April 21, 2008
To: Kiwanis Club of White Rock, President Heather Woolley and
Officers 2007-2008 operating Kiwanis Park Place,
through Crescent Housing Society, Manager Janet Furcht
Suite 6000 12850 26 Ave, Surrey, BC. V4P 1S1
From: Tenants of Kiwanis Park Place (signatures below)
Building 1 - 12882 26th Avenue and
Building 2 - 12850 26th Avenue, Surrey, BC
Re: Immediate Resolution For Tenants Suffering From Unwanted Drifting Second-Hand Smoke (SHS)
Infiltrating Their Homes From Adjoining Balconies, Patios, Apartments: example #302 and #304; Apartments situated across from one another #304 and #305; Apartments stacked one on top another like #200 and #302; Balconies, and 'smokers-areas' and pathways which are open common spaces.
- Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance, and Disability section
- Ministry of Forests and Range (and Minister Responsible for Housing)
- BC Housing - Corporate Services, Shayne Ramsay, CEO
- BC Housing, Fraser Region, Regional, Director Darin Froese
- Dr. Roland Guasparini, Chief Medical Health Officer, Fraser Health Authority
- Gordon Hogg, MLA Surrey-White Rock, BC
- Mary Martin, Councillor, City of Surrey, BC
- South Fraser Mental Health
This letter from tenants of Kiwanis Park Place informs Kiwanis Club of White Rock that a significant number of your tenants experience serious health problems due to second-hand smoke seeping internally and externally into their apartments from neighbouring units and balconies. A significant number of tenants with serious health problems have had their health matters exacerbated through drifting second-hand smoke. The second-hand smoke comes from cigarettes, also marijuana and crack cocaine.
This document outlines:
- the extent of the problem, how second-hand smoke enters and moves throughout the building
- the impact on health, the range of symptoms people experience both physically and psychologically
- the financial impact to people on limited income
- actions taken by tenants in an attempt to resolve the health issues and the issues of second-hand smoke in the building
- our understanding of discrimination under the Human Rights Code
- possible solutions presented for immediate consideration, all of which are known and have already been considered by other housing authorities.
While a tenant moving into Suite #304 the week-end of March 29th brought the current matter into the spotlight for many, the matter of drifting second-hand smoke creating and aggravating health matters is long standing. How long? Current tenants make reference to a decade and more.
It should be noted that many tenants are afraid to complain about this issue and have been suffering in silence for years for fear of being evicted and creating conflict. Whether the fear of eviction is based on fact or not, as tenants commented, where you are told there is nothing more to be done, when you have no options, the next step is homelessness, so no wonder people are afraid to speak out. Add the conflict that arises from the issues, and people just don't want to be involved, and suffer silenced.
Dr. Blatherwick, former Chief Medical Health Officer, Vancouver Coastal Health, writes that “While the effects of smoking were well known as far back as the 1950's, the dangers of second-hand smoke only became fully apparent in the last two decades. Today the science is overwhelming as to the negative affects of second hand smoke. As a physician, I have no other recommendation but to tell people there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke, to move, and yet the system makes this impossible.” January 2007.
This speaks to the fact that drifting second-hand smoke was long dismissed as a problem, often characterized as a personal problem between tenants and until recently not given any credibility. The current credibility given the topic emerges from recent government initiatives and favorable Human Rights judgments. Now we now better. The time has come for changes.
In the current situation when the new tenant moved into Suite #304, Mandy above her was immediately impacted; Rose Marie beside her was immediately impacted, and Dawn across the hall was immediately impacted. Given that the impact of second-hand smoke for Mandy, Rose Marie and Dawn has been reported during the past year, how did this smoker get placed in a suite so close to the non-smokers? How did it come about, plunging these women and this complex into a health crisis? How is that Mandy, Dawn, and Rose Marie must consider the idea of an involuntary move to accommodate their health matters? We're shocked, appalled and dismayed that this could have happened. This situation became the forum to address the scope of second-hand smoke in this complex.
Moving is a necessary option. However, at present as Management advised, there are no suites here in either building available that would give any of us a guarantee of improved circumstances, nor might it be considered sustainable. There is no guarantee that future neighbours would be non-smokers - anywhere.
SHS from cigarettes moves beyond issues of smoking as legal: people do go out and buy cigarettes in drug stores, corner stores, food stores. SHS confronts issues of impacting another persons health other than the smoker.
Second-hand smoke is more than an infringement or breach of our quiet enjoyment. It is a health matter and poverty issue. SHS is scientifically verified as dangerous carcinogen, a cause of cancer, heart attack, respiratory illness, and a host of other illnesses and diseases, including a trigger for people who have already experienced strokes.
Most of us are in receipt of subsidized rental accommodation specifically because we have a disability. We do not have the financial or physical resources to easily and readily remediate the problems confronting us in this crisis.
- We do not accept that breathing other people’s smoke must be tolerated or endured in communal complexes, and the situation of high-density, publicly-funded multi-unit complexes exacerbates the problem.
- We no longer accept that because we live in public housing, that we must put up with a known toxic substance, as if the knowledge on the hazards does not apply to us.
- We no longer accept that we must put up with a known toxic substance knowingly entering our homes, or as contemptuously put, “Suck it up,” “those [non-smokers] people are just anti-social” and “it's terrible when neighbors [non-smokers] are like that.”
- We no longer accept that the individual non-smoker is the source of the problem, our personal problem, one that we must mediate through management/board with a smoker to partition smoke-free hours.
The drifting second-hand smoke problem has become intolerable for many of us, and for some it has become life threatening. We request your help to resolve this problem immediately, so that we are no longer expected to endure the impact on our health, our quality of life, or resolve the problem.
Extent of the Problem
SHS from adjoining units, balconies, patios, pathways, courtyards insidiously drifts and wafts into our apartments from various sources, all of which are already known and documented:
- outdoor walkways adjacent to patios, balconies, suites
- both open and closed balcony doors
- open and closed bedroom windows
- through kitchen stove fans
- through bathroom fans
- through suite entrance doors
- through shared ventilation systems
- from heating vents
- through electrical outlets
- through cracks in walls
To be clear, we are not talking about a temporary whiff of second-hand smoke or a dislike of the smell.
We are talking about drifting second-hand smoke that is significant in volume and density, continuous and regular as opposed to sporadic and occasional, and accumulative versus quickly disbursed. It invades not only our suites. It permeates, contaminates, and ruins our furniture, clothing, possessions. It fills the hallway and extends down a complete wing.
For instance, some ten months ago Rose Marie #302 moved in, and Mandy #404 thought Rose Marie was a smoker, because she receives SHS that we now know comes from Emma #200. As an example, smoke from Suite #102 fills the wing and wafts into Suite #112, and extends to the small elevator on that floor, and up into the suite #237 above. As a further example, smoke from Suite #304 contaminates Suite #305 across the hall and down past through the common area to the elevator.
Many smoker tenants are conscious themselves about these effects of SHS, and they do not smoke in their own apartments. They also attempt to ventilate their suites by holding their suite door open with a running shoe, venting the smoke into the common hallway.
SHS disrupts the public traffic spaces, the social spaces and the quiet enjoyment of our homes.
Second-hand smoke is a serious intrusion into our suites. As long as this known toxic air contaminant is polluting our air, our homes are not fully habitable day and night. We might be in receipt of subsidized housing, but we are still entitled to expect that our homes are not hazardous to our health.
Impact On Our Health
Noxious SHS entering our apartments aggravates our existing conditions and creates a number of other symptoms. All of us have experienced one or more of the symptoms noted below brought on by continued exposure to SHS. Moreover, if demanded, we can provide letters from our physicians confirming that the smoke infiltrating our homes is harming our health and exacerbating existing conditions and disabilities.
Here are some examples of what we are experiencing:
- Spike in allergies triggering eye infections, itching noses, sinus infections with the need to take medication, and have on hand an Epipen
- asthma attacks, with having to return to the use of inhalers.
- swollen lymph nodes
- Development of 'smokers cough' with accompanying pressure of bladder leakage, chest tightness, and jarring of spinal vertebrae
- Pain emminating from excess toxic burden on liver, kidney, bladder
- Edema (swelling) of hands, eyes, feet
- Shocked awake from a sense of being choked and suffocated, and falling out of bed
- aggravation, exacerbation of emphysema
- Depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome cascading into migraines with accompanying nausea and vomiting
- Depression, fibromyagia, chronic fatigue syndrome compounded from respiratory illnesses, including bronchitis
- Being unable to manage previously manageable chronic pain
- Escalation of anxiety (fear), and physical distress from attempting to address the problem, including options for moving
- Escalated fear from remembering how one resident dealt with breast cancer attributed to second-hand smoke, and no one believes her
- Exacerbation of emphysema,
- Increased insomnia despite medication,
- Seeking places to sleep outside of suites and away from late night and early morning smoking
- Distress from finding people sleeping elsewhere in the building
- Aggravation of glaucoma with eyes swelling, burning, and grittiness
- Increased hostilities between smokers and non-smokers
- Unable to prepare, eat, and clean up from meals with SHS wafting down kitchen fans.
SHS aggravates and exacerbates existing health conditions. It creates new health matters.
Individuals impacted by this health crisis and existing on limited funds experience a necessity to spend money in attempt to provide immediate relief:
- purchasing of air filtration systems
- borrowing money to purchase air purifiers
- purchasing medication not covered by MSP for PWD
- purchasing new pillows
- extra laundry washing bedding, clothing with associated costs of soap, detergents
- covering the cost of carpet cleaning
- increase in the use of Kleenex
- being away from the suite, and eating out
Actions Taken To Resolve The Problem
Many of us have tried relentlessly to manage and cope, accommodate smoking, mitigate and rectify the problem of drifting SHS entering our homes without much success, since the over-riding assumption is there is nothing more to be done.
Some of us have been living with this problem for years, and some are only now experiencing the overwhelming SHS due to the proximity of new tenants who smoke.
Some of the steps that residents have taken to resolve this problem include:
- inform and complain to management verbally, and received information about the BC Clean Air Coalition
- researched options on the internet on how to manage the problem
- accessed guidelines from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation on solving odor transfer problem in our suites
- opening and closing windows and balcony doors as needed (which is more than an inconvenience in the summer when it’s hot and we need fresh air, and in the winter when it is cold)
- shut off thermostat, and sealed heating registers, and used alternative methods for heating
- Sealed sources of smoke, such as kitchen stove fans
- approached neighbours, or attempted to approach the neighbour to ask for courtesy and co-operation, and most often dismissed
- agreed to meetings with management/board and neighbours, and tentatively agreed to partitioning time as there were no other options considered legitimate
- Disagreed and refused to participant in meetings to partition smoke- free time.
- Wrote letters to management ad nausea, to the president of the board and asking for responses, and solutions.
- Called provincial government officials, city officials and BC Housing,
- avoidance of certain hallways
- avoidance of certain individuals, especially in closed and small spaces, such as elevators
- avoidance of activities, social community
Despite all our attempts to address the problem, the smoke permeates our living spaces to the extent that some have been forced to vacate their apartments to stay with friends to avoid the smoke. Some have slept elsewhere in the building. The issue has now reached a crisis point.
Discrimination Under the Human Rights Code
We are aware of recent case law and research before the BC Human Rights Tribunal. We are in receipt of the Human Rights Tribunal arbitrator decision which dismissed claims by the housing providers, including BC Housing, that the tenants didn’t have a case. The arbitrator states:
In my view, the complaint raises issues that are important, and are worthy of full and careful consideration by the Tribunal. The answers are not obvious. In my view a hearing with the opportunity to consider expert evidence in the issues that are science-based, tested evidence from witnesses with first-hand knowledge about the provision of subsidized housing, and relevant legal argument related to the established facts will assist in providing a well-reasoned decision respecting the individual and the systemic allegations of discrimination raised. (Abraham v. Greater Vancouver Housing and other, 2008BCHRT41)
As our housing provider, we understand that you have a duty to consider the health of your tenants, the medical conditions and disabilities of many who are receiving disability subsidies, and make reasonable accommodations to safeguard them from further aggravation and threats to their health.
SHS is considered of sufficient harm that the provincial government has banned smoking in all public, workplaces, and hospitals to protect non-smokers in the public sphere. Why is the same knowledge and protection not being extended to people housed in provincially-funded dwellings, many who have health matters as certified by Persons With Disabilities designation?
Given that we believe that sensitivity to SHS is a disability pursuant to the Human Rights Code, we think you as the landlords have a responsibility to accommodate our conditions, short of undue hardship.
We therefore present the following remedies for consideration:
- Conduct an immediate independent survey mapping out the smokers, and mapping out the structural aspects of problem such as the design of the building and courtyard, taking into consideration the wind dynamics coming in from proximity to the ocean and park. Comments have been made that the older building, building one might have to be designated smoke free.
- Designate a specific wing or section of the building as smoke-free and proceed immediately to move people within the building so that non-smokers will no longer be exposed to second-hand smoke.
- Designate current vacant suites as non-smoking by amending current lease, or developing a new lease stipulating no smoking by tenants, guests, service personnel on given areas of the property.
- Once a section has been designated as smoke-free, ensure that there is a reasonable time specified for the implementation date – this cannot be delayed for months or a year given the threat to people’s health.
- Organize community meetings to discuss the issue, discuss how the issue will be resolved and reassure both smokers and non-smokers that they do not have to fear being evicted.
- Offer support to tenants that would like to quit including free nicotine replacement therapy.
Please let us know in writing how you plan to address this issue. We would appreciate a response for a resolution to this escalating problem within 10 working days, by May 2, 2008. A response before would be greatly appreciated and alleviating.
Absent this, we will be pursuing our group human rights complaint.
Seven people contributed to the preparation of this document.