HUD Posts Guidebook on Implementing Smoke-Free Policies in Public Housing

HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) posted a guidebook titled Implementing HUD’s Smoke-Free Policy in Public Housing. The purpose of the guidebook is to help public housing agencies (PHAs) adopt a smoke-free policy. On December 5, 2016, HUD finalized a rule requiring all PHAs to implement a smoke-free policy for public housing by July 30, 2018 (see Memo, 12/5/16).

PHAs must design and implement a policy prohibiting the use of tobacco products in all public housing living units and interior areas (including but not limited to hallways, rental and administrative offices, community centers, daycare centers, laundry centers, and similar structures), as well as at outdoor areas within 25 feet of public housing and administrative office buildings.

The guidebook presents an 18-month timeline for implementation with separate chapters containing suggestions in three-month intervals over the 18 months. The timeline began in February 2017, talking about “laying the groundwork.” The next stage of the timeline began in May 2017, emphasizing preparing PHA staff and residents. August 2017 will be the start of the third three-month interval, for which the guidebook discusses formalizing the smoke-free policy and includes elements typically found in the smoke-free policies voluntarily adopted by some PHAs before the new rule was drafted. The guidebook for this stage elaborates on formally notifying residents and lists topics to consider when holding meetings with residents to shape the policy.

An important topic in a smoke-free policy concerns enforcement. The guidebook cautions that “strict enforcement structures may not provide room for flexibility or behavior change by the tenant.” HUD recommends a clear and graduated enforcement approach that includes escalating warnings to a resident with documentation to the resident’s file. For instance, HUD suggests an enforcement plan have at least three steps, and notes that a single incident of smoking is not grounds for termination of assistance and eviction. In addition, requiring attendance at smoking cessation classes should not be a remedy for infractions or a punishment for lease violations.

In the three-month period starting in November 2017, the guidebook reminds readers that prior to officially implementing a smoke-free policy, each tenant must sign a lease that has the smoke-free policy included as a lease addendum. Lease amendments must be provided to existing residents at their annual recertification or at the resident’s first recertification after HUD approves a PHA’s smoke-free policy. The guidebook notes that the National Housing Law Project (NHLP) recommends tenants be informed of the smoke-free policy and sign a new lease as far in advance of its implementation as possible (up to 1 year), allowing ample time for residents to take advantage of available cessation services, request a reasonable accommodation, and/or prepare for any changes to daily routines the ban will require. PHAs may have to include lease addenda on a rolling basis as residents hit their annual recertification dates.

In a section regarding vulnerable residents, the guidebook stresses that the needs of residents who smoke and have fragile physical and mental health merit thoughtful attention in smoke-free policies. People who smoke who are mentally ill, elderly, disabled, have addictions, or were homeless will require extra attention. These residents will probably need time and a supportive approach. Again, the guidebook notes that NHLP recommends property managers be aware that written notification and tenant meetings are not sufficient for communicating the policy to all tenants. Some residents with mental disabilities may not understand the written notices; others may not read them or participate in meetings. It may be necessary for PHA staff to discuss the new policy directly with individuals with mental disabilities and to share written information about the policy with visiting family or social service staff. According to NHLP, PHA staff must know that it is their obligation to help all tenants become informed about the new policy.

The guidebook and other smoke-free information is at: