Apartment Living BlogApartment Living › Dear Fair Housing Lady: Cooking Odors?

Dear Fair Housing Lady:

While we welcome folks from all over the world to be residents at our community, what can we do when some of them cook with curry (or other things that I don’t even want to think about)?  Quite frankly, sometimes it smells bad and then their neighbors complain to us in the office.  And it costs a lot to deal with the odor on move out – can we charge for those costs?   



Dear E.E.W.:

First things first.  Please take the expression “smells bad” out of your vocabulary.  You (or your residents) may not like a particular cooking odor, but that is subjective.  Do you really think that millions of people wake up each morning thinking, “Dang, my cooking smells bad, I wish I didn’t have to cook the way I do”?  Of course not; cooking aromas are a part of one’s culture and traditions.  Now, end of lecture and to continue…

What do you do when a resident complains about a neighbor’s cooking odors?  You handle this exactly as you would handle that neighbor’s complaint if it were about cigarette smoke, cigar smoke, pipe smoke, too much Lysol®, too much perfume, garlic or burned Toll House cookies.  No resident has the right to allow their odors, whatever they may be, to intrude into other apartments or the common areas.  It is a lease violation.  Deal with it accordingly, as an “odor”, and keep in mind that who the resident is, where they come from, how they worship, their race, color, or familial status has nothing to do with this.  Just be sure that you can always demonstrate that you have a consistent process for all odor-related issues.

And what about the turnkey for a cooking odor-infused apartment?  You handle this exactly as you would handle left behind odors from cigarette smoke, cigar smoke, pipe smoke, too much Lysol®, too much perfume, garlic or burned Toll House cookies.  If you charge to remedy those odors, you can charge to remedy cooking odors.

Simply put, it is not about the type of odor or the resident, it is about “an odor”.  Handle it correctly and don’t cause a stink…

Sincerely sweet smelling (I think!),


Fair Housing Lady is the alter-ego of Nadeen Green, Senior Counsel with For Rent Media SolutionsTM.  While that makes her our attorney, she is not yours, so her information is not legal advice for you.  She would love to have your questions for future newsletter appearances (so she doesn’t have to make the questions up, which is just extra work), so send them to [email protected].

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Nadeen Green is the senior legal counsel for For Rent Media Solutions. She has been an attorney and has taught Fair Housing law to the multi-family housing industry for decades, presenting more than 1,150 programs to management companies and apartment associations nationwide, including the National Apartment Association, IREM and AIM. Her reader-friendly articles and guest blogs appear regularly in publications and on websites, and she blogs as Fair Housing Lady at http://fairhousing.forrent.com/. Nadeen lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, Ned.



  1. Older high-rise apartment buildings share ventilation shafts and thereby share all smells. Would I prohibit a resident from cooking certain foods and using certain cooking methods? What would be the appropriate wording for our handbook?

  2. If everyone is sharing all smells as you indicate, the situation gets a bit more complicated. You are put in the position whereby your residents are going to dislike some odors and yet not be troubled by others and it is that type of subjectivity that can lead to fair housing troubles. When you ask whether you “[c]ould prohibit a resident from cooking certain foods” you are already treading dangerously. Did you mean, for example, that if I told you that I was on a diet and that the aroma of chocolate mint brownies from a neighbor’s kitchen was a huge problem, you would tell my neighbor that she can no longer make brownies (or chocolate chip cookies, either!)? I suspect that was not your hypothetical when you asked about “certain foods”; most likely that definition is aimed at ethnic cooking and voilà, you can see the fair housing implication. I would like to continue this dialogue as to “certain cooking methods” – what types of problems are you seeing (or smelling) in this regard? Are there safety issues with the cooking, fire hazards, etc? Will you chat some more with me on this (others will find your input helpful, and I know they are identifying with you)?

  3. I have had a lot of success with Room Shocker. It is an odor eliminator that works like a fumigation bomb. It really works, is environmentally friendly, and super easy to use. You definitely have to check it out at http://www.biocidesystems.com/roomshocker1.html

  4. The odors what ever they are come into the room because the air pressure in the room is lower than that of the venting duct. This problem exist in newer buildings as well. The newer buildings have suction fans on roofs and they pull the air from the vents upward. However, the cooking odors are combined with steam it tends to settle down as it cools and thus enters other apartments. One solution for this problem is an exhaust fan from your apartment into the vent which is continuously on.

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