People who live in shared spaces, sometimes called multi-unit dwellings or MUDs, are at particular risk of having to endure poor air quality caused by smoking. Second hand smoke, which seeps into their units and contaminates the air in hallways and other common areas, is not simply a nuisance, but its continuous presence is also a threat to their health.
For some people, this is not an issue. In fact, one former smoker who rents in a condo building (and who chooses to remain anonymous) said she personally doesn’t like the smoke but she believes her neighbours have a right to smoke in their own homes. For other MUD residents, unwanted smoke can be insufferable and seemingly inescapable.
This was the situation four years ago for an individual who owns a unit at South of the Border, a Winnipeg-area condominium.
Garwood Robb, President of the Board of Directors at the time, describes what happened:
“For several months, the Board had been trying – unsuccessfully – to deal with the problem of second hand smoke entering an owner’s apartment,” says Robb.
“The Board did inspections day and night to find the source of the smoke. They tried plugging any venting that might connect the unit to others in the building but this didn’t work either. There had also been reports of smoke in the hallways,” Robb explains.
Then, at the Condo Annual General Meeting in May, 2013, someone suggested that the whole condominium should go smoke-free. Building on that suggestion, the Board spent the next year waging a campaign to inform owners about the issue.”
And their lengthy campaign proved successful. On Nov. 1, 2014, South of the Border became one of very few condominium complexes in the Province to have a smoke-free policy.
How did the Board of Directors do this?
Starting in October 2013, they began official discussions about going smoke-free. They developed a smoke-free proposal which would prohibit all forms of smoking inside condominium units, on patios and balconies and on any part of the condominium that is considered a common element.
Smoking would only be permitted outdoors (excluding the entire courtyard) beyond the eight meter limit from all entrances and away from the buildings themselves.
Garwood Robb and other Board members decided that a realistic goal would be to present a motion to approve a smoke-free policy for a vote at the AGM in May 2014. To be successful, the vote would need the approval of 80% of the unit owners.
The Board adopted the successful approach undertaken by the very first Manitoba condo complex to go completely smoke-free. (The full story of the first smoke-free condo complex is available online here: “A High Rise Condo Complex Goes Totally Non Smoking”, CCI-MB Newsletter, November 2013.)
In their October 2013 newsletter to the owners, the Board began a communication campaign about their smoke-free proposal.
Subsequent monthly newsletters contained articles about going smoke-free and its benefits, and, in April 2014, the Board invited all residents to an information meeting and provided everyone with an eight page booklet about the smoke-free proposal.
At the AGM held later that spring, the majority of the owners voted in favour of the smoke-free proposal. South of the Border officially became smoke-free in November 2014.
As Garwood Robb explains: “We had a solid strategy. We just did everything in writing so nobody could say ‘that wasn’t part of the plan’ or ‘that was never discussed’. It was time consuming but it was worth it.”
There is no doubt strong leadership is a valuable commodity in the condo community, just as it is in other sectors of society. As shown by the example of Garwood Robb and the Board at South of the Border, healthy change is possible through strategic commitment.
Of the 1280 condominium corporations registered in Manitoba (970 of which are in the Winnipeg Land Titles District), very few are smoke-free. However, in other parts of Canada, housing preferences are shifting at a faster rate; and condo corporations are using their smoke-free status to attract health-conscious buyers and tenants.
Elsewhere in the world, Australia and Germany for example, jurisdictions are looking to ban, or at least restrict, smoking in multi-unit dwellings.
With more Manitobans of all ages now living in shared spaces than at any other time in our history, resolving the issues that threaten healthy communal living – like smoking – will require all the will and the skills we can muster.
With the legalization of marijuana looming on the horizon, are we ready for a future that will challenge our capacity to live together in healthy ways?