Legalization of cannabis has created an issue for the managers of apartment buildings as residents anticipate pungent, skunky smells wafting in from their neighbours’ patios.
On Wednesday evening, the same date that cannabis was legalized in Canada, the Stonegate apartment building on 224th Street in Maple Ridge changed its bylaws to prohibit smoking, vaping or smoking pot on any common area of the property, or on any patio in the 108-unit complex.
It is legal in B.C. for strata corporations to adopt a bylaw that limits smoking to certain areas or that bans smoking completely, but this must be done by a 75 per cent vote of the members at the annual general meeting.
Stonegate also banned cultivation of marijuana.
Leslie Haycock is a senior strata manager with Quay Pacific Property Management. She oversees Stonegate, and neighbouring Urbano, but would not speak specifically about any building or council, only generally about her approach to the problem of pot smoke.
Haycock, is also an instructor in strata management at Langara College and vice-president of the professional association of managing agents. She predicts the coming year will bring clouds of complaints from strata residents who want smoking bylaws.
“I think what’s happening is that unknown. People don’t know how they will be affected. Is everyone going to be out smoking marijuana, and that skunk smell drifting into their units?”
She generally recommends strata councils to pass bylaws with some smoking prohibitions, and also cultivation. How restrictive those laws are depends on the demographics of the buildings, she said.
Although federal law allows individuals to grow up to three plants, stratas can ban them from their buildings, she said.
“They do that to protect the asset of the building,” she said, because growing marijuana can bring moisture and smells.
When a strata receives a complaint about a nuisance smell, it has a duty to investigate and mitigate the problem, she said.
Having good bylaws is their best tool, she added.
“The majority of people don’t smoke these days, and their rights have to be protected. Smokers have to be aware they have a responsibility to mitigate the nuisance.”
According to the Clean Air Coalition of B.C., about 11 per cent of the population smokes. That agency did a survey and reported seven in 10 respondents support making all new B.C. condos non-smoking by default, including all suites and balconies.
Haycock said stratas must ban all types of smoking. For example, they are not allowed to ban marijuana on balconies, but allow cigarettes, she said.
Bylaws typically also ban vaping, despite the fact the resulting vapour can be a less offensive smell, and typically does not carry like smoke. Haycock said if it is not creating a problem, then councils will not likely take action.
“Council is not going to run around and try to find out who is smoking and who is vaping if there is no complaint,” she said.
Rita Brown is an owner of Fraser Property Management, which manages Falcon House on 224th Street and other properties in Maple Ridge. She said there have been complaints of people smoking marijuana even before legalization, and her company’s response is generally to send the subject of the complaints a letter, asking them to cease and desist.
Generally, she said it is not difficult for strata councils to get 75 per cent of their property owners to vote for smoking limitations.
“A lot of people are on board with limiting smoking in all forms, and even smokers are pretty conscious of their neighbours,” she said. “It’s awareness, and getting people to be considerate.”
She noted that taking smokers off their balconies could simply drive them indoors to smoke marijuana or cigarettes. Most buildings are not airtight inside, so the smells could still bother their neighbours, and the strata could still be investigating complaints.
Brown said stratas are going to find their response to complaints complicated by marijuana users who smoke for medicinal purposes.
Marijuana smoke is not only a problem for strata properties. Brown lives in a single family residence, and said there is a cannabis user who pollutes the air in the neighbourhood.
“It’s like three skunks got angry and sprayed all over the place,” she said.
She expects the courts to be dealing with these nuisance complaints in the near future.
And, she said, people who grew up in single-family dwellings have to learn how to get along with their near neighbours in multi-family housing, which is becoming increasingly popular as housing prices rise.
“You have to live and let live a little bit.”
Dave Clark is the president of the strata council at the new Edge 2 apartment building, and said marijuana smoke has been a discussion.
“We just published our rules two weeks ago, and that was a big part of it,” he said.
There is no smoking in common areas, but smoking – including pot smoking – is currently allowed inside the units and on balconies.
“We’ve had a few complaints already, but we are powerless according to bylaws to do anything about it,” said Clark. “Our approach is we write to the person that was being complained about, a polite letter pointing out they are disturbing the peace of somebody else, and to just please be more thoughtful about their use of pot.”
He said there is potential for a tougher bylaw to be brought forward at Edge 2’s annual general meeting, but believes it may be difficult to get the necessary number of votes.
A word of advice from Haycock – don’t smoke pot in your apartment bathroom with the fan on. The fans are all connected, and your smoke will end up in someone else’s bathroom. It’s actually one of the worst ways to create a nuisance.
Where strata corporations do not have a non-smoking bylaw, residents bothered by smoke can still seek remedy.
“If an individual is bothered by smoke in a strata complex, both the strata corporation and the individual in the complex can apply to court for injunctive relief that the individual who is causing the problem cease doing so,” notes Smoke-Free Housing B.C.