Soon after Mollie Kaye, a Victoria resident, moved into her new condo — a 17-unit strata building — the smell of second-hand smoke became unbearable.
Kaye was able to figure out her neighbours below were the source of the smell, allowed to smoke in their suite due to grandfathered bylaws — meaning if a tenant moved in prior to the establishment of a 100 per cent no-smoking policy, they would be permitted to continue smoking as long as they remain in the unit — and asked them to smoke away from the windows. Still the smell was unbearable.
The neighbours agreed to buy an air purifier but according to Kaye the problem only got worse and her daughter was getting sick from the second-hand smoke.
According to the B.C. Lung Association research has found that no ventilation system or any other measure can stop the migration of second-hand smoke between units in conjoined housing, finding its way to other homes through windows, balconies, plumbing and lighting fixtures, baseboards and electrical outlets.
Kaye began campaigning to the strata council, aiming for them to put forward a 100 per cent no-smoking bylaw.
“One member of that four-person council was a smoker, and another a strong advocate for smokers’ rights,” says Kaye. “How are they going to handle an issue like this without bias?”
Kaye says the property manager presented a ‘legally unenforceable’ no-smoking bylaw to council which included ‘grandfathering’ clauses that allowed existing smokers to continue smoking.
Filing a complaint under the new bylaw, Kaye became more and more frustrated — especially when the property manager raised the possibility of Kaye’s child being the culprit behind the second-hand smoke smell.
“If a neighbour’s tap was overflowing and causing water damage to my unit, someone would be called in to deal with it immediately. Why do we not treat second-hand smoke the same way?”
The smoke become unignorable, old friends would visit and say ‘I didn’t know you smoked.’ Kaye reached her end and ‘had it out’ with her neighbours.
“I yelled about how sick the smoke was making my daughter, and how it was fouling my apartment and decreasing its value. I ended up breaking down crying and begged her to please stop.”
Kaye’s neighbours have now agreed to follow the bylaw, which states current smokers can’t smoke indoors if the second-hand smoke is affecting other residents. They now leave the building to smoke and although Kaye can smell smoke occasionally she says the situation has vastly improved.
Kaye says she wants to see a provincial law forbidding smoking in conjoined housing adding that everyone’s health matters. The B.C. government recently proclaimed June 24 to 30 Smoke-Free Multi-Unit Housing week, but organizations are banding together to push for more action.
The B.C. Lung Association, Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society are partners in the Clean Air Coalition of British Columbia. They’re asking the government to do more when it comes to second-hand smoke exposure in rental and owned apartments, condominiums and townhome dwelling.
Over the past decade the Coalition has worked to provide multi-unit housing providers with resources which would help with implementing a 100 per cent no smoking policies, but despite health, financial, maintenance and fire prevention benefits they say 100 per cent smoke-free housing options are still scarce, especially in low-cost rental housing and strata corporations.
In 2016 and again in 2018, Coalition partners surveyed residents in the province living in multi-unit housing, finding that the vast majority of residents would prefer living 100 per cent smoke-free housing. Putting forth a recommendation that would make it possible under the B.C. Residential Tenancy Act for landlords to implement premise-wide no smoking policies that apply to all tenants, with no grandfathering requirements.
The Coalition’s report also recommends — a no-smoking default requirement — meaning if strata owners want to allow smoking in the building they would require a three out of four vote to make this happen.
To view their full report visit www.cleanaircoalitionbc.com/database/files/library/Smoke_Free_Housing_2016_Report_FINAL___June_8_2016.pdf.
Follow us on Instagram
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.