How to Prove a Tenant is Smoking Inside

No matter which state you live in, most landlords require tenants to smoke outdoors, often a certain amount of feet from the building door. Smoking inside the unit is virtually never allowed. You probably have it in your lease agreement that smoking is prohibited within the unit. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always stop some people from choosing to smoke inside. 

With marijuana becoming more and more legal, that makes tobacco smoke not the only thing of concern anymore. If you have properties in cities like Portland or Chicago, you now need to update your lease and rules so that they mention both tobacco products and marijuana products. 

Smoking indoors is not only dangerous, but it can damage the property. We wanted to share with you different ways you can prove a tenant is smoking indoors and what you as a landlord or property owner can do about it. 

Table Of Contents To Prove Smoking

Signs Your Tenant Is Smoking Indoors

Proving that you have a tenant who is smoking indoors can be hard to do. Whether they’re smoking marijuana or cigarettes, they both leave a handful of signs you should be aware of to better tell if someone is (or has been) smoking inside. 

The Smell

Signs Your Tenant Is Smoking Indoors

Cigarette and marijuana smoke lingers around for quite a bit of time, even when people try to cover it up. Tenants may use things like candles, incense, diffusers, or opening windows to try to get rid of the smell. You may be able to tell if someone has been smoking if you smell something similar to smoke or any of the products above being overused. 

It’s not abnormal for someone to burn a few candles in their home, so you’ll likely be able to tell if they’re doing it to cover up the smoke smell. On the note of smell, unfortunately, smoke smell, whether it’s from a cigarette or joint, tends to stick to things like clothes and furniture. 

You’ll usually be able to tell which room someone has been smoking in if you’re able to smell things like curtains, carpet, couches, or rugs. Thankfully for us landlords, we’ll be able to tell someone is smoking by smelling the floors, ceiling, or walls. The downside of this is that it’s incredibly hard to get rid of completely. 


In addition to a terrible smell, marijuana and cigarettes can leave stains. Stains can be found on things like walls, surfaces such as counters, curtains, lamps and light fixtures. Depending on how long this has been happening, the stains will likely range from yellow to brown. Sometimes they’re just small patches, while other times it’s the majority of a wall. 

Smoke stains are easier to see on wallpaper and paint, even if the walls have been repainted recently. If you notice that a tenant of yours has repainted the walls, with or without your permission, it may be a sign that they’re trying to cover up cigarette or marijuana stains. 

You can add it to your lease agreement that painting walls is not allowed, but just like smoking indoors, this is a rule that not everyone will follow. Unlike marijuana, nicotine actually sweats through paint, so any attempts to cover it will not last long. 

Cigarette Butts And Marijuana Joints

Something that surprises a lot of landlords will be suddenly finding a large amount of cigarette butts or leftover joints in one area outdoors. While some property owners allow smoking outside, some tenants will save the butts and joint ends and throw them outside to make it look like they were just smoking outdoors. 

Another thing you can look out for when completing routine inspections are things being used as ashtrays. We hope that if your tenant is smoking indoors, they’re at least using an ashtray. This can often be something like a mug, cup, bowl, or plate. Keep your eyes peeled for these when it comes to inspection time. 


Another thing that can be practically impossible for tenants to fix is a burn left from a joint or cigarette. Sometimes a burn mark will be left on the carpet or furniture. When this happens, it can be practically impossible for the tenant to completely fix it. Sure, they may throw a blanket or a rug over the burn, but it will cost them a lot of money to actually replace and fix the spot where the burn is. 

Coloring Left Behind

You read a bit about how marijuana and tobacco smoke can change the colors of the walls, but something you can keep your eyes peeled for are yellow and brown dots around door frames. These dots are a solid way to know if a tenant has been smoking indoors.

Sometimes they’ll use a fan, or even smoke hanging out of one of their windows, but due to condensation, you’re much more likely to find these dots on door frames around the kitchen or bathroom. 


Something else you can be on the lookout for is ash and residue that may be left from smoking. Tenants will likely cover their tracks, but a little bit of ash on a window sill, under photos, on shelves, or on electrical items is often forgotten. Ash is stubborn and therefore makes its way onto multiple surfaces, making it easier for you to detect if someone has been smoking.

No matter what signs you see, it should be relatively obvious that someone is smoking inside. Sometimes you’ll approach a tenant and they’ll admit to it and change their ways; other times it’s not so cordial. Let’s talk a bit more about communication with your tenants. 

Communication With Your Tenants

Communication With Your Tenants

The last thing you want to do is start accusing your tenants of smoking weed or cigarettes indoors, without having any proof. This can cause an awkward tension and sometimes even legal issues. Like you’ve already read, smoking indoors is fairly obvious, but how do you approach your tenant and  confront them on the issue without offending or alienating them?

First off, make sure that it is written quite clearly in the lease that smoking is not allowed indoors under any circumstances. This will ensure that there is no confusion beforehand. While some tenants will be blissfully unaware of the rules, others decide to disobey them. 

