Breaking lease over barbecue smoke

Rent it Right

Q: I rent an apartment in a large complex. My lease prohibits "outdoor cooking of any kind" except in the picnic areas near the pool and children’s play areas. But this provision is routinely ignored by residents, many of whom have small barbecues on their patios and terraces. I happen to live in the middle of some very serious grillers, and I am really bothered by the smoke. How can I get management to enforce this clause? –Barb H.

A: Let’s assume that your neighbors’ leases have the same prohibition against outdoor cooking as yours does. Let’s also assume that you have complained about the situation, both to management and to the neighbors, but to no avail.

Your ability to insist that management enforce its no-cooking provision is rather weak, unfortunately. Unlike a lease clause that prohibits illegal activity on the premises, this clause is more like a noise prohibition — one that attempts to regulate otherwise lawful activities that, if taken to extremes or engaged in by large numbers, create difficult or unpleasant conditions.

Sometimes these activities rise to the level of a legal nuisance — an activity that makes it impossible or nearly impossible for neighbors to use or enjoy their homes — and at that point, neighbors may be able to get law enforcement involved.

But practically speaking, these extreme responses are appropriate only when conditions have become intolerable — think of constant all-night parties, or a car-repair business operated nights and weekends. Occasional smoke from a barbecue may not make the cut.