Restricting or Banning Smoking in Strata
Smoking in strata buildings is a hot topic as Queensland grapples with a proposal to change their strata laws to allow smoking to be prohibited in strata buildings. There are many buildings that have introduced by-laws banning smoking. But most strata buildings still do not have a by-law concerning smoking. So, is it possible to stop people smoking in a strata building without a by-law that bans smoking? And if it is possible to stop smoking without a by-law, is it still necessary or desirable to have a by-law that bans or restricts smoking and, if so, why?
Banning Smoking without a By-Law
Somewhat surprisingly, it is possible to stop residents of a strata building smoking in their lots or on common property without a specific by-law that prohibits smoking. Section 153 of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 prohibits residents from using or enjoying their lots in a manner or for a purpose that causes a nuisance or hazard to another resident. There are now three cases in which NCAT has made orders prohibiting residents in strata buildings from smoking on the basis that smoke caused by smoking constituted a nuisance to other residents in contravention of section 153.
In May 2019, a lot owner, Martin Gisks, succeeded in obtaining an order from NCAT prohibiting the resident of another lot in his building smoking on her balcony or in her bedrooms and requiring that resident to close all exterior doors and bedroom and bathroom windows when smoking inside her lot (Gisks v The Owners – Strata Plan No. 6743  NSWCATCD 44).
In October 2022, lot owners in a different building, Mr Pittman and Ms Cartwright, obtained orders from NCAT prohibiting the owners of another lot smoking or permitting any other person to smoke tobacco products on the balcony of their lot, and prohibiting them from permitting smoke from any tobacco product to be emitted from the interior of their lot into the lot of Mr Pittman and Ms Cartwright (Pittman v Newport  NSWCATCD 173).
More recently, in June 2023, an owner in a strata building, Haydn Shaw, obtained an NCAT order prohibiting the owner and resident of another lot permitting the smoking of tobacco products in the courtyard of their lot (Shaw v Euen  NSWCATCD 68).
In each case, NCAT concluded that the smoke caused by the smoking of cigarettes or tobacco products by residents constituted a nuisance which interfered with the amenity of other residents in contravention of section 153 of the Act. It was on that basis that NCAT made orders prohibiting or restricting smoking in each of these cases.
Is a By-Law Banning Smoking Desirable?
These NCAT cases beg the obvious question: does an owners corporation need to bother introducing a by-law prohibiting or restricting smoking? The answer is “Yes” if the owners corporation wants to make it easier to ban or restrict smoking in its building.
This is because without a by-law that bans or restricts smoking:
- the owners corporation may not have standing to apply to NCAT for orders to prohibit residents smoking in a way that causes a nuisance to other residents because the owners corporation itself has not suffered from that nuisance (The Owners – Strata Plan No. 2245 v Veney  NSWSC 134); and
- there is a need to prove that not only particular residents are smoking but also that the smoke from cigarettes or tobacco products has caused a nuisance to other residents by unreasonably and substantially interfering with the use and enjoyment of their lots (something which may be difficult to do).
In other words, if a by-law exists that bans smoking the owners corporation is able to enforce that by-law and to succeed it does not need to show that smoke from cigarettes constitutes a nuisance to other residents. The owners corporation just needs to prove that particular residents are smoking in breach of the by-law. That is much easier to do.
It is possible to stop residents smoking without a by-law that bans smoking. However, it is much more difficult to do so because it requires proof that the smoking causes a nuisance to other residents. And there is real doubt that an owners corporation can apply to NCAT for an order to stop residents smoking in those circumstances. Introducing a by-law prohibiting or restricting smoking overcomes those problems, gives the owners corporation the right to take steps through NCAT to prevent residents smoking and makes it easier for the owners corporation to win the case and put an end to smoking in its building.
Adrian Mueller I BCOM LLB FACCAL I Partner
JS Mueller & Co Lawyers