could lead to fines or possible eviction.

Michele Komosa with the Tobacco Free Community Partnership told 22News there are currently 24 housing authorities that are smoke free and 26 more that are planning on going smoke free.  She says there are more than 3100 privately owned units within Hampshire and Franklin County that are smoke-free.

At Meadowbrook, Mara Salgado just wants the property owners to enforce their policy for her kids.

(How much of an issue is it health wise for your children?)

“It’s horrible, they’re sick all year long.   Especially my son, he’s the one that gets mostly sick and he gets this deep cough.  the doctor has recommended me to move away, since they don’t want to enforce”, says Salgado.

She doesn’t want to move.  Also, some of these tenants are placed here through HUD or Mass Housing.  A HUD spokesperson told 22News they don’t have a role in enforcing smoke-free policy – that’s up to the property owner.  The spokesperson said they would not pull funding based on enforcement or lack thereof of a smoke-free policy.

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