Saskatoon mom wants smokers to think of neighbours before lighting up inside multi-housing

Tara Gorecki has been living in her rented townhouse for more than a decade — and has dealt with second-hand smoke wafting into her space for just as long, documenting the problem and sending complaints to the Saskatoon Housing Authority.

“My first letter was written in 2007,” she said. “Both my kids were pretty small and they were already having breathing problems … and when I brought it up I was told it was their right to smoke in their home.”

Things have changed since then.

In August, the housing authority issued letters to its tenants across the city to notify them that due to a change in legislation, smoking indoors would no longer be permitted in government-owned housing and smokers would now have to light up at a designated space outside.

Gorecki thought this would end her worries and give her asthmatic son some relief, but the designated space is located in the centre of the complex — roughly half a block from her unit. The new legislation didn’t change anything.

General manager Ray Neale said the Saskatoon Housing Authority takes complaints like Gorecki’s seriously, especially when a health concern is involved, which he says generally makes the process move a bit faster. Smoking complaints are treated the same as any other complaint, he said.

“If we get a call we will talk to the tenant they are complaining about and make sure they are aware of our policy. Then we will pull out the written warning letters.”

If no change results from the letters and the problem has been properly documented by the complainant, the situation could end up before the Office of the Rentalsman, and possibly lead to eviction.

“We take action, but it’s a progressive action,” Neale said. “They have to be given a chance to correct their behaviour.”

Neighbours have come and gone over the years, but the problem remained a constant for Gorecki. She said she previously had a good relationship with her current neighbours, but since she broached the topic of second-hand smoke with them, things have become slightly more tense.

Her neighbours got their first warning letter recently, and since then things have improved a bit, but she can tell they are still lighting up, she said.

“Before the warning letter was sent out, you could smell it every day, probably every couple hours … It’s lessened but I still smell it off and on. So I feel like they are probably trying but they’re not going outside,” she said.

“When we were smelling it in the laundry room (the kids) would come upstairs and literally be gagging — me too, I feel nauseous as soon as I start breathing it in — but my kids can’t go downstairs anymore.”

Her son refuses to sleep in his own room after a humidifier — which helps ease his asthma and nosebleeds — began drawing nicotine out of the walls, Gorecki said. She has cleaned and bleached the walls and ceiling multiple times, but the telltale yellow splotches are still visible and regularly drip from the ceiling onto the floor and bed, she added.

She has approached the housing authority about the possibility of moving into a detached home, but nothing large enough has been available to accommodate herself, her two children and her elderly father.

Gorecki said she appreciates the steps taken by the housing authority and her neighbours — who she believes are trying to mask the odour or have taken to smoking next to an open window — but she hopes her story will make smokers living in shared complexes think twice about lighting up indoors.

“It’s frightening to think of what it has done to my children’s health,” she said. “It’s not just a nuisance, it’s a health concern.”

Nicotine stains on the roof in Tara Gorecki’s house, which she blames on second-hand smoke from her neighbours in Saskatoon, Jan. 9, 2019. (Saskatoon StarPhoenix/Matt Smith)


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