Fourplex resident says she’s a helpless victim of second-hand smoke
A Shelburne woman who has been living in the area for 25 years is facing the health risks posed by a constant proximity to second hand smoke, and is told no one can do anything about it.
The woman has been living in the same apartment for the last 20 years and about a year ago a large family moved in, renting three of the four available units. She says she believes every adult member of the family smokes inside their homes.
“The landlady admitted that everybody smokes except me,” she said. “And they all smoke indoors because they refuse to smoke outdoors.”
She said that after the landlord spoke with the other tenants they made it clear that they would continue to smoke in their home and that if she didn’t like, she should move.
“I don’t feel like I’m dying but I don’t want to wait to that point; that’s why I’m trying to do something about it now,” she said. “I cough a lot from it, I get runny eyes, but then mentally, emotionally and psychologically it’s really hard because it interferes with my rest.”
She said that throughout the day she constantly has to open her windows when it gets too smoky to be comfortable inside, and then close the windows once it gets too cold.
She has spoken to the police, a member of town council and others to find out if there is anything she could do to change her situation. They all were of the opinion that tenants are entitled to smoke in their own homes.
Finally, she took it upon herself to contact the Landlord and Tenant Board advising them of the second-hand smoke and toxic chemicals permeating her unit, the smoke coming from the other tenants smoking in their units and the toxic chemicals from air fresheners sprayed in the homes.
The application was heard on April 4, 2011. The end result was a board ruling that she had failed to provide any substantial proof of her claim, as well as the claim that the landlord had failed to take reasonable steps to ensure second hand smoke and other toxins do not permeate into the tenants rental unit.
She says she was disappointed with the emphasis placed by the board on a doctor’s note as well as a test done of the air in the apartment.
“It’s not an easy process to get the air tested. I looked into it and nobody around Shelburne knows, I’ve talked to the council, I’ve talked to the health unit, nobody seems to know how you get the air tested,” she said.
“I’m healthy, and that’s because I’ve taken care of myself. I don’t go to the doctor, I don’t have a doctor, that is the reason why I was very disappointed when the board seemed to place so much emphasis on the doctor’s note, especially when we have scarce medical resources that we should be taking care of.”
According to the Landlord and Tenant Board they believed that the landlord, upon becoming aware of the situation, acted reasonably and diligently in an attempt to address the tenant’s concerns.
The landlord testified that the building is not a designated smoke-free building and has had tenants smoking in it for years.
There had never been a problem in the past 20 years and on each of her visits to the complex she did not detect any of the extreme second-hand smoke or toxins, which the tenant complains of.
The landlord stated that she did take steps to ensure that the tenant’s door was sealed, and that a person who moves into a multi-tenant building should expect a reasonable level of intrusion of odours.
The tenant complained that the Board’s decision gave so much power to the smoking tenants while she got no help whatsoever.
“They are there to help us when we have situations like this. I brought an application, I explained to the board that I tried my very best not to take up the time of the board, I tried to work it out with my landlord,” she said. “For months now she has not taken my phone calls, she has not returned my messages, she has not answered my letters.”
She added that she believes the number of units being rented by the family is affecting the outcome of the situation.
“I’m giving her rent just for one unit, but those smokers are giving her rent for three units,” she said. “They money she gets from them is a lot more than she gets from me.”
The tenant said that in her quest for answers she came across some information that Kitchener/Waterloo councillors are working toward getting residents of multiunit dwellings the help they need in similar situations.
“I don’t think the smokers have a right to inflict this on us,” she said. “What the board did by saying to me that I have to live with it, made it worse for the landlady and for me because now I have to try to see what else I can do, maybe try to get inspectors in the building which is very hard – I have looked into that, or I have to go to human rights to say my rights to live with clean fresh air are being violated by the board, by the landlady and by the smoking tenants.”