There are some steps that can be taken to reduce second-hand smoke in multi-unit housing. These could include:

Talking to neighbours / building tenants

  • Talk to tenants who smoke. They might not realize that the smoke is a problem for others. Try to focus on solutions such as asking them to smoke outside.
  • Talk to other tenants in the building. They might have the same problem and a solution can be found together.
  • Think about a survey to find out what people in the building think. Most renters in Ontario would prefer a smoke-free building.

Sealing units to reduce second-hand smoke transfer

  • Use caulk or spray-in foam around plumbing, electrical outlets, phone jacks, fixtures, cracks and gaps
  • Close windows and doors
  • Weather-strip windows and install door sweeps
  • Cover or block heating/cooling grilles
  • Fill or patch cracks in walls and ceilings
  • Insulate air spaces around plumbing pipes

Investigating the ventilation

According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, most apartments built after the mid-1960s have corridor ventilation systems. These systems are designed to deliver outside air into corridors to maintain positive pressure. Air is continuously pushed under doors, thereby preventing odours from escaping individual units and leaking into the corridors and neighbouring apartments. Older buildings rely on air coming in through cracks and gaps for ventilation. In addition, many apartments have exhaust systems to ventilate the bathrooms and kitchens, with fans either right in individual units or located centrally elsewhere in the building.

  • If smoke is entering units under the front door from other units, check the ventilation system to make sure that it is working properly. Sometimes the systems operate on a timer and the schedule may need to be adjusted.
  • If smoke is coming into units from a bathroom or kitchen fan, try the tissue test. Turn on the kitchen or bathroom fan and hold a tissue to the grille. The fan should be able to hold the tissue firmly in place. If it doesn’t, or if it blows instead of sucks, clean, repair or replace the unit.
  • Clean, change or install new filters in the ventilation system.
  • Restrict the amount of air exhausted through the ventilation system from units where there is smoking.
  • Explore having unit pressurized to prevent air (and second-hand smoke) from leaking into the unit by having a professional install a HEPA-filtered (High Efficiency Particulate Air) heat recovery ventilation system.
    • This system uses a fan to force fresh air into the unit, which prevents smoke from entering. For this system to work windows have to be closed and windows and doors need to be well sealed.
    • Note drawbacks to HEPA system such as expense and potential condensation problems depending on the climate. Many high-rise apartment buildings have pressurization systems in the hallways and pressuring individual units may interfere with the building ventilation system.
    • Clean, change or install

While improved ventilation can remove the odour of smoke and the source of eye and throat irritation, no ventilation system can reduce exposure to the toxic chemicals in second-hand smoke to an acceptable level.

Track impact of second-hand smoke

All tenants have the right to reasonable enjoyment of their home. It is important to document the amount of smoke and how often the smoke enters units and how the smoke impacts tenants. Tenants will want to be able to document that the smoke entering their unit makes them unable to use their unit in a normal way or makes parts of their unit uninhabitable. Use a log to track the impact of second-hand smoke and provide written information for the property or service manager.

  • Find out how the smoke is entering units. For example, the smoke could be coming from an open window, from the bathroom or kitchen fan, or through an outlet.
  • Try to find out where the smoke is coming from. For example, the smoke could be coming from a neighbouring balcony or unit or an outside smoking area.
  • Track how often smoke enters a unit on a daily or weekly basis. Do you smell smoke all the time, or at certain times of the day? List dates and times that you smell smoke.
  • Try to find out how much smoke is entering units. Ask: is the smell overwhelming, or is there just a whiff of smoke? Does the smoke stay in one area or does it travel to other areas of the home? Does the smoke stay in the unit for a long time or does it go away after a while?
  • Think about when the problem started. Did the smell start as soon as you moved into your unit? Did you notice the smoke when a new person moved in?

Health impacts of smoke on tenants can be documented by:

  • Writing down symptoms or illnesses caused by smoke, such as asthma attack, headache, burning and watery eyes, sore throat, chronic coughing, bronchitis, ear infections and heart problems.
  • Thinking about whether the smoke is making a pre-existing health problem worse. Some health problems that can be made worse by smoke include asthma, allergies, heart disease, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, and cancer.
  • Writing down whether smoke causes anxiety or fear because of the potential or actual health impacts. Babies who are exposed to second-hand smoke have a higher risk of dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), so this is important to document.

Impact on use and enjoyment of unit can be documented by asking:

  • Are tenants unable to live in parts of your home at times because of the smoke?
  • Are tenants forced to stay out of certain rooms?
  • Are tenants unable to open windows or balcony door?
  • Are tenants unable to use balconies?
  • Are tenants unable to use fans or heating system?
  • Are tenants unable to use certain cupboards, drawers or closets?
  • Have tenants been forced to leave home on certain days or at specific times to avoid the smoke?
  • Are tenants friends and family members with health conditions unable to visit because of the smoke?

Collect other evidence

  • Did the property or service manager tell you that the building was smoke-free?
    • Was the building advertised as smoke-free or non-smoking?
  • Collect written proof from neighbours, friends and family about the amount and frequency of smoke entering your home.
  • Get a doctor’s letter outlining health impact of exposure to second-hand smoke if it makes you or your family members sick or makes an existing condition or illness worse.
  • Contact your local public health unit if someone is smoking in the indoor common areas of multi-unit housing to report a violation of the Smoke-Free Ontario Act.

Moving tenants

Options available to move tenants include:

  • Moving smoking tenant to another unit in the building or another building.
  • Moving non-smoking tenant to another unit in the building, at no cost.
  • Applying to the Landlord and Tenant Board for eviction of tenant if there is enough evidence that second-hand smoke is significantly interfering with reasonable enjoyment of other tenants.
  • Allowing tenants to move out without penalty.