Ottawa

Ottawa landlords urged to go 100% smoke free

Making Ottawa's apartment buildings smoke free can present legal challenges for landlords, but at least one non-profit in the city says enforcing the policy has been easier than expected.

Move to ban smoking can be legal 'minefield,' says chair of one landlord group

A no-smoking sign outside an apartment building at 455 Lisgar Street in Ottawa. The Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation recently introduced a smoking ban there. (Simon Gardner/CBC)

Making Ottawa's apartment buildings smoke free can present legal challenges for landlords, but at least one non-profit in the city says enforcing the policy has been easier than expected.

The Ottawa Council on Smoking or Health urged landlords and property managers this week — National Non-Smoking Week — to implement "100 per cent smoke-free" policies for multi-unit housing in Ottawa.

Carol McDonald, the president of the organization, said exposure to second-hand smoke in apartment buildings is the number one complaint they receive.

Ottawa Council on Smoking or Health president Carol McDonald said landlords can be doing more to make their buildings smoke free.
"I've been to one apartment where you look down the hall and there is actually a blue haze," she said.

"There is that much smoke in it. And it would be intolerable for most people to live there yet for some people that's their living situation."

McDonald, a former nurse, said she was horrified by the number of smokers she saw dying in hospital.

She said there are a handful of buildings in the Centretown area that are already smoke free. The website of Smoke Free Ontario lists 25 places in Ottawa where smoking is banned including apartments, co-ops and retirement homes.

MacDonald says most people in Ottawa want to live in a smoke-free environment, but landlords are not doing enough to achieve that goal.

"If they would start introducing leases to make them smoke free eventually we'll get there and make everything smoke free," she said.

Landlord says legal issues a 'minefield'

Lawyer John Dickie, the chair of the Eastern Ontario Landlord Organization, which represents providers of about 37,000 rental units, said landlords recognize there is a growing demand for smoke-free rental accommodation.

"The percentage of the population that smokes is decreasing every year," he said. "We are in the business of satisfying consumer demand."

But he said that doesn't mean apartment buildings can become smoke free overnight.

He said existing smokers in buildings can't be forced out because it's still legal to smoke in Canada and when they moved in there was no requirement to quit.

We have to have tenants who can say they are personally and significantly affected by the smoke and they have to say that at a hearing, which may result in their neighbour being evicted from their unit. And then they have to go living next to that neighbour.- EOLO chair John Dickie on the difficulty evicting smokers

"When new people sign a lease and agree not to smoke they have an expectation that other people won't be smoking either and with the existing tenants that may not be happening …that's a minefield," he said.

It can even be difficult to evict people who signed non-smoking leases then choose to light up, he said.  The landlord tenant board will only issue an eviction notice if other tenants testify that the smoke is causing them specific problems, he said.

"We have to have tenants who can say they are personally and significantly affected by the smoke and they have to say that at a hearing, which may result in their neighbour being evicted from their unit. And then they have to go living next to that neighbour. So that is what makes it difficult for landlords to enforce the non-smoking rules," he said.

From skeptic to supporter

However Ray Sullivan, the executive director of the non-profit Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation (CCOC), says enacting and enforcing a smoke free policy has been easier than expected.

Ray Sullivan, the executive director of the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation, said he was skeptical that introducing a smoke-free policy would work. (CBC)
"I was skeptical when we were contemplating this policy, but I've changed sides now and I'm firmly a supporter," said Sullivan.

In 2010, the CCOC, which owns and manages more than fifty buildings in the downtown core, opened a new complex of apartment buildings near the Museum of Nature that are completely smoke free, including outside on the property.

CCOC has threatened 13 tenants with eviction after they were caught smoking, but has yet to need to go through with an eviction, said Sullivan.

"The notice has always been enough to let them know we are serious," he said. He said a survey in 2013 found 98 per cent of tenants who responded supported the complete smoking ban.

CCOC has now taken a more challenging step by introducing a smoking ban at 455 Lisgar Street, a building with existing tenants, some of them smokers. Those tenants are grandfathered so they still have the right to smoke in their own apartments.

So far, he says, there have been no conflicts between non-smokers in the building and the small number of existing smokers.

Stephane Giguere, the CEO of Ottawa Community Housing, says he has been encouraged at the number of units that are becoming smoke free.
"It's been about two years now and that was sort of our first experiment bringing non-smoking into an existing building and now we are ready to start rolling it out into others," he said.

"As tenants decide building by building that they want to do this … we will respond to their needs."

OCH working to go smoke-free

That view is shared by Stephane Giguere, the CEO of Ottawa Community Housing (OCH). The city-owned agency has 15,000 housing units across Ottawa.

"The no-smoking policy of Ottawa Community Housing is a journey," he said. "It's a journey that started with our tenants."

Giguere said a survey in 2012 showed most tenants wanted to live in a smoke-free environment. As of May 2014, all new tenants have to sign a lease agreeing to not smoke on OCH property.

Existing tenants are still allowed to smoke unless they transfer to another unit owned by the agency. The actual number of smoke-free living units is now about 4,500, but the number grows each year because on average about 1,500 units are vacated and the incoming tenants must agree not to smoke, he said.

"What we have seen is up to 30 percent of residents are living in a smoke free environment … we are very encouraged by the results,"  he said.

Some suggest it will take decades when all multi-unit dwelling in Ottawa are smoke free, but Carol McDonald is more optimistic.

"I'd like to think in the next two to three years we'll see it be accomplished here in Ottawa," she said.

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