Step 5: Enforcing your smoke-free policy

Engaging and communicating with your stakeholders regarding your smoke-free policy will go a long way in facilitating enforcement. Likely, your residents will be the biggest advocates of your policy and will readily tell you when someone is not following the rules. Most people comply with smoke-free policies when they are clearly and effectively communicated. Still, you should be prepared and know ahead of time how you will respond to any problems.

How to handle violations

Your enforcement plan will likely depend on your residents and their behaviour, whether or not there is damage to the unit, and the extent of second-hand smoke exposure to other tenants.

You always have the choice to take a soft or hard approach with smoking violations. Regardless, a smoke-free policy needs clear and well-communicated consequences and outcomes for noncompliance (e.g., warnings and penalties).

Steps to take if there is evidence that a violation has occurred

  1. Talk to the resident and try to achieve a verbal agreement regarding compliance. Review and explain the smoke-free policy with the resident.
  2. If an agreement is reached, it can be helpful to put it in writing for future reference. Have the resident sign a copy of the dated letter from the landlord to the resident, confirming the discussion and the resident’s agreement to abide by the smoke-free policy.
  3. If the smoking continues, issue a caution notice advising the resident that:
    • they have breached the terms of their contract/house rules/tenancy agreement (explain how);
    • they are requested to smoke only where permitted under the policy (give options); and,
    • ongoing failure to comply with the policy could result in the tenancy ending (eviction).
  4. Document all violations, and if possible, get witnesses who would be able and willing to testify to incidents of smoking by the resident if necessary.
  5. Conduct regular inspections.
  6. Actively address complaints of second-hand smoke exposure.

Download a sample complaint flowchartcomplaint log and caution notice.

If a tenant commits a series of breaches of the smoke-free policy, a landlord has grounds to end the tenancy. As with any termination of a tenancy, if the tenant disputes the termination, it may need to be resolved through the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service. This process will be easier for the landlord if the smoke-free policy is included in the tenant’s lease.

If you are bound by the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) and a current resident on a periodic lease refuses to sign an amendment to their tenancy agreement, there may be legal grounds to hold them to your smoke-free policy. A strong argument can be made that the RTA must permit a landlord to impose rules where reasonably necessary to fulfill their covenants. This includes the ability to prohibit smoking in individual units if a case can be made that second-hand smoke may become injurious or dangerous to the public health. This argument, however, has yet to be tested in Alberta court.

Issues while transitioning to smoke-free status

If your building is converting to smoke-free status either through a phased-in approach or due to exempted residents, it will continue to be important to address complaints of second-hand smoke migrating in smoke-free units from spaces where smoking is still allowed. If applicable, clarify with staff that while exempted or phased-in residents may be allowed to smoke in their units, complaints of second-hand smoke must still be addressed and documented.

Not ready for a smoke-free policy?

If you have engaged the right people and thought through the process of going smoke-free but don’t feel that the time is right for your facility, consider implementing a safe-smoking policy as a stepping stone towards becoming smoke-free.

Some measures should be put in place to mitigate the serious fire risks that smoking poses, especially in seniors’ and assisted-living facilities. Smoking and oxygen tanks are a deadly combination. While oxygen gas does not itself catch on fire, it causes combustible materials to burn faster and more fiercely, including cigarettes. Improper disposal of smoking material (e.g.; throwing cigarettes in the garbage, down laundry or garbage chutes) can also become a problem for housing providers of residents with failing cognitive ability. Falling asleep with a lit cigarette is also a concern.

A safe-smoking policy would prohibit:

  • residents who use oxygen from smoking while their tanks are on;
  • smoking in bed; and,
  • residents who demonstrate unsafe smoking habits from smoking in their private units. As a landlord/property manager, you would likely consult with the resident, resident’s family and with any relevant home care, healthcare or social workers to make this decision.

For more detailed information, download our comprehensive guidebook on smoke-free policies for public, non-profit and seniors' housing or contact us to order a print copy.

Have you started implementing a smoke-free policy?

We want to hear from you! Contact us to tell us about your experience consulting stakeholders and drafting, implementing and enforcing your building's smoke-free policy.

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