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Housing companies now free to ban smoking on balconies

New legislation will make it possible for housing companies to ban smoking on balconies in 2017, if enough of the residents of the building agree to the plan. Enforcing a ban will be complicated, however, and property management representatives predict that it will also would be very difficult to monitor.

Nainen polttaa tupakkaa parvekkeella.
Image: Yle

After considerable public demand, a change to Finnish law will take effect at the beginning of 2017 that will make it easier to prohibit smoking on apartment building balconies.

Housing companies – a Finnish mode of property management, whereby the owners of the flats in a building are the shareholders of a limited liability company – can now apply to the municipal authorities to impose a ban on smoking in the building’s balconies, yards and even indoor premises.

Representatives of the local government association Kuntaliitto and the property management association Isännöintiliitto predict that many apartment blocks will rush to apply for a ban.

A daily irritant

“Smoking on balconies is probably one of the most controversial topics. It is a daily irritant for many residents and housing company shareholders,” says Isännöintiliitto’s legal advisor Tommi Leppänen.

Leppänen forecasts that thousands of applications will be submitted throughout the country.

“We have had the impression that there has been a lot of pressure to enact the bans; many interested parties desire it,” he says.

Kuntaliitto specialist Tarja Hartikainen likewise predicts that most of the applications will originate from housing in the capital city region and larger cities. 

Until the 2017 legal reform, it was only possible to apply for a ban on tobacco smoking in a shared residential building if a health risk could be established. Decisions of this nature were very difficult to execute.

“It was very difficult to demonstrate a specific health hazard,” Hartikainen says.

All residents need to be on board

Even though the ban will now be easier to achieve, it will still require the support of the entire housing company before it can proceed. Hartikainen says she thinks the process could have been more sensible.

“In my opinion, it would have been smarter to make it possible for housing companies to themselves decide to impose a ban on balcony smoking, but they wanted to create this regulatory process instead.”

She says that while violators of the smoking ban could be subject to penalty fees, in practice enforcement of the ban will be difficult.

“It will be very, very tricky to monitor. We can’t send people out systematically to keep their eyes on the balconies. There’ll be no regular supervision.”

Guidelines for ban application forthcoming

The property management association’s Leppänen also considers monitoring a challenge. He points out that personnel in charge of property upkeep cannot be expected to do the job.

“This is a regulatory ban that must be upheld by the municipal regulators.”

Isännöintiliitto and Kuntaliitto have joined with the real estate federation Kiinteistöliitto, the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health Valvira, and the City of Helsinki to draw up guidelines for housing companies applying for a smoking ban in their premises. The instructions are scheduled for release on January 16.

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