Chris Farnell thought he had won his battle against second-hand smoke entering his Dartmouth apartment but relief seems to be stalled as he awaits a Department of Environment definition.
Farnell’s second-floor, two-level apartment on Killkee Gate features a shared front access walkway. When people smoke in the access-way near his front door, the smoke enters his home.
Farnell, who suffers from asthma, is also concerned about the effect of second-hand smoke on his two young sons who stay with him every second weekend.
In March, he told The Chronicle Herald he has fought for clean air for two years. At the time, the property manager declined to comment, although Farnell provided copies of an email exchange that indicated smoking was allowed when tenants moved in and so it would be difficult to prohibit it after the fact.
He took his fight to the province, arguing the Smoke-free Places Act should be invoked as the access-way has a floor, ceiling, and full wall on one side and therefore should be considered an “enclosed space,” as set out in the Canadian national building standards, and therefore a smoking-prohibited area.
Farnell said after his story appeared in the Chronicle Herald in March, he heard from the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang, who told him via email essentially that he had won and the department’s definition of an enclosed space just needed to be updated to reflect the change that could then come into effect. The environment department is responsible for enforcing the act.
“(Dr. Strang)’s trying to get it pushed through but I think he’s even come to some kind of an impasse where he can’t get anything else going on,” Farnell said in telephone interview this week. “He keeps telling me ... it’s with the Department of Environment. For them to change — or to define what’s an enclosed space — they’re dragging their feet.”
Farnell credited area MLA Susan Leblanc as well as Dr. Strang for going to bat for him.
“The MLA is checking in, Dr. Strang is checking in but they don’t seem to have any answers for me.”
Farnell said he’s not getting any information from the department.
Dr. Strang declined to comment on the situation on Friday, deferring to the Department of Environment.
Spokeswoman Adele Poirier emailed a statement on behalf of the department late Friday.
“We’re looking at how we might provide more clarity on how the Smoke-free Places Act applies in this situation,” the email said. “While we work on this, an option available to the tenant right now is to bring the matter to the Residential Tenancies Program.”
Farnell said a Residential Tenancies Board representative told him in a phone conversation that the situation should be handled through the Smoke-free Places Act.
“It seems to have come to a standstill,” Farnell said, adding that he doesn’t see his immediate neighbours smoking as much now, but there’s still a lot going on in the area, especially when people are visiting other units.
“So I’ve just basically been in another big circle, even though back in March I was told that I was successful in lobbying for the change and now it’s June and I’ve still got a neighbour downstairs who smokes directly under the open area and it just all floats up there.”
The property manager offered to show him an available first-floor corner unit but the rent is $100 more than he pays now, a cost Farnell said he can’t afford. He will have to tighten his belt as it is, he said, as the rent on his own unit is going up another $30 a month to $970.
He doesn’t have a problem with neighbours smoking in their own apartments, on their decks in the back of the building or in their backyards if they’re on the first floor. All are their own property and they have the right to do so, he said.
Farnell said it seems no one wants to make the final decision.
“I did really well with lobbying for this and apparently they told me that it was great and I made a change but then all of a sudden the wheels seem to have just stopped. Like it’s done. Like there’s no more happening.”