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Senior apartments to go smoke-free next June

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 02. 2012 10:38PM
Linda Linton stands by her apartment, where as a non-smoker she can smell cigarette smoke at the Carpenter Center in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER - Many residents at a government-subsidized, elderly apartment complex in downtown Manchester are fuming, after management announced recently that the building will go entirely non-smoking in June.

That includes individual apartments at the Carpenter Center, a 96-unit apartment at the heart of the downtown.

Smokers say their rights are being violated and they will ignore the new rule, which is being written into leases when they come up for renewal. But non-smokers say they have a right to clean air, and they're miffed that the initial implementation date has been pushed back six months.

'It's throughout the hallways. You can go from floor to floor; there's so much cigarette smoke because there's so many chain smokers,' said Linda Linton, whose advocacy against smoking has drawn sneers from smokers and a few non-smokers as well.

Residents started receiving notices in April, when Bedford-based Stewart Property Management took over management of the building, which is owned by the Diocese of Manchester.

A former hotel, the building was rehabilitated with federal housing subsidies, which require apartments to be leased at below-market rates to low-income elderly and disabled.

Company President Paul Stewart said he's been enacting no-smoking policies for the past three years in the 110 properties his company manages in New England.

He gave several reasons:

-The turnover costs involved in cleaning a smoker's apartment can be three times as high as for a non-smoker's apartment.

-Second-hand smoke presents health risks to residents and employees.

-Federal regulations compel him to honor transfer requests of non-smokers.

-Non-smokers have sued their landlords in some jurisdictions, claiming they are liable for illnesses attributed to second-hand smoke.

Stewart said he's offered the Smoke Free New Hampshire cessation program to residents who smoke.

'We're not telling people they have to quit,' he said. 'You can still smoke; you just can't smoke on the property.'

Not quitting

Two smokers interviewed by the New Hampshire Union Leader said they have no intention of quitting.

'People say 'The smoke is killing me.' How's it killing you when you're 80 years old?' said Ray Bergeron, who is 75. He said he's been smoking for 67 years, a habit he started on the West Side when he picked up half-smoked cigarettes outside bars and churches, salvaged the tobacco and smoked it in a corn-cob pipe.

Bergeron's apartment includes an air conditioner and an air purifier, so his smoking doesn't bother others, he said. He moved into the Carpenter Center 1 1/2 years ago and wonders how they can change the rules now.

He'll sign a new lease but will continue smoking.

Pat McLennan, like Bergeron, said she will continue to smoke in her apartment after June.

'I live on the ninth floor; they want to make a trip up there, they can,' said McLennan, who said she's smoked for 40 years.

Green light

'Obviously, we don't ever want to get to the point of eviction,' Stewart said. He said he's seen success stories of residents who have quit after the policy has gone into effect. He's also seen some people move out.

'We try to give people plenty of time,' he said.

A lawyer has reviewed and given a green light to the policy, he said. In June, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development encouraged owners of HUD-assisted properties to adopt smoke-free policies.

The board of directors of the Carpenter Center's owner, the Diocesan Bureau of Housing, reviewed a recommendation by Stewart to make the property non-smoking and found it acceptable, said Kevin Donovan, spokesman for the Diocese. He referred other questions to Stewart.

Smoking floors?

The Manchester Housing Authority allows smoking in apartments, and Executive Director Dick Dunfey said it would be difficult to impose a smoking ban on existing tenants.

Were the housing authority to do so, he'd want to be creative and create smoking floors or areas, Dunfey said.

Stewart, whose company manages 11 properties in Manchester, ruled out creating an entire building for smokers. The higher costs would still be there, and federal housing regulations prohibit him from steering tenants to certain properties, he said.

He said his company tried smoking sections at other properties; non-smokers complained.

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