Ask Member Support: self-isolating tenants smoking in their units
I have a few tenants in my building who are currently self-isolating due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A couple of these folks are dependent on tobacco and/or cannabis. Our building is currently smoke-free. How can we accommodate those using tobacco or cannabis so they can do so safely without affecting others’ rights to a smoke-free environment?
This is a complicated issue that many housing providers are currently facing and it doesn’t have a single, simple answer.
It’s important to note that the Emergency Management and Civil Protections Act (EMCPA) does not permit housing providers or service managers to penalize in any way, tenants who don’t follow social distancing protocols nor does it give them the right to know whether a tenant has tested positive for COVID-19. As a housing provider, you can, and are encouraged to close non-essential common areas to tenants at this time, but you are not permitted to limit individuals’ access to certain common areas that are open. To do so would be a violation of the Human Rights Code.
What you can do
You can and should encourage behaviour that follows public health recommendations. You may also contact law enforcement when you witness violations of these recommendations.
Concerns around tenants who are self-isolating smoking tobacco and/or cannabis in a non-smoking building should be addressed on a case-by-case basis as there is currently no case law on this topic. We encourage you to consider the individual tenant’s needs and situation when coming up with a solution based on a risk analysis.
Things to consider:
Where is the usual smoking area? If tenants were not permitted to smoke in their units prior to the pandemic, where was the designated smoking area located? Does the tenant in question have to pass through a common area to access it or is there an alternate route they can take that will limit the possibility of interaction with others, their need to use an elevator, or the number of doors they need to touch before they can reach the smoking area?
How many smokers are in the designated smoking area at a given time? If the smoking area is typically quite busy, the resident may prefer to smoke in their unit to avoid contact with others.
How can you improve the smoking area to prevent the possible spread of the virus? There are some actions you can take to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in the designated smoking area. This includes removing outdoor furniture, marking spots on the ground where residents should stand to facilitate proper physical distancing (i.e.: 2 metres apart), installing hand sanitizer dispensers, suggesting a capacity limit, and encouraging residents to wear masks on their way to and from the smoking area.
Why is the building or the unit smoke free? Does the building or do neighbouring units have a number of residents with underlying health concerns? Some units are designated smoke-free because of health concerns of residents in neighbouring units. This should be taken into account when determining whether to permit a self-isolating resident to smoke in their unit. As a housing provider, you must balance the needs of residents to find the safest approach for all who might be affected.
Enforcing a non-smoking policy is complicated at the best of times. Balancing the needs of tenants who cannot be exposed to smoke and the needs of tenants who are self-isolating to smoke without endangering the health of others is a nuanced situation that will require a detailed risk analysis.
Are you facing a similar issue? Do you need information on how to accommodate tenants who are self-isolating? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re always happy to hear from you!
Do you have questions about how COVID-19 can impact your operations? Chances are, others have similar questions. Visit our COVID FAQ page help you find solutions for common issues facing housing providers during the pandemic. Stay tuned to onpha.on.ca/covid19 for the latest updates.