June 27, 2019
Neighbourly harmony can be a struggle when Co-op no smoking policies 'grandfather' existing tenants who smoke
Five years ago, St. Andrew’s Place, a Co-op rental housing community in Mission, BC, decided they wanted to become a 100% smoke-free. Members of the Co-op began by voting in favour of an amendment to existing rules, and inserting a no-smoking policy.
“There were lots of reasons why tenants wanted to go 100% smoke-free including people’s right to breathe clean air, the cost of refitting a unit when a smoker moves out and the increased risk of fire given our Co-op is constructed in wood,” said Diane Hammond, Manager of St. Andrew’s Place.
“But becoming a completely smoke-free community continues to be a challenge, particularly given we have five or six people who are still allowed to smoke in their units and in a designated area on the property,” she continued.
Hammond is referring to is a ‘grandfather’ clause which members voted to include initially in their new no smoking policy.
The clause allowed rental tenants whose membership agreement predated implementation of the no smoking policy to continue smoking in their suites, patios and on a designated area of the Co-op grounds until they move out.
“As manager of the Co-op I am very careful to educate all new owners about our rules including our 100% no smoking policy. But challenges emerge when a new member who smokes moves in,” she said explaining that it is against Co-op rules to discriminate against Co-op applicants based on lifestyle choices.
Given frustration among some members related to smoking rights, Hammond and her colleagues revisited their policy with help from the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC. They worked to make their policy language clearer, but for now did not revoke the right of those currently grandfathered to smoke.
The smoking of a select few continue however to be a source of aggravation for non-smokers, particularly newer members who also would like to smoke but joined the Co-op after the policy was established and are required to abide by the 100% no smoking rule.
“I feel badly when a new member sees our grandfathered smokers outside in their designated smoking area,“ she added. “It doesn’t seem fair. I find it hard not to allow them to smoke with those members in the designated area and to force them to go off the property at night in the dark seems unsafe.”
“But I constantly receive complaints from new members who worry they may end up living beside a grandfathered smoker, and should that happen not be able to protect themselves from second-hand smoke exposure,” said Hammond.
“There is little I can do as it stands. There is no sure way to prevent second-hand smoke from entering neighbouring suites. Smoke invariably drifts and finds its way through cracks in the wall, electrical outlets, plumbing pipe connections, not to mention windows,” she said.
“While I understand none of us wants to interfere with another’s lifestyle choice, I’m not sure if we were wise to grandfather existing smokers when we established our 100% no smoking policy. It seems to be a no-win situation," continued Hammond. "The grandfathered smokers aren't happy, their neighbours aren’t happy, and the new members that want to smoke aren’t happy."
Hammond feels it may necessary to revisit their policy a third time, questioning if as things are it will be possible to become a 100% smoke-free or whether it may be necessary to remove the designated smoking area and revoke the grandfathered smokers' rights.
"When some have rights others do not share it can make neighbourly harmony a real struggle,” she concluded.