Common Scents Often Become A Condo Issue

Blog post by David SwedelsonGoogle%20Image%20Result%20for%20http___www.blogcdn.com_www.diylife.com_media_2010_08_woman-holding-nose-smell-590kb080910.jpg

We hear these types of complaints all the time. While secondhand cigarette, pipe or marijuana smoke are the biggest sources of complaints, we are often asked to help associations deal with smells from other sources including cleaning products, paint and lack of ventilation, food and even perfume. I was reminded about this issue from an article that appeared in the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

As the article points out, “[w]ith many kids being asthmatic or allergic, and increasing numbers of people claiming chemical sensitivities, whether real or imagined, products that could become the trigger for an attack can become quite a hot button issue in certain associations.”

The article points out that the first thing to do is accurately identify the source of the smell by talking to residents and perhaps bringing in a consultant for independent verification. Sometimes the source of the odor can be difficult to determine, as was the case recently with a planned development where a number of owners were complaining about a noxious odor that smelled like a sewer. The expert figured it out. Turned out that the storm drain system had shifted leaving an area where water, etc. ponded and did not drain away, became stagnant and smelly.

The article suggests that if the smell is found to be truly offensive and ongoing, “the quickest step would be to make sure all openings between units have been adequately caulked around all pipes, outlet covers and any other path where the smell may escape.”

And as the article also points out, sometimes the solution is getting the owners together so they can better understand the issues, whether it be smoke, a pine scent cleaning product or food odors that others may not be familiar with.

And associations should take care to consider odors when carrying out projects. Recently we were called upon to counsel a board and management after an owner complained of becoming ill after the association applied a coating product to the floor of a storeroom that was immediately below the owner’s unit. No one had considered the potential odor or the lack of ventilation.

David Swedelson is a condo lawyer and HOA attorney, as well as a senior partner at SwedelsonGottlieb. He can be contacted at

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