Ottawa Public Health said it has received numerous complaints about second-hand smoke from tenants in residential buildings. ((CBC))

Over two dozen residential landlords in the Ottawa region are attending workshops this week to learn how to make their buildings smoke-free.

Ottawa Public Health hosted a workshop Tuesday and will host one on Friday to make the case to landlords for offering smoke-free housing.

Krista Oswald, supervisor of Ottawa Public Health's tobacco control program, said turning residences smoke-free means less maintenance, less painting, a lower risk of fire and higher tenant satisfaction.

Oswald said her department decided to hold the sessions in response to complaints from tenants about smoke in their buildings.

"Ottawa Public Health receives a number calls from tenants who feel helpless about the involuntary smoke that's infiltrating their home and there really is a shortage of smoke-free buildings," Oswald told the CBC.

A small number of Ontario multi-family residences have made the move to go smoke-free, including the Bain Apartments Co-operative Inc. in Toronto and the Haliburton Community Housing Corporation in Haliburton, Ont., according to the Canadian Smoke-Free Housing Coalition.

Registry in works

The group, which runs the website Smoke-Free Housing Canada, is creating a registry of residences with smoke-free policies.

Oswald estimates there are only four mid- to large-sized buildings in Ottawa designated smoke-free, a small fraction of the total housing in the city.

But Ottawa Public Health says about 64 per cent of Ontarians prefer smoke-free apartment buildings.

Carla Shipley, the co-ordinator of the Tannenhof Co-Op seniors complex, said she came to Tuesday's session to learn how to be smoke free to aid the health of residents, particularly those with asthma or who use oxygen tanks.

"We're a seniors building and we have a lot of people with health issues, and the smoke really bothers them," said Shipley.

Pippa Beck, a spokesperson with the Ottawa council on smoking and health, welcomed the city's move to educate landlords on developing smoke-free policies.

She said too often the status quo remains in multi-unit buildings because landlords and tenants don't know their rights.

"Landlords will say, 'Well, there's nothing I can do.' Or tenants say, 'What's the point of complaining? Nothing's gonna change,' and they just suffer in silence," said Beck.

Smoke-free policies don't enable landlords to evict current smokers or force tenants to quit smoking and they don't allow landlords to prohibit smokers from renting accommodation. But the policies do mean new tenants can be stopped from smoking in the building.

Oswald said landlords have a legal right to make a new building smoke-free, but for older buildings such a policy can only be adopted for new tenants.

"It would take a longer time period to change over that building, it could take up to seven to 10 years, but at least it's a move in the right direction in providing clean air for residents," said Oswald.

With files from the CBC's Chad Pawson