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October 18, 2017 - 1:10pm

Some residents at 400 Towers slow to comply with new no-smoking policy

posted by Howard B. Owens in 400 Towers, batavia, news, notify.

400towerssmoking2017.jpg

A group of non-smoking residents at 400 Towers are demanding stronger enforcement of a no-smoking policy that was instituted in April and they've prepared a petition for the Housing Authority asking for sterner measures against rule violators.

Nathan Varland, executive director of the Housing Authority, said the agency is doing everything it can to enforce the ban on smoking in apartments, in the building and anywhere within 25 feet of the building.

"I'm also frustrated," Varland said. "We put a policy in place in order to help us go in a healthier direction and it's something I feel strongly about and something I want to move forward on."

Varland has been the director since 2015 and he said work on the policy began under the previous housing director. It took a long time to implement because the authority wanted to make sure it was rolled out to residents in a way that gave them time to adjust their living arrangments if necessary.

There was a 60-day notice prior to the policy becoming official. That gave residents who wanted to continue smoking in their apartments time to move and while some people did move during that 60-day period, Varland couldn't say whether they left 400 Towers specifically because of the new policy.

There have been five residents who quit smoking as a result of the new policy, however, Varland said.

According to the non-smoking residents, many who gathered in a meeting Friday night led by resident Beverly Morgan, most of the residents who smoke are complying with the rules, but there are about 20 residents who continue to either smoke in their rooms, in hallways and stairwells or in the front of the building.

"There's no place you can go outside and not smell smoke," Morgan said.

Residents expressed concerns about the dangers of secondhand smoke, especially for vulnerable people, such as seniors and those with related medical issues. It's not just an issue with smelling smoke, they said, but a real health concern.

Under the new policy, smokers who violate the rules get three chances to comply. First, there is a written warning, then a fine, and then eviction.

"I know for a fact there are some people who should have been evicted already," said one resident at Friday's meeting.

That isn't accurate, Varland said. There are a few residents who are on the cusp of a third violation, but they haven't crossed the line yet.

"There are certainly not people who have three strikes right now," Varland said. "We go by our own policies as much as we try to enforce our policies fairly. If we have evidence we move ahead with eviction."

Getting evidence can be difficult, however. During non-office hours, the only people around to file complaints about smokers are other residents. There is a group of volunteers who are empowered to patrol the building and grounds and turn in complaints, but those complaints must still be substantiated in order for the housing authority to take action.

While the Batavia Housing Authority developed its own policy, during the period of implementation, the Housing and Urban Development Department issued its own policy banning smoking at HUD-funded facilities.

"A few tenants have been slower to realize that it's time to change their habits or move," Varland said. "That's up to them. We can only enforce our policy the way it is intended and we're going to enforce it."

The authority also recently received a grant from the Greater Rochester Health Foundation to build amenities, outdoor spaces, for non-smokers and those projects should be completed by late spring or early summer, Varland said.

Cigarettes aren't the only smoking issue Varland is dealing with. Residents said, and Varland confirmed, there is also some marijuana use at 400 Towers. 

Varland said the housing authority is bound by federal law to treat smoking marijuana like any other illicit drug use. It's a crime and Batavia PD has been cooperative in trying to investigate these crimes, he said.

"We are forced to take it very, very seriously," Varland said.

Christopher Putnam
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When your on deaths doorstep, you will not appreciate others telling you what to do in your own private space. with your last few years either.
Become Rastafarian religion, then smoking is part of your religion and your being religiously persecuted.
Job done.

Scott Chismar
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I feel for Beverly Morgan and the rest of the nonsmokers who are forced to put up with folks who are rude and just think the rules do not apply to them. Executive Director Varland is either misinformed or untruthful. People who smoke, do just that. To think a few folks sneak a smoke once in a while is silly. As Executive Director, he needs to make sure the policy of no smoking is fully enforced. To not enforce the rules, only empowers the scofflaws. And what about the people who took the difficult and courageous step to stop smoking to stay in their units? How fair is it for them to have changed their lifestyle with a threat of eviction, while those across the hall have no intentions of following the law.

david spaulding
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this is almost comical... will someone tell me what happens to a person who gets evicted for smoking? I believe a court would have to rule on an eviction. so just for the heck of it, a judge signs the paperwork to evict a smoker. sheriff shows up and if necessary uses physical force to evict smoking tenet. now what? the smoker has nothing, the rent, their food and medical bills are all paid for by the government. so does the smoker grab a seat on a bench in front of their former residence and wait to die? Scott, you got any ideas of what to do with these " scofflaws " ? clue me in somebody.

John Roach
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David, they move. They find someplace that will allow them to smoke.

Scott Chismar
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Well said John. If they can't follow the rules they need to go.

david spaulding
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John, they don't move... they have nothing but cigarettes.... how does a person who is dependent on the government move ? do they call a government moving company and tell them I need to move because I am a smoker ? John I don't think you understand my question ? any one else?

Dave Olsen
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You're right David, we pay to shuffle them around. We also pay for the judge and the sheriff too. It's a classic catch 22, no win. Except for bureaucracy, bureaucracy wins.

John Roach
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David, they are not all on welfare. And if they are on welfare, there are people who will rent to smokers. When you take Federal money, you take their rules.

Tim Miller
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Given that some smokers lived there prior to the rule change, it would be nice if the facility could set up a smoking area outside of that 25ft limitation. Make it covered and put in some seating area with tables. That way, those who are stuck there for financial or other reasons and who smoke can still do so, while the other residents can avoid walking through a disgusting cloud of smoke just to get into the building.

Dave Olsen
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That makes too much sense, Tim. You've obviously been away form Batavia a long time

Howard B. Owens
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Tim, Dave, take a close look at the photo at the top of the story.

Tim Miller
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Saw that, but thought that was a bus stop!

Thanks for pointing that out, Howard.

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