Decision highlights second-hand smoke as 'legitimate' concern for Sask. tenants

Three tenants complained to the Office of Residential Tenancies about second-hand smoke that was infiltrating their units at Regional Housing Authority buildings.

Regina Housing Authority was ordered to pay $15K to affected tenants

Carly Romanow, executive director of Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan, says the decision shows exposure to second-hand smoke is a legitimate complaint for tenants. (Craig Edwards/CBC)

Health groups in Saskatchewan are celebrating a decision by the Office of Residential Tenancies they believe prove tenants have the right to live unaffected by second-hand smoke. 

Three tenants complained to the office after the units they were living in, which belonged to Regina Housing Authority, were infiltrated by second-hand tobacco smoke from other tenants.

"This decision recognizes that second-hand smoke exposure is a legitimate complaint for tenants to make," said lawyer Carly Romanow, executive director of Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan. 

"Because of the courage and the bravery of these tenants we were able to now have a case that says second-hand exposure can be unhealthy for tenants and they have a right to be able to live in an environment without that."

In a decision last March, the office ruled to compensate the three tenants for rent abasement and other costs associated with them having to deal with second-hand smoke. In total, the Regina Housing Authority was ordered to pay around $15,000. 

An appeal of the decision was recently dismissed. 

Romanow said this is a first-of-its-kind ruling in Saskatchewan.

Health implications

"One's right to smoke cannot impede on another's right not to smoke or breath second-hand smoke," the decision read.

Romanow explained the tenants were not simply annoyed by the second-hand smoke, but in fact suffered negative health effects as a result of the smoke filtering into their units. 

She said all tenants involved had documented second-hand smoke "exasperated" medical conditions, ranging from respiratory issues to some mental health health issues heightened by exposure to second-hand smoke.

Chase Grenzer now lives in Winnipeg, but says second-hand smoke from a downstairs tenant used to come through a heating vent. (Craig Edwards/CBC)

Former tenant Chase Genser said the smoking from a tenant below his unit was "incessant." He now lives in Winnipeg.

"It would come through the vents: the heating vents in the floor and in the main air intake vent," he said. 

"It ruined my furniture, it ruined my clothes — everything. I couldn't even sleep at night. It was just becoming so hard to breathe."

Impacts on cannabis legalization

Romanow said the decision broadly applies to second-hand smoke exposure from cannabis. 

"It has to more than a mere annoyance," she said.

"Second-hand smoke of any kind is kind of broadly stroked in this decision and so that could be applicable then to the legalization of cannabis coming forward."

About the Author

Stephanie Taylor

Reporter, CBC Saskatchewan

Stephanie Taylor is a reporter based in Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC News in Regina, she covered municipal politics in her hometown of Winnipeg and in Halifax. Reach her at stephanie.taylor@cbc.ca