Smoke-free zone may extend to Aussie homes

Landlord fined over second-hand smoke in lawsuit 'a turning point'

Two men smoke cigarettes as they stand outside an office building in central Sydney.
Two men smoke cigarettes as they stand outside an office building in central Sydney.PHOTO: REUTERS

Last December, Ms Lynette Laming moved into a Sydney apartment with her teenage daughter. Soon after, she began to regret the move.

Ms Laming quickly discovered that the apartment, located in the upmarket suburb of Potts Point, was regularly inundated by "unbearable" second-hand smoke from a chain-smoking woman who lived on the floor below. 

She complained to her landlord, but he made little effort to try to stop the tenant from smoking, and made no attempt to take action against the building owners over a ventilation defect which made the problem worse. 

Eventually, Ms Laming moved out of the apartment and took legal action against the landlord, winning almost A$12,000 (S$12,400) in compensation - believed to be the first time a landlord in Sydney has been fined over second-hand smoke. 

The decision by the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal found the landlord failed to meet his obligation to provide a residence that was fit for habitation. 

"The (premises) were not fit because they were affected by the defect, which… allowed the residential premises to be seriously affected by smoke," the tribunal found.

Analysts said the decision marked a turning point in the war against smoking in Australia, with smoke-free zones increasingly extending beyond public spaces into private spaces. 

Only about 13 per cent of Australian adults smoke daily, down from 16 per cent in 2010 and 25 per cent in 1995. About 90 per cent of homeowners do not allow smoking inside their homes.

The New South Wales Cancer Council said the decision in Ms Laming's case would encourage apartment owners to adopt smoking bans. Smoking is already banned in all closed public places and many outdoor spaces in the state, including at swimming pools and sports grounds, at public transport stops and stations, and near children's parks.

Mr Scott Walsberger, from the council, wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald: "We regularly receive emotional calls from distressed parents living in an apartment block where they are forced to breathe their neighbour's toxic cigarette smoke.

"We protect people from smoke at bus stops and in restaurants.

It makes sense that people should be protected in their own home as well."

The regulation of smoking in residential buildings varies by state in Australia but all owner bodies have the power to pass laws to limit smoking. 

In the largest state of New South Wales, owners of apartments in a building can vote to ban smoking though only one per cent have

voted for a total ban. About five per cent of buildings have limits on smoking in common areas such as in stairwells or around swimming pools.

Developers and owner bodies have often been reluctant to impose smoking bans due to fears it could dampen demand and affect property values. But analysts believe this is set to change, particularly as some buyers may be drawn to smoke-free buildings.

In Western Australia, property developer Gary Dempsey built a new smoke-free 110-apartment complex  - the state's first non-smoking development - after losing several family members to lung cancer.

"We've definitely lost sales contracts over the rule, but at the same time, other people have told us they think it's fantastic," he told the Perth Now website last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2015, with the headline 'Smoke-free zone may extend to Aussie homes'. Print Edition | Subscribe