In a recent column I featured Dr. Stuart Kreisman and his wife. They’re a young couple who discovered that it’s impossible to find a smoke-free condo in Vancouver–at any price. There simply aren’t any for sale. Fortunately, there are other options.
Sharon Hammond, Manager of the Smoke-Free Housing Initiative for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, receives “tons of calls from people in condos wanting to know how to adopt non-smoking bylaws.”
“One in three people have experienced second-hand smoke from neighbouring units,” she says.
Any strata council can implement non-smoking bylaws if three-quarters of the voting members of the strata vote in favour of the change at an Annual General Meeting or Special Meeting.
Of the 29,000 strata developments in B.C. (over 900,000 condo units), only a handful have gone down this path. Given that nine out of 10 condo owners are non-smokers, the numbers are surprising.
So why haven’t more stratas voted to make their developments non-smoking?
It could be that condo owners are concerned about the legality of non-smoking bylaws. When the issue is raised at strata meetings, opponents often suggest the owners will be sued if they ban smoking. The Heart and Stroke Foundation has solicited a number of legal opinions and it’s clear that non-smoking bylaws are legal. Others are afraid that their condos will be worth less in the marketplace if they restrict the number of potential buyers. With smokers making up less than 10 per cent of owners that’s an unlikely scenario. This isn’t just a health issue, it’s a lifestyle issue and healthy lifestyle buildings attract buyers, plain and simple.
There’s some groundwork to do if your strata plans to adopt non-smoking bylaws. Be prepared. Smokefreehousingbc.ca has all the information to build support for the change. Begin by doing a survey to determine how many owners and residents are smokers and how many want to live in a smoke-free environment. Address any concerns expressed by residents and have your proposed bylaw vetted by a third-party advocacy group such as the Condominium Home Owners Association of B.C.
Put in a grandfather clause for existing owners. The Verdant bylaw had a grandfather clause with a caveat that made exempted owners from the bylaw subject to the common law of nuisance, which simply meant they could smoke but not disturb others with migrating second-hand smoke.
When the grandfathered owners sell their units, the new owners will have to conform the new bylaw. Over time, the development will become smoke-free.
Sharon Hammond has been working with the City Social Planning Department to look for opportunities to pilot smoke-free housing options in Vancouver. “While it won’t apply to condos, it is encouraging for those living in social housing developments in the city.”
This is part of an emerging trend to provide smoke-free rental housing in North America. Property managers of smoke-free buildings are reporting that in addition to less health and safety concerns, management costs are significantly reduced with lower cleaning, painting, damage and insurance costs. And they have waiting lists of people wanting to live in the buildings.
If these properties are any indication, non-smoking regulations will be good for the bottom line. Lower maintenance costs translate into lower monthly fees and everyone loves lower strata fees. That’s good news for the many Vancouver investors who own and rent out their condos. It’s also good news for buyers.
These developments will attract a premium in the market place. And as more strata developments become smoke-free, it will become the standard and more developers will build smoke-free buildings. And so on.
It’s legal, it’s easy, you’ll save money on maintenance and insurance costs and the demand for smoke-free housing will add a premium to the value of your condo. No-brainer. If your strata council is considering non-smoking bylaws, visit smokefreehousingbc.ca If you’ve already passed non-smoking bylaws in your Vancouver condo development, I’d love to hear your story.