Smoke-free Rental Units Coming Soon?
UPdate Fall 2008

Apartment for rent in smoke-free building. If Smoke-Free Nova Scotia (SFNS) has its way, renters of all income levels could have more smoke-free housing choices in the future.

Smoke-Free Nova Scotia has identified the need for smoke-free housing for renters as an important health issue. They have organized public consultations to determine what can be done to increase access to smoke free dwellings for people who rent.

“ In single-unit dwellings, people can make the choice to protect themselves and their families from second-hand tobacco smoke. At present, this may not be as easy for people who rent in multi-unit dwellings,” says Sharon MacIntosh, President of Smoke-Free Nova Scotia.

“ There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke,” MacIntosh points out. “Tobacco smoke does not just stay in the apartment of the person smoking. It can enter other apartments in a building. No ventilation system is adequate to protect people from second-hand smoke.”

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) agrees. "ASHRAE's position is that the only way to effectively eliminate health risk associated with indoor exposure is to ban smoking activity," Terry Townsend, P.E., ASHRAE president, said.

A recent survey of 400 Nova Scotia renters who live in multi-unit buildings found that 35% would prefer to live in a building that does not allow smoking anywhere.

Apartment walls are not enough to keep out smoke from neighboring apartments, says Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC.) “Despite appearances, apartment buildings can have relatively leaky interior ceiling, floor and wall partitions that allow air to move through the building.”

Renters who suffer from environmental sensitivity, lung problems, allergies and other illnesses know the difficulties of living in a multi-unit dwelling where other tenants smoke.

“It is amazingly difficult to find an apartment free from second hand smoke in a multi-unit building,” says Suzanne LeBlanc. “For lower and middle price units, it is virtually impossible.” Leblanc is a Board Member of the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia. Her own experiences, and the experiences of friends have led her to have a special interest in healthy and accessible housing. “I’ve had to move more than once because smoke from a neighbor’s apartment made me so sick, ” recalls Leblanc. Like many chemically sensitive people, Leblanc becomes ill when she is exposed to smoke and a wide range of other chemicals, including fabric softeners and pesticides.

EHANS strongly supports efforts to increase availability of smoke-free rental units for renters of all income levels. “Finding tolerable housing when you are chemically sensitive is a huge challenge, and smoke-free buildings are a step towards that,” says LeBlanc. Smoke free buildings might even have an unexpected spin-off benefit. Since many people use air fresheners and scented cleaners to cover the smell of tobacco smoke, smoke free buildings might turn out to be less scented as well, another health benefit for everyone living there.

MacIntosh says that residents of multi-unit dwellings with children have reason to be concerned because smoke can travel across an apartment hallway as easily as it does a room. Drifting smoke can cause serious health risks for people of all ages but children are affected the most.

“Children are especially vulnerable to second-hand smoke. Their lungs are smaller, they breathe more quickly than adults and their immune systems are less developed. Research has concluded that childhood exposure to second-hand smoke is linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), childhood cancer, leukemia, brain cancer, ear infections, asthma, and respiratory disease,” MacIntosh states.

In Nova Scotia, there are no smoke-free buildings for people living in subsidized housing or seniors’ housing. One senior’s housing complex contains a single smoke-free floor, but smoking is permitted in the rest of the building.

A precedent setting 1997 court case in Ontario, Feaver vs. Davidson, ruled that a landlord who lived in a building could require the tenant living below her to stop smoking, because his smoking interfered with her “reasonable enjoyment of the premises.”

The decision states, “second hand smoke aggravates symptoms in people with allergies and asthma, and can cause eye, nose and throat irritations, headaches, dizziness, nausea, coughing and wheezing in otherwise healthy people.” It also notes, “electronic air cleaning systems would need to increase the air-exchange rate a thousand fold to be effective, resulting in gale force winds!”

Many landlords have expressed interest in moving to smoke-free building. Landlords are legally entitled to include a no-smoking clause in a lease.

For tips on how to prevent second hand smoke from entering your home

CMHC Solving Odor Problems in your apartment,

UPdate, Fall 2008, Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia