Real Estate: Non-smoking home owners in Vancouver still plagued by puffing neighbours
BY DEB ABBEY, VANCOUVER COURIER
JULY 14, 2011
No one is asking the City of Vancouver to ban smoking in private residences—yet. But with only nine per cent of condo owners self-identified as smokers, a little encouragement for the development community would be welcome.
That’s right, nine per cent! According to Sharon Hammond, the Manager of the Smoke-Free Housing Initiative for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, "91 per cent of Vancouver condo owners do not smoke and the majority favour non-smoking buildings."
Nearly everyone agrees everyone should quit smoking. A laudable goal but what happens when 91 per cent of the people have quit and 9 per cent still make living in some condo developments a nightmare for owners and tenants.
We know that second-hand smoke exposure causes disease and premature death. The Office of the Surgeon General in the United States reports that second-hand smoke increases the risk of developing heart disease and lung cancer by 20 to 30 per cent. Children and babies, with their tiny developing bodies are particularly vulnerable to exposure from second hand smoke. It has been linked to increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma attacks and more.
The Surgeon General concludes that there is no safe level of second-hand smoke. Solutions such as separating smokers from non-smokers in buildings, cleaning the air and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate second-hand smoke exposure for non-smokers.
It’s an enormous health issue, but like exercise, living in a smoke-free environment is also a life-style issue. One that has a profound impact on the liveability of our city. We’ve got smoke-free workplaces and smoke-free parks. Without smoke-free housing initiatives, is Vancouver really on its way to becoming one of the world’s most sustainable cities?
I recently talked to Dr. Stuart Kreisman, an endocrinologist at St. Paul’s Hospital, about the issue. Until recently, Kreisman and his wife lived in an upscale rental in the West End. They had a beautiful balcony and a fabulous view. And they had a problem with second-hand smoke.
"It’s always been an issue since I moved to Vancouver," Kreisman said. "Mostly on the balcony. We couldn’t open the windows. If there was smoke coming in we’d wait half an hour and try again." Like most apartments in Vancouver, theirs wasn’t air-conditioned.
"And then last summer we started smelling smoke inside our apartment," Kreisman said. "And that’s when it went from an aggravating nuisance to something totally unacceptable and intolerable." The frustration didn’t go away when they decided to buy their own home.
"Owning a house is not a solution for us. We like living downtown," Kreisman said. "We’ve researched this. We’re willing to pay considerably more for a non-smoking building but there’s nothing available in Vancouver that’s smoke-free, at any price."
There are only two smoke-free condominium developments in Greater Vancouver. Envy in North Vancouver and Verdant in Burnaby.
Kreisman came up with a strategy. In his words:
1) We looked for a newer building that lessens but doesn’t eliminate the problem.
2) We looked for an apartment with air conditioning so that we were never forced to open our windows if second-hand smoke should ever became an issue.
3) We decided to give up the spectacular view we currently had for a bottom floor apartment so that there wasn’t a source of smoke from below us.
4) We wrote the offer on our apartment subject to our neighbours being non-smokers.
From a real estate agent’s perspective, writing an offer "subject to the neighbours being non-smoker"’ was unorthodox, but it worked. Kreisman and his realtor managed to contact all of the neighbours in order to have the subject removed in a timely manner.
Dr. Kreisman and his wife have minimized the risk of second-hand smoke encounters, but they know that there are no guarantees. In a letter to Mayor Gregor Robertson and city councillors he suggested that the city take a role by requiring that all "future-built" condo developments be non-smoking, thus leaving smokers the majority of "already-built" buildings to choose from.
"Only 13 per cent of people in Vancouver smoke and a strong majority would prefer to live in a totally smoke-free building so why should 100 per cent of the buildings allow smoking. So far, I haven’t seen the political will to do anything," Kreisman said.
When I contacted the city and asked what it’s doing to encourage developers to offer smoke-free housing, I was told that this issue isn’t on the radar at the city at all. It seems that it’s an issue for the health authority rather than a sustainable housing issue. Vision Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs said, "if the marketplace wanted smoke-free buildings it would make sense for developers to offer them, but I'm not sure they are."
I agree. It does make sense for developers to offer non-smoking condominium developments. How often do you find people willing to pay more for your product in a market niche that comprises 91 per cent of your target market?
If the market won’t provide smoke-free options, there are other options for condo owners. Stay tuned next week. If you can’t wait for your neighbours to butt out, visit www.smokefreehousingbc.ca.
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