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Rent Watch: Tenant complains of neighbors’ cooking odors

Question: Last month, a young couple moved into the apartment next to mine. When I met them, I learned they had recently moved here from another country for a job opportunity. I thought I would be neighborly and invited them over for a home-cooked meal while they were in the process of getting settled in. A week or so later, they invited me to dinner at their apartment. I had never eaten their culture’s food before, and although I enjoyed some of the dishes, I couldn’t help but notice the very pungent smell that came from their cooking. Even though I like them, I am worried that the odors from their kitchen will start to leak into my apartment and affect my health. How can I protect myself?

Answer: The fair housing statutes protect tenants’ right to live in a rental property without interference or discrimination, regardless of their national origin. In our diverse society, these protections require housing providers to tolerate differences in culture and practices arising from the national backgrounds of their residents.

Given these protections, your landlord could not curtail the activities of one tenant in response to a general complaint from another tenant concerning aspects of the first tenant’s culture. Nor can a landlord isolate or “steer” tenants of one culture to certain areas of the property to avoid offending other residents from different cultures.

The only exception might be if the cooking activities constituted a nuisance, meaning that the odors or fumes were so invasive or irritating that they were unreasonably interfering with your ability to use your rental unit. If the activities truly create a nuisance and you are unable to establish some ground rules with your neighbor, you could ask your landlord to intervene.

The difficult question for your landlord would be deciding how to distinguish an odor that is unpleasant to you from one that makes it impossible for you to live in your rental unit.

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Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a nonprofit agency providing tenant-landlord and fair housing counseling in four Bay Area counties. To submit a question, contact info@housing.org.


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