Ask attorney Brad is a feature with attorney Bradley S. Kraus and this week the question is about tenant smoking and how to prove it if you go to court. If you have a question for Brad, please feel out the form below.
Ask Attorney Brad:
I trust this message finds you well. I’m wondering this: How can I prove in court that my tenants are smoking inside the home rented to them? Can you please advise?
Thank you for your question. Proof of smoking can be a challenge.
Obviously, the best proof is when you catch a tenant in the act. However, that’s not always easy, and short of putting cameras in your tenants’ unit—please don’t do that—you may need to do your homework.
It’s important to verify the smoking with neighboring tenants (i.e., those above, below, and on the sides of the smoker) if possible. That way, you may be able to “box-in” the smoking, and rely on that circumstantial evidence to buttress your case.
If you have properly inspected the unit, and found ashtrays in the unit, disposed/used cigarettes therein, and/or lingering odors in the unit, those are all items you may be able to rely on as well.
Finally, if smoking has been pervasive inside the unit, the walls can collect smells and stains which, if combined with the proper testing and testimony, could rebut any tenant contention that they weren’t smoking inside the unit.
Ultimately, your tenant will deny they are smoking in the unit.
Some judges may require you to have more than just circumstantial evidence, so there’s risk of attempting a termination strategy without stronger proof.
However, enforcing other tenants’ rights to live in a smoke-free area can be a worthy fight at times, even without rock-solid proof. Showing them you’re fighting for them may keep their focus and frustration on the smoking tenant . . . as opposed to you.
Bradley S. Kraus is an attorney at Warren Allen LLP. His primary practice area is landlord/tenant law, but he also assists clients with various litigation matters, probate matters, real estate disputes, and family law matters. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 503-255-8795.