Tenants > Common Questions
Exposure to second-hand smoke (SHS) is more than a nuisance. It is a known health hazard that causes lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory infection, and numerous other health problems. There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke, and even brief exposure can be harmful to people’s health. Second-hand smoke:
Two-thirds of the smoke from a burning cigarette is not inhaled by the smoker, and enters the surrounding area. The way smoke moves throughout a building is unpredictable and it knows no boundaries. The gases in cigarette smoke expand to fill spaces around pipes and electrical outlets and between walls and floors or ceilings. Research conducted in apartment buildings in the U.S. found that while generally, smoke travels into the units above where it was produced, it can also move into adjacent units on the same floor or even into units below.
Yes. In March 2008, the Tobacco Control Act in BC was amended to ban smoking in all indoor workplaces and public places, including these areas of apartment buildings and condominiums:
Note: This legislation does not apply to private suites or balconies in apartments or condominiums. It specifically avoids any attempt to regulate smoking in private residences.
Further, municipal governments have the authority to ban or restrict smoking in public places within their geographic limits, and can create smoking bylaws that exceed provincial laws. Some Municipalities have enacted stronger buffer zone requirements than the province, including Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond and the Capital Regional District. Contact your municipality to find out more.
Under the Tobacco Control Act, Landlords are responsible for enforcing the provincial smoking ban in common areas and entrances of apartment buildings.
If your Landlord is not able to enforce the legislation, he or she should contact the local Health Authority, and ask for a representative in the tobacco control area. Tobacco Enforcement Officers through the various health authorities are charged with the day-to-day enforcement of BC tobacco control legislation.
Where municipal bylaws are stricter than provincial legislation, unresolved complaints should be made to the municipal bylaw enforcement department. Read more about new BC tobacco laws.
It is not clear that tenants have the right to a smoke-free living space in apartments. However, the Residential Tenancy Act states that tenants are entitled to the right to quiet enjoyment of their premises, which includes the right to be free from unreasonable disturbances. This could include being free from breathing toxic substances such as second-hand smoke on a frequent and on-going basis.
There is no right to smoke guaranteed in law. However, dispute resolution officers in BC, as well as other provinces, have generally found that in the absence of a no-smoking clause in the tenancy agreement, tenants have the right to smoke in their suites.
It should be stressed that these rights are not absolute, and are limited by the right to quiet enjoyment of neighbouring tenants. While a tenant that smokes chooses to accept the risks associated with smoking, he/she doesn’t have the right to require that others in the building share in those risks.
If there is evidence that second-hand smoke is infiltrating your home from a neighbouring unit or balcony on a frequent and on-going basis, and substantially interfering with your use and enjoyment of your home, then your landlord has a responsibility to take steps to correct the problem.
It is important to talk to your landlord about the problem of second-hand smoke. However, it is equally important to try to minimize the problem yourself by taking steps such as talking to the smoking tenant, sealing the source of the smoke, and working with your landlord to negotiate a solution.
If all your efforts fail to minimize the smoke, and your landlord has not taken reasonable steps to resolve the problem, you can apply to the Residential Tenancy Branch (RTB) for an order requiring the landlord to provide quiet enjoyment and/or compensate you for your loss of quiet enjoyment. There is no guarantee that you will be successful however. (See Taking Action section for further information)
Unfortunately, the RTB in BC does not have guidelines on what amount of smoke infiltrating your home is considered an “unreasonable” disturbance – the test to prove that there has been a loss of your right to quiet enjoyment. It is thus unclear as to what evidence is required in order to meet this test. To increase your chances of success, you will need to document the extent, severity and impact of the problem, and collect as much evidence as possible to prove your case. (See last resort remedies)
Under the Residential Tenancy Act, all tenants are entitled to the right to quiet enjoyment of the rental unit, including the right to be free from unreasonable disturbances from other tenants. The landlord is responsible for ensuring that the tenant has quiet enjoyment.
If smoke from a neighbouring unit is infiltrating your home, and is significantly impacting your health or how you are able to enjoy or use your suite, this can be considered a loss of your right to quiet enjoyment. Addressing the issue of second-hand smoke is similar to addressing the issue of loud music. Playing music is allowed in private units, yet when it’s played too loud and interferes with the quiet enjoyment of other tenants, landlords have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to stop this intrusion, including last resort steps to end the tenancy. (See legal opinion)
Yes. Landlords have the legal right to include a no-smoking clause in all new tenancy agreements to ban smoking in individual units, outdoor balconies and patios or any area of the residential property. This is no different than a no-pets or no-barbeque policy.
However, under the Residential Tenancy Act, a landlord cannot change an existing tenancy agreement without the approval of the tenant. This means that tenants without a no-smoking clause in their tenancy agreement can continue to smoke in their units for the length of their tenancy.
Air filters, purifiers and ventilation systems cannot eliminate second-hand smoke. Some of the smoke and larger particles from the air may be removed, but they will not remove the smaller particles or gases found in second-hand smoke.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the world's leading association on indoor air quality standards, considers that there is no acceptable ventilation system that can protect individuals exposed to second-hand smoke.
James Repace, an internationally recognized second-hand smoke physicist, conducted a review for ASHRAE on controlling tobacco smoke. He concluded that, “ventilation technology cannot possibly achieve acceptable indoor air quality in the presence of smoking, leaving smoking bans as the only alternative.”
Yes, but there is a critical shortage of 100% smoke-free residential buildings for British Columbians that want and need to live smoke-free. Tenants are encouraged to tell landlords that they would prefer a smoke-free building where smoking is banned in all suites and outdoor balconies and patios. If landlords don’t know that there is demand for smoke-free housing, there will continue to be a lack of smoke-free options for apartment and condo dwellers in BC.
For a listing of smoke-free buildings in BC, check out our smoke-free housing directory. This is a new directory, so listings will be minimal until more landlords hear about our website and register their smoke-free buildings.
If you want to live in a 100% smoke-free building, ensure that there is a “no-smoking” clause written into your tenancy agreement (or an attached Addendum) that states the entire building is smoke-free, including the private units, and outdoor balconies and patios.
When talking to potential landlords, here are some questions to ask about the no-smoking policy:
There are many resources available in BC to help people who are interested in quitting smoking. British Columbians can access FREE QuitNow Services, including an internet quit smoking service at www.quitnow.ca, or QuitNow By Phone [1 877 455 2233] a toll-free telephone quitline available 24/7 and staffed by Registered Nurses. For more information, go to Tools and Resources.
For more information see our legal opinion.