Tenants have a right to live in a rental unit in peaceful enjoyment, but when cooking smells from the neighbors seem to infringe upon that enjoyment, what are landlords required to do about the complaints?

Are Cooking Smells a Nuisance?

Cooking smells can be pungent and powerful, especially when strong spices are used, such as curry, ginger, cayenne or cumin. Other strong cooking odors include onions, fish paste, cabbage and fats when rendering. The odor of burning food can also permeate a small space. The difficulty for landlords lies in determining whether a strong or unpleasant cooking odor is enough to be considered a nuisance for other tenants.
A nuisance is an action or event that interferes with a tenant’s ability to quiet enjoyment of the rental. Tenants cannot be restricted in what they can cook and eat in the privacy of their own home and you can’t ban tenants from making certain foods.
On the other hand, residents don’t have the automatic right to allow strong cooking odors to intrude on other apartments. Think of it as similar to other strong odors like cigarette smoke, incense, perfume or garbage. Cooking odors can be a nuisance, in the same way as noise and conduct—that it is part of a broadly defined activity that interferes with another’s quiet enjoyment of a property.
Ultimately, landlords cannot take action against a tenant based on cooking odors unless they are so invasive or irritating that the effect on other tenants is significant.

How to handle nuisance smells from neighbors and tenants

Evaluating the seriousness of cooking odors is the landlord’s job. Deal with any cooking odor complaints as you would with any other odor and make the determination as to whether it qualifies as a nuisance to other tenants, or if the incidents do not really infringe upon the other tenant’s quiet enjoyment.
You can follow these 5 steps to help determine whether a tenant’s cooking odors could be considered a nuisance or not:

  1. Are the cooking odors strong during preparation but then fade afterwards?
  2. Are the cooking odors emitted daily? Weekly? Infreqently?
  3. Can you smell the cooking odors in the common areas, such as the hallways?
  4. Have you had more than one complaint from more than one tenant?
  5. Does the cooking odor linger in the neighboring apartment long after preparation is over?

Many court cases have upheld the contention that strong odors can be considered a nuisance if they consistently affect common areas or the living spaces of others. Evaluate the situation carefully to determine whether the odor is simply unpleasant or truly interferes with livability.

Curry Smell in Apartment

A strong curry smell in apartments can be a tough odor to get rid of.
We’ve covered this in a recent Ask A Property Manager video that you can watch here.
The action picks up at about the 0:45 mark of the video below as we discuss how to handle curry smell in apartments.

Discrimination Concerns

You’ll walk a fine line when addressing cooking odors and crossing over into ethnic and racial discrimination. Ethnic dishes and the methods to prepare them can smell unpleasant and unappetizing to those who are not familiar with them or simply don’t like them.
With tenants who descend from a heritage that uses strong-smelling spices in cooking, for example, you cannot set up rules over what a tenant can or cannot cook. You should never disparage a tenant or demean their heritage when discussing cooking odors, nor make references to ethnicity or heritage when talking with the complaining tenant.
Also, acting on stereotypes is unethical and illegal when it comes to screening applicants or evicting tenants. In other words, you cannot refuse to rent to an applicant based on race or ethnicity because you are afraid their cooking will smell bad or you had a previous tenant of the same or similar ethnicity that generated complaints of cooking odors.
Treat the cooking odor complaints just as you would treat any other nuisance complaint, such as barking dogs, cigarette smoke  or loud music. Always demonstrate a consistent process in dealing with odor-related complaints and be sure to administer the same treatment toward the cooking tenants as you would to any other tenant to avoid any hint of discrimination based on ethnicity or race.
Keep copies of all notices in the tenant file and document the complaints from other tenants. Engage the tenant in a good faith effort to eliminate cooking smells, including cooking with windows open, using the exhaust fan and so forth. If the nuisance continues, you may have to take steps to evict the tenant for lease violations.
Have you ever had complaints about cooking smells coming from your rental?

8 Comments

  1. There is an all natural solution that continuously removes offensive smoking odors.Maybe charcoal will do some help too.

  2. What I am experiencing is “off hours” cooking….10pm
    Our bedroom windows,4 of them,are right above their open air kitchen,no east control….all going straight up in my bed and wakes me up!!!

  3. What I am experiencing is “off hours” cooking….10pm
    Our bedroom windows,4 of them,are right above their open air kitchen,no air control….all going straight up in my bed and wakes me up!!!

  4. Pungent curry cooking odors are indeed a nuisance. The odors linger in common areas, they come through ventilation. They are absorbed into fabric such as bedding and clothing, and then are very difficult to remove, even by washing. Peaceful enjoyment of a living space included being able to breath in your own residence, and not have your property affected by others. There needs to be stronger action on this issue.

  5. UGH the people who live below me always cook dishes with spices and soy sauce. Like, everyday. My bedroom is directly above their kitchen and I smell like a curry shop. I have nothing against the Indian heritage and all that, but I wish it didn’t steak up my bedroom!! It isn’t exactly an aphrodisiac!

  6. There should be laws to protect tenants from cooking odors that are very strong and offensive. Usually this means cooking with tons of garlic, CURRY & SPICES. This is not fair to other tenants who cannot enjoy the smell of fresh air and instead are forced to smell this stale, heavy spicy air that just doesn’t go for days. Very inconsiderate and unbearable. This is no fun and not a game. Believe me the perpetrators won’t bat an eye to your agony. I would throw them out if I could. That’s how mad I get when I smell it. I went through this and it was torture. This is not your usual smell of baking a pizza or cooking spaghetti or fried eggs and toast. Even barbecues as much as I don’t like, can be tolerable as the smell goes away within a reasonable amount of time. Now with cannabis soon to be legal in Canada, there should be laws to protect tenants against that as well.

  7. Totally agree! Curry or whatever it is: asafuetida or a combination of spices. It makes the air even outside the buildings unbreathable! People who cook/eat those foods are completely oblivious to other people suffering from lack of fresh air they cause.
    Most of us like something that others don’t. For example, I like raw garlic. But I would not even consider eating it within 24 hours of talking to anyone who isn’t family, although garlic after odor doesn’t go beyond 2 feet. THOSE odors fill a large public room from just one person emanating them! They are not civilized enough to be considerate, and no one says anything for the fear of being accused of being a racist! The town I live in stinks all over the place in the last couple of years.

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