Flagler Village in the Keys becomes part of a residential housing trend to ban smoking

Flagler Village in the Keys becomes part of a residential housing trend to ban smoking

ZZRu1.Em_.56Part-time security guard Dale Parsons has smoked for more than 50 years, but for the new year she decided to kick the habit for good. In addition to her health, she has another big reason to succeed: Her affordable-housing apartment complex just went cold turkey.

On Jan. 1, Flagler Village, a 49-unit rental community of mostly duplexes near Key West, banned smoking on the grounds and inside all units.

It’s part of a growing trend of residential multi-unit buildings and developments, both privately and government-owned, to implement no-smoking policies.

With no-smoking laws covering many public areas — including airplanes, hotels, restaurants, bars, parks, schools, hospitals and public buildings — tobacco-prevention specialists see places where people live as new territory to conquer.

“In 2000, it was unheard-of,” said Matthew Competiello, program manager for the American Lung Association. “But over the past five or six years there has been a lot of demand for smoke-free housing.”

Valencia Morris, the tobacco-prevention specialist for the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County, said complex-wide smoking bans are starting to become an “amenity.”

“A lot of people are wanting this, just like having a gym on the premises,” she said.

But with an adult smoking population in Florida of 17.1 percent, according to a state survey conducted in 2010, extending smoking bans into residences has been met with opposition.

“We have ruffled some feathers,” said Mitzy Cordova, manager of Flagler Village, which had smokers in 18 of the 49 units when its ban took effect.

“While most residents say, ‘Wow, Mitzy, this is great’ — one has a newborn and lives next to a smoker and does not want her baby to breathe secondhand smoke, I have at least two that say they won’t quit smoking in their homes no matter what,” Cordova said.

Among those opposed to Flagler Village’s ban is Wayne Sepanik, who has lived there since it opened two years ago. And the semi-retired 63-year-old is a non-smoker.

“I think it’s against their civil rights,” he said. “People moved here on the premise to have affordable housing and live a happy life, and all of a sudden there is no smoking. It’s an addiction and a sickness, and a lot of people here can’t afford to go anyplace else.”

But Cordova says the law is on the side of property owners. “We’re not telling anybody they cannot smoke,” she said. “We’re telling them they cannot smoke on the property.”

In the Keys, tourists have discovered that finding a hotel, guesthouse or vacation rental that allows smoking inside is almost impossible these days. In a 2010 post on TripAdvisor.com, a woman from Virginia wrote: “Looking desperately for a nice, quality resort hotel in Key West that still allows smoking without being fined or condemned to the loading dock.”

But the opposite has been true when trying to find a nonsmoking residential rental community along the island chain. Donna Stayton, a health education program consultant with Tobacco Free Florida Keys, said she knows of only about 12 multi-unit developments in the Keys that ban smoking, and most have done so recently.

Tobacco Free Florida Keys has helped three of the developments: Flagler Village and Banyan Grove, both on Stock Island and owned by the Wendover Group, and the 2-year-old Poinciana Royale in Key West, which opened as smoke-free.

Jonathan Wolf, founder and president of Altamonte Springs-based Wendover Housing Partners, said he had wanted for a while to ban smoking at his 30 affordable developments, most of which are in Florida.

“The single most thing we can do to help our residents with their own health and their own finances is to have them stop smoking,” said Wolf, a nonsmoker. “But whenever you put in a social change as large as this, you get an element of pushback from the residents and from the people who manage the properties.”

Wolf said the support of property manager Cordova and Tobacco Free Florida Keys, as well as the near-Key West location, where there is a huge shortage of affordable housing, made Flagler Village and Banyan Grove perfect communities to start. Wolf expects them to be models he can use to roll out similar bans later in the year at his other properties.

“There was a lot of hullabaloo when they said there could be no more smoking in restaurants and bars — a lot of ‘Oh, my goodness, it would be the death of the industry,’ ” Wolf said. “But it all came and went.”

Now, housing has become the target of many tobacco-prevention programs. But because people have to live somewhere, it is likely to remain an area that has to be tackled with education rather than laws.

“I don’t see any legislation at state levels like there are for restaurants and bars,” said Janisse Schoepp, senior program officer for the nonprofit Health Foundation of South Florida.

Property managers and landlords can save money on insurance, maintenance and the costs of turning over a unit from one tenant to the next. Smoking units often require thousands of dollars more to repair or clean due to nicotine stains, cigarette burns and the odor.

“We always have to replace the carpet and repaint after a place has been left by a smoker,” Cordova said. “Sometimes the smell is so bad we have to tear out the drywall. We can sometimes turn over a nonsmoker’s apartment in eight hours, but it takes a week or two for a smoker’s.”

And it’s a good bet some of the higher costs to clean and repair a smoker’s apartment are passed along to all residents.

Monroe County’s adult smoking rates are highest in South Florida — at 21.1 percent, compared to 13.7 percent for Broward County, 10.6 percent for Miami-Dade County and 9 percent for Palm Beach County, the lowest in the state.

In Broward, at least 20 residential complexes have gone smoke-free, many with the help of a smoke-free initiative funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the Affordable Care Act. Broward is the only county in Florida to receive the five-year Touch grant — Transforming Our Communities’ Health.

In Miami-Dade, about 60 residential complexes have banned smoking with assistance from the Tobacco Free prevention program. “While it’s a good start,” Morris said, “there is still work to be done.”

“We’re in talks right now with the corporate offices of a new building called Gable Ponce in Coral Gables that will have over 100 units in each building,” Morris said. “We’re hoping to convince them.”

Smoke-free housing also is getting a boost from developers who covet the prestigious LEED (Leadership in Energy and Development Design) designation, which requires no smoking. A complex called One Plantation in Plantation recently opened smoke-free with the LEED designation, Competiello said.

In the Keys, Flagler Village has given existing smoking residents a one-year grace period during which they can continue to light up on their porches.

Parsons, who turns 70 this year, said she is happy about the smoking ban “because I’m going to be a nonsmoker.”