The fastest and easiest way to go smoke-free in Ontario is to start smoke-free with an empty building. By law, landlords and housing providers must grandfather (exempt) existing tenants who smoke. A grandfather (or grandparenting) clause is a portion of a contract (including a lease) which provides that the legal document does not apply in certain circumstances. A no-smoking policy therefore applies to new tenants signing new leases, and existing tenants who are supportive of the policy. A building will gradually become 100% smoke-free through attrition.

To create a policy that works for your building, consider who the policy will apply to, where it will apply, what will be regulated, when it will come into effect and how it will be enforced. View a sample no-smoking policy

Who will the policy apply to?

No-smoking policies should apply to residents, visitors, invited guests, staff, service providers and contractors, as well as managers. Usually tenants are responsible for advising guests and visitors about where they can and cannot smoke.

In Ontario, a no-smoking policy can easily be applied to new tenants when they sign a standard lease. For current tenants, they would have to be grandfathered and their lease wouldn’t contain a no-smoking clause; therefore they would not have to abide by a no-smoking policy while they reside in their current unit.

Where will the policy apply?

No-smoking options include:

  • One building out of a complex.
  • All units
  • All units including balconies and patios
  • All units including balconies and patios, as well as outdoor smoke-free buffer zones around doorways, operable windows and air intakes. Distance is at your discretion, but a 9-metre rule is consistent with provincial legislation (for certain buildings like hospitals)
  • All units including balconies and patios, as well as the entire property.
  • All units including balconies and patios, as well as entire property, with an exemption for an outdoor designated smoking area away from doorways, operable windows, air intakes and common areas. Such an area would ideally have a roof, a place to sit and somewhere to safely dispose of butts.

What will be regulated?

Think about what substances you want to include in your policy and provide a clear definition. The Smoke-Free Ontario Act prohibits smoking of tobacco and cannabis and vaping of any substances in common areas of multi-unit housing. You may want to consider the same or different substances.

When would the policy apply?

Decide on a start date. Six months to a year should be enough time to gather required information and prepare for the policy. Spring and summer are ideal times to launch a new policy–that gives people enough time to get used to stepping outside for a cigarette before the snow flies!

Steps for drafting a policy

Step 1: Create a working group or committee

  • Try to include diverse stakeholders, such as board members, tenant representatives, staff, etc.
  • Review current situation, including complaints over smoking. Identify options.
  • Develop draft policy

Step 2: Conduct a tenant survey

  • What is the extent of the problem of second-hand smoke infiltration?
  • How many households already prohibit smoking inside?
  • How many households have one or more smokers?
  • Assess the level of support for various no-smoking policy options.

Step 3: Develop a policy

  • What is the ultimate goal?
  • Hold a meeting with tenants to discuss the survey results and draft policy. Consider input from all stakeholders and decide on extent of policy:
    • Includes patios and balconies?
    • Includes buffer zones around doorways, operable windows and/or air intakes?
    • Includes entire property?
    • Provides designated smoking area(s) outside?
  • Offer tenants help to quit smoking. Contact your local public health unit for local supports and resources.
  • Decide on a start date—don’t rush it!
    • Allow time for proper consultation and education.
    • Spring and summer are the best start times to enable tenants to get used to smoking outside.
    • Keep in mind that a no-smoking policy can be implemented in phases. For example, an outside designated smoking area could be established on the property for a period of time before the entire property is designated as non-smoking. Note that by law, landlords/housing providers in Ontario must grandfather existing tenants who smoke.

Step 4: Develop a communications strategy

  • Make the messaging positive and focus on the health benefits.
  • Begin with general information about the problem of involuntary exposure to second-hand smoke.
  • Keep stakeholders informed of what’s happening throughout the process.
  • Choose a start date for the no-smoking policy that gives tenants and those on the waiting list sufficient advanced notice (three to six months is ideal).
  • Choose different ways to communicate: tenant newsletter, website, individual notices to tenants, face-to-face meetings, and notice in lobby.
  • Install signage in the common areas and paint lines outdoors (if policy includes a buffer zone around entranceways).
  • If applicable, designate an outdoor smoking area and make it comfortable for smokers.
  • Consider additional communications six months to one year after the policy has been implemented to remind tenants of the policy and to thank them for their support.
  • Advertise the no-smoking policy along with unit vacancies. Be careful with wording. A building is not “smoke-free” until the last unit has been cleaned up and designated as non-smoking. Manage tenants’ expectations by ensuring that they understand the building is in transition and that there are grandfathered tenants who are still permitted to smoke in their units.

Step 5: Develop an enforcement plan

  • Be prepared—decide ahead of time how infractions will be handled.
  • Keep detailed records of incidents, complaints, etc. This is especially important if a tenant denies breaching the no-smoking policy.
  • Consider including in your enforcement plan:
    • Send a friendly written reminder clarifying the no-smoking policy on first reported breach of the policy.
    • Send a warning letter(s) for the second breach (and x additional breaches) of the policy.
    • Hold one or more meetings with the tenant violating the policy, and invite others where appropriate, such as family members or social workers, to discuss the problem and to explore possible solutions. Discuss possible accommodations, if necessary. For example, team up with your local public health unit to provide smoking cessation information and support.
    • As a last resort, seek eviction. Cite breach of reasonable enjoyment of neighbouring tenants or substantial interference with your rights, privilege, or interest as a landlord to provide a non-smoking environment.

Step 6: Implement the policy

  • Include policy in lease.
  • Request that tenants initial no-smoking clause.
  • Mention policy on application form.
  • Ensure enforcement strategy is in place.
  • Ensure all staff and stakeholders have a clear understanding of the policy and will be able to assist with education and enforcement where necessary.
  • If you have decided to offer smoking cessation information and/or resources alongside your no-smoking policy, have these ready when the policy is implemented.
  • Read more about implementing a policy