The ban is in response to a Jan. 29 fire at a building in the complex caused by an improperly extinguished cigarette. Damage was estimated at $1 million.
The complex, with 41 buildings, is at 6699 Vista Drive in West Des Moines.
Other large apartment communities in the Des Moines area prohibit smoking in common areas, such as building lobbies or laundry rooms, but permit residents to smoke in their apartments.
The policy change will make the complex the largest rental community in the Midwest to go completely smoke-free, said Keith Denner, president of Professional Property Management Inc., the management company of Sun Prairie, which is home to 3,000 people.
Jammina Strelecki of Des Moines arrived at Sun Prairie’s leasing office an hour after the ban was announced Wednesday. The prospective tenant, who has an 8-year-old son with asthma, said she was happy to hear about the policy.
“I’m a smoker, but it’s fine with me,” Strelecki said. “It smells.”
The fire in January damaged 36 units and displaced 100 people.
“This decision is one that we have been working on for some time, and it was prompted by the fire to go the final step,” Denner said. “In six months, we’ve actually had three incidents where smoking had caused a fire. Fortunately the other two were very minor, but it’s just not a safe thing.”
Smoking areas have been set up away from the complex’s buildings.
In addition, the rental company is partnering with the American Lung Association of Iowa to offer classes for residents who want to stop smoking. Individuals who complete the eight-week class will be eligible for up to $100 in reimbursement for smoking cessation products.
“Smoking is the leading cause of all fire-related deaths, and it’s also the leading cause of preventable death,” said Kerry Wise, agency program director. “There will be a decreased risk of fires, elimination of second-hand smoke exposure, and as a result of the cessation support that’s being provided, many residents will likely quit.”
Tenants on monthly and other short-term leases will be asked to stop smoking in the complex by July; renters with longer lease terms will have until Jan. 1 to comply. As with other rule violations on the property, renters who smoke in Sun Prairie buildings or on apartment balconies will receive warnings and could be evicted if the behavior continues.
During the transition, the complex is offering residents sand-filled pails to extinguish cigarettes.
Last month’s blaze began in a plastic pail of cigarette butts left on a tenant’s balcony, and spread to the vinyl siding of the building before reaching the attic, which did not have sprinklers, said Mike Whitsell, West Des Moines’ fire marshal.
“This is not an isolated event at Sun Prairie; we have had fires throughout West Des Moines that were attributed to smoking materials discarded in a careless manner,” he said. “… From any fire that we investigate, we always want something good to come out of it, and I think a lot of good things are going to come out of this.”
Rebuilding has begun on the destroyed Sun Prairie building, and the renovations will include attic sprinklers. But Denner said the company’s largest prevention effort is its no-smoking campaign.
A 2008 resident survey showed that 80 percent of respondents didn’t smoke, and the units in Sun Prairie’s nine existing smoke-free buildings are always in high demand, Denner said.
“We know some people won’t be happy, but for the most part, we’ve heard pretty good things from our residents,” he said. “Some people said this is giving them the push they need to finally quit, and, of course, it all boils down to a safety issue.”
By MARY STEGMEIR