Ask Landlord Hank: I Think My Tenants Have Been Smoking Inside; How Do I Prove it?

Ask Landlord Hank: I Think My Tenants Have Been Smoking Inside; How Do I Prove it?

Tenants smoking inside rental property can be a real headache for property managers so in this week’s Ask Landlord Hank question he offers some suggestions on how to know find out if tenants have been smoking in the rental unit.

Dear Landlord Hank,

My lease specifies no smoking in the unit and even goes so far as to state that tenants may be responsible for all costs to repaint/clean if they do smoke in the unit, but I am struggling with how to enforce this clause because it’s difficult to prove.

When my latest tenants moved out I found the entire inside of the unit had a grey haze on everything (walls, ceiling, doors, and cabinets). They insist they didn’t smoke inside the unit and suggested that it may have been caused by candles.

I’ve had tenants who used candles regularly before and have never seen this kind of thick haze. I’m certain they were smoking inside the unit, but don’t have any evidence other than photos of how bad the haze was and my receipts for painting the walls/ceiling.

Is this sufficient if they challenge my deductions from their security deposit or is there a better way to prove this in the future?


Dear Landlord Gordon,

Usually, tenant smoking is easy to detect by the distinctive smell on walls, in carpeting and furniture, signs of ash or cigarette butts, and yellow or brown discoloration on walls, counters, cabinets, doors and trim.

Even with camouflage, you can usually find enough signs to prove indoor smoking.

If you want to know for sure if the haze you are finding is related to smoking, there are air-quality detection companies and devices that can confirm the presence of smoke residue from cigarettes.

You may also try a home air-quality test, but the accuracy is not as high as with a professional assessment. The Bosch Macurco D381 Air Quality Detector can detect cigarette smoke.

There are also smoke detectors available to alert you to someone smoking in your property, and a new “smoke sensor” should be coming to market this year.

Detection may be tougher to do now though since you’ve tried to erase all signs of this issue, including painting your property. Have you checked your vents and ducting for signs of smoking?

We deal with companies that have “ozone” machines that will be attached to your ducting and clean ducting and air handler as well as your unit to get rid of the smoke smell, and this is a great and cost-effective way to take care of the issue.


Hank Rossi

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Ask veteran landlord and property manager Hank Rossi your questions from tenant screening to leases to pets and more! He provides answers each week to landlords.

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Tenant smoking inside rental unit and how to prove it ask Landlord Hank
Landlord Hank Rossi

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Ask Landlord Hank: I Think My Tenants Have Been Smoking Inside; How Do I Prove it?
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I started in real estate as a child watching my father take care of our family rentals- maintenance, tenant relations, etc , in small town Ohio. As I grew, I was occasionally Dad’s assistant. In the mid-90s I decided to get into the rental business on my own, as a sideline. In 2001, I retired from my profession and only managed my own investments, for the next 10 years. Six years ago, my sister, working as a rental agent/property manager in Sarasota, Florida convinced me to try the Florida lifestyle. I gave it a try and never looked back. A few years ago we started our own real estate brokerage. We focus on property management and leasing. I continue to manage my real estate portfolio here in Florida and Atlanta.