Family says smoking tenant forcing them to move

As one commenter already said about this story on the CBC  (see here), they saw little reason why it was made public in the first place.  It might have been reported that they were moving if it wasn’t cigarette smoke but rather some fiercely smelling food preparation, or cat urine, or loud music.  But it made the news, so it is fair game.

So what is wrong about this story?

1. The headline: The family made the choice to leave; they were not forced out. The smoker did not move in with the intention of “smoking out” the tenants above.

2. The claim is that the children were allergic to cigarette smoke; that this was an issue of health.  I’m not 100% certain of this but from what I understand cigarette smoke is more of an irritant than an allergen.  People like to say they are allergic to things when they just don’t like them.   Now it is quite possible that they were disgusted and I appreciate as someone who hates the smell of stale smoke that the apartment might have been truly unbearable (due to the smoker below) but it is unlikely that it was really a health issue.

3. If the story is as reported, the real villain here is neither of the tenants but the landlord.  Unless the building is in transition from smoking to nonsmoking, there is little reason why a nonsmoking lease would sit atop a smoking lease.  Bad planning and a lack of empathy for clients who hate smoke.

4. I appreciate that perhaps the only response to intolerable conditions was to move (have not many of us moved because we do not like our neighbors or the noise of the street or living under a plane route or simply because of the way the house smells)?  But should it be considered in terms of “there ought to be a law?”  I hope not.

Living in groups demands some give and take, and also good planning.  And if we need to move because we cannot stand something should be seen for what it is; our own desire for a better life and not an assault by people who are just behaving they way they always have.

-PLB

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Comments

  • Courtney E. Heffernan  On October 8, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    Hello –

    I agree with your conclusion, that “if we need to move because we cannot stand something that should be seen for what it is”, and of course, “what it is” is some kind of change. People don’t make the decision to move lightly because, of course, it is a huge pain. Particularly when children are involved.

    I agree also, that this story isn’t exactly “news” but news has definitely changed from being reports about items that are actually newsworthy to general interest stories and anecdotes. Kind of irritating, but if you’re in the business of making the news and charged with the task of keeping things up to date 24/7 sometimes those general interest stories creep in to fill empty space during a slow news day. Issues regarding tobacco are also timeless, it seems. Incessantly topical.

    I’m going to go out on a limb to disagree with your criticism under the heading “#2”. Tobacco smoke is not an allergen, but as an air-borne irritant it can exacerbate underlying health problems like allergies and asthma. These effects can be troubling, I’m sure, to parents with children who suffer from allergies, asthma or other respiratory illnesses, but as you rightly pointed out, the new tenant most likely wasn’t trying to intentionally “smoke them out”.

    I am also going to disagree with “#3”. Most landlords try to screen tenants, and make lease agreements that are generally well-suited to the types of properties they are renting out, but a lot of these rules are not enforced when the landlord leaves. Landlords maintain properties, and not people’s behaviours. It cannot be up to the landlord to dictate what people can and cannot do in their homes, and most prefer to have a laissez-faire attitude towards the living arrangements, so long as they are not causing obvious damage. Allowing a smoker hardly makes this person a villain. Moreover, the landlord is just looking to cover or recoup costs. They can’t be faulted for that. On that note, I don’t think there are grounds for turning this unfortunate and unfortunately banal story into the foundation for a law, but crazier things have happened.

    -CH

  • PLB  On October 9, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    Re #2: yes, I did read about how it could exacerbate preexisting conditions, which I would sympathize with, but it was presented as an allergy. I did run across some research that interestingly enough seemed to find that earlier exposure to 2nd hand smoke was actually protective in regards to developing later allergies. (But we would not really want to support active exposure on that basis I think).

    Re#3: landlords I like tend to be laisseq-faire as you say, and that could have been the case. There certainly is not enough information to know what was really going on on the landlord-tenant side of things. You do bring up the interesting point of landlords not dictating what people can or cannot do in their homes (I guess until it is time for getting your damage deposit back), and I would not want them to have that power. Ultimately I think this needs to resolve in person to person negotiation with the possibility of someone moving rather than instituting some law that could complicate the majority of situations.

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