I'm suffering because of very strong cooking smells coming from the apartment below mine. The odors last well into the evening to the point where I'm getting headaches from them. Is there anything that can be done? Are the rules different for co-ops, condos, and rentals?
New York City has robust legislation regulating smoking, as well as policies against residents who are creating a "nuisance," a term that refers to behavior like excessive noise, damaging property, or creating a safety hazard. But building management may be hesitant to address other types of intrusive odors, our experts say.
Still, you can push for some assistance here.
"Both smoking and cooking odors are nuisances and are usually governed, especially in a co-op, by the terms of the lease," says Dean Roberts, an attorney at Norris McLaughlin. "If another shareholder is cooking in a manner that creates a nuisance, the co-op is legally required to deal with it."
[Editor's note: A previous version of this post was published in August 2021. We are presenting it again with updated information for August 2022.]
He points out that this became more of an issue during the lockdown. "Not only were more people at home, more people were cooking than before," he says.
New Yorkers can report bad odors by calling or clicking on the city's 311 website, however the city does not accept complaints "caused by a neighbor's body odor or cooking."
Co-op boards, however, are generally reluctant to intervene in a dispute between shareholders, especially over a matter as subjective as smells.
"Most co-op and condo by-laws do not allow for unreasonable infringement on others’ rights to quiet enjoyment [of their apartments]," says Deanna Kory, a broker at Corcoran. "However, what smells good to one person smells terrible to another. I doubt there is a way to make what will feel like a fair solution unless unit owners can work it out themselves—which of course is tricky."
"In my experience, a mediation by the managing agent, or often me as the attorney, is a good way to resolve these situations," Roberts says.
If you feel it would be impossible to work with your neighbor to find a fair solution, there may be other ways to mitigate the problem on your own, like purchasing an air filter, or having your super seal your door. And if that doesn't work, consider speaking with a third party to mediate.
For renters, reaching out to your landlord may be the best bet, because the intense aromas you're experiencing may be the result of malfunctioning ventilation.
"If either of these are compromised by someone else’s actions, that could leave the landlord with some degree of liability," he says. "This may also be an issue with the physical components of the building, such as a broken vent in the kitchen or the bathroom, and by inspecting, the landlord can make any necessary repairs."
Notify your landlord whenever the issue arises so that there is a record, citing the language in your lease that refers to your warranty of habitability, he says, which should help prompt him or her into action.
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