To enforce the rules even more, you can hang up signs within the building or share a no-smoking memo reminding tenants that smoking is not allowed indoors. No one genuinely likes confrontation, so it’s important that you have a nice tone of voice and let tenants who are smoking know the rules. 

If you’ve done this and they’re still not following the rules, you can take further steps such as evicting them, or charging them a fee for the repairs that will need to be done. Let them know that smoke sticks to walls and that even painting it will not fix it long term. 

Since they’ve signed a lease that states that smoking is not allowed within the interior of the building, you may be able to keep their security deposit to cover the cost of repairs and damages. 

Repairing Damages

If there have been damages left due to a tenant smoking indoors, there are certain steps you can do to reverse what damage has been done. With that being said, this isn’t exactly an easy thing to do. It often requires a lot of deep cleaning, and you’ll likely have to hire a professional cleaning company to get the job done. 

No landlord likes to spend more money than necessary, but having a cleaning crew come in and complete a thorough clean of the unit is worth the price. Depending on the damage done, you may need to throw out furniture and carpet(s) if they’ve stained or burned. You can often sell furniture like this for a decent price online, unless it’s badly damaged. 

Believe it or not, there are even smoke damage restoration companies you can hire. This can get expensive and should really only be done if the damage is really extensive.  

As a landlord or property owner, there isn’t too much you can do when it comes to tenants following the rules. While most tenants follow the rules, there will always be a small minority that will break them. 

You need to be as clear as possible from the moment they’re interested in the unit and throughout their entire time living there that there is no smoking allowed indoors. Clear communication will help to avoid any mishaps. 

Tenants should receive a copy of their lease and tenant agreement on the day they move in, and you should have a copy for yourself. These copies should both be signed, and you can even have additional house rules on top of the lease.

States Marijuana Is Legal 

Since marijuana use is becoming more and more legal throughout the United States, it’s important as a landlord to know if it’s legal in your state. Some states have marijuana that is only legalized for medical purposes, while others allow it recreationally. 

Some tenants have disabilities for which they may be prescribed marijuana for. If you live in one of the states listed below, you may want to add a special section to your lease when it comes to the topic of marijuana. 

Medical Marijuana Legalized

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Louisana
  • Maryland 
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Utah
  • West Virginia

Medical And Recreational Marijuana Legalized

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Vermont
  • Washington

Smoking cigarettes, on the other hand, has no positive health benefits and there is no reason someone should be smoking inside. The laws connected to marijuana use are constantly changing; as a landlord, it’s best to be on your toes about this subject. 

Preventative Measures

There are a number of things you can do to prevent someone from smoking indoors. We wanted to include a handful of easy preventative measures to help keep your properly clean and smelling nice. 


One thing you can do is place signs at all entrances of your units. Putting signs up near mailboxes and doors will help remind tenants that smoking is not allowed indoors and may even only be allowed in certain areas outside the building.

Smoke Detectors

Most people think smoke detectors are used for if a building is on fire, which is partially true. Smoke detectors can also be used for cigarette and marijuana smoke. It may cost a bit of money, but having several smoke detectors throughout a unit can be used as a preventative measure against smoking, while doubling as a safety precaution. 


Another thing you can do is let tenants know that they will be fined if found smoking indoors. There are specific smoking and non-smoking zones within most cities. If they’re in a non-smoking zone, you, or law enforcement and issue them a fine. 

Tour The Building

Many tenants the smoke indoors do so at night. Having a member of your staff tour the building at random times during the evening to see if anyone is smoking indoors can be a trick tenants never saw coming. It’s important not to do this at the same time everyday, as tenants will avoid smoking until you’ve come through the building.

Have A Designated Smoking Area

A great preventative measures you can take to avoid tenants smoking inside is to have a designated smoking area outdoors. This doesn’t have to cost you a ton of money; it actually doesn’t need to cost a penny. 

If you want to, you can invest in a few lawn chairs, small side tables, and ashtrays to create a small smoking area for your tenants. This will not only keep them from smoking inside, but they’ll likely highly appreciate that there is a spot they can go outdoors. 

This is also a great place for people to meet their neighbors or make new friends, which can come in handy when someone is living by themselves. Non-smoking residents can also use this area to mix and mingle too. Make sure there is a sign that it’s the designated smoking area, so it doesn’t just look like a random patio on your property. 


Now that you’re more educated about how to prove a tenant is smoking indoors, it will make the confrontation end of things a bit easier. Remember to make sure that you know with certainty that they are smoking inside; wrongfully accusing one of your tenants is something you want to avoid at all costs. 

There are a handful of preventative measures you can take to stop people from smoking indoors in the first place, whether that’s adding extra signage throughout the building or having a designated smoking area outside. 

If you’re at the point where you’ve approached a tenant who is smoking indoors several times and they’re still not listening, feel free to evict them or get law enforcement involved. You don’t want to have a tenant who doesn’t follow the rules living on your property anyway.