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 regarding 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 with Norris McLaughlin PA. "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 July 2018. We are presenting it again with updated information for August 2021.]
He points out that this situation became more prevalent during the pandemic. "Not only are most people at home, more people are cooking than before," he says.
Co-op boards, however, are generally reluctant to intervene in a dispute between shareholders, especially over a matter as subjective as smells.
Living with noise—or bothersome and potentially toxic odors—can be physically and mentally debilitating. “If a nuisance becomes unbearable, you may need to take legal steps,” says New York City real estate lawyer Steven Wagner. “An attorney who knows what they are doing can find the leverage points of your situation. Sometimes, all it takes to find a solution is a letter from your lawyer.” To schedule a free 15 minute telephone consultation with Steven Wagner of Wagner Berkow & Brandt, click here or call 646-780-7272.
"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 with 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."
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.
"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.
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.
"There’s such a thing as quiet enjoyment of your apartment, as well as each resident having a warranty of habitability. If either of these are compromised by someone else’s actions, that could leave the landlord with some degree of liability," says Mark Levine, principal at EBMG, a NYC propery management firm. "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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