Unit blocks to get smoking zones

As new laws crack down on smoke drift in apartment blocks, NSW allows smoking zones on common property, writes 
Jimmy Thomson

Sydney’s unit blocks may soon get a feature they will share with pubs’ pokie parlours, as well as some overseas international airports. Apartment owners will soon be able to set up smoking zones on common property.

The proposed zones are a sop to smokers who might otherwise be banned in a crackdown on smoke drift into neighbours’ apartments. However, reports earlier this year that smoke from barbecues would also be banned have been dismissed as a joke.

Until now, smoking on common property – and that includes outside areas around unit blocks and in car parks – has been a no-no under most strata schemes’ by-laws, while smoking at the doorway of apartment blocks is against health regulations in NSW.

However, in declaring fumes from smoking tobacco “and other substances” a nuisance – i.e. something that might do people harm – the new strata laws that come in next week make it easier for residents to pursue complaints against neighbours whose tobacco smoke drifts into their homes.

This has prompted the government to create what they are calling a “safety valve” for unit blocks, especially those where smokers can’t easily avoid affecting their neighbours, for instance by smoking on balconies near to neighbours windows.

The model by-laws, available to new strata schemes, contain an option to either ban smoking on common property completely or allow it in a designated smoking zone.  The smoking zone would have to be set up so that smoke did not drift into homes or on to nearby common property.

Existing strata schemes could adopt a similar by-law when they undertake the compulsory reviews of their in-house rules that have to be completed within a year.

The idea, a government spokesman told Domain, is to allow owners to crack down on smoking without having to ban it from buildings altogether.

“This option is designed to give OCs the ability to restrict where people can smoke to a designated area of common property,” said Innovation and Better Regulation Minister Victor Dominello, the driving force behind the imminent strata law changes.

The creation of smoking zones has generated a mixed response from the health community.

“Cancer Council NSW welcomes the new model by-laws for strata schemes,” Scott Walsberger, Lead Prevention and Tobacco Control Manager at Cancer Council NSW, told Domain.

“It’s good news for all tenants that smoking has, for the first time, been included in the new legislation as a potential nuisance or hazard. Secondhand smoke is harmful to health, and NSW tenants have the right to breathe clean air within their home.

“These model by-laws are a good step forward towards protecting owners and tenants from smoke penetration and exposure to secondhand smoke. However, the best and most effective way of protecting owners and tenants from exposure to secondhand smoke is a complete ban on smoking within strata schemes.”

“In theory, there’s merit in creating a smoking zone on common property,” says Karen Stiles, Executive Officer of the Owners Corporation Network, the peak body for strata residents. “But it will be up to each owners corporation to identify a suitable area that’s inoffensive to non-smoking residents.  If there is one.”

Despite their qualified support for the new laws the NSW Cancer Council has reiterated its position that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke.

“We recommend the adoption of a complete ban on smoking within strata schemes, including in individual lots,” Mr Walsberger said. “Cancer Council NSW has developed the Achieving smoke-free apartment living information kit for concerned tenants and owners who would like to advocate for a smoke-free by-law, particularly a 100 per cent smoke-free by-law.

“The kit includes example wording for a by-law to completely ban smoking in the strata scheme. It’s available online at www.cancercouncil.com.au/smokefree.”

Meanwhile a Fair Trading insider has scoffed at some media reports earlier this year that the new anti-smoking regulations would see the end of balcony barbecues.

“We all had a good laugh at that,” he told Domain. “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

Jimmy Thomson writes the Flat Chat column every weekend in Domain and edits the strata living advice column flat-chat.com.au.

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