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Two Cents on Strong Scents in Condo Buildings


The apple crisp you spent an hour after work making is turning a beautiful tawny color in your state of the art oven. You open a bottle of Champagne and set out the specially engraved champagne glasses you and your hubby were given as a wedding gift last year. You hear a knock at the door. It’s him! You quickly light a candle and dim the lights then rush to the door. You swing open the door and in breezes your love, along with a scent of garlic that is so strong you’re sure your condo building will be vampire proof for at least another fifty years!


Ah, the joys of living in a multi-unit residential condo building. Along with recreational amenities, well-maintained green space and underground parking, you might also get every smell under the sun be it smoke, cleaning product vapors or food odors. Every condo owner has experienced a building-wide scent at one point or another. Sometimes we love the smell. Your neighbor is brewing something rich and delicious in the kitchen. The kind of gastronomic affair that one could only dream of being a part of! But more often than not, the inadvertent smells that emanate throughout a residential building are difficult to live with, especially when they are not the food variety. I know from personal experience, some of the worst offenders are cigarette and cigar smoke and heavy-duty cleaning products.


So if we are bound to come across strong scents in the condo building we call home, what can we do? Do we tell the condo board about it? Can they do anything about your upstairs neighbor who loves to smoke cigars on his patio at midnight and clean his silk rug every Saturday at 8am? Yes, they can. Recording the time, location and type of scent on an ongoing basis and giving this information to your condo board and asking them to try and get to the bottom of the unhinging scent can and does work. More often than not, they are able to find the source of the odor and ask the individual responsible for it to exercise self-restraint and thoughtfulness when it comes to the offending odor they are guilty of emitting. Sitting on an opposite side of their balcony to smoke, opening windows when they clean can make all the difference in the world and you would be surprised at how many condo residents don’t mind making these small changes to keep their neighbors happy.


It is always important to keep in mind that sometimes it is not just one individual causing an unsavory odor in a condo building. Sometimes it is the very structure and mechanical workings of the building itself. If strong odors are a problem in your condo building despite residents making changes in their habits, then it’s time to seek out an engineering firm who specializes in the issue. Your building may have mechanical issues that cause low air pressure in the corridors, which results in air from individual units, which may be scented for one reason or another, being pushed into common areas. Another common issue is when the outer walls of a building are not thick enough or sealed properly and strong winds are then able to move air (and the smells within it) throughout the building. Even elevator doors play a role in transmitting air, full of unsavory scents, throughout a building. If the doors are not sealed or the seals are wearing thin, then air and odors are easily spread between floors.


There are many reasons why certain condo buildings are fraught with lingering scents. The good news is that there is almost always a fix if your condo board and neighbors are willing to put in the time and energy to get to the bottom of the issue. Professionals are ready to help too. Engineers who specialize in building design and functionality issues can help diagnose airflow problems in buildings and fix them. In order to work through scent issues in condo buildings it takes a team of condo board leaders, community members and professionals who are willing to work together and find solutions. If you are in the market to purchase a condo, making sure your building is well run and harmonious is imperative to making a good investment that never robs you of your peace of mind. Working with an experienced real estate agent is key to seeking out the best-run buildings so that any issue, no matter how rancid, can easily be fixed.


Lara Brighton is a journalist and real estate aficionado living in Toronto

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