Smells and neighbours

Smells and neighbours
Each Australian state (and territory) has its own laws relating to smells and odours. In essence, they must not interfere with your right under the law to enjoy your property. Most problems relating to unpleasant smells and odours can be dealt with by your local council who are given rights by the state government to manage and regulate these problems. Bigger scale smells coming from commercial and industrial businesses can be dealt with the environmental protection authority in your state. (See the list below)

Whether it’s a constantly overpowering cooking smell, rotting garbage, sewage and chemical smells or smoke related smells, your neighbour must control such smells so that they don’t unreasonably affect your enjoyment of your property. Your neighbour actually commits a ‘private nuisance’ when they fail to do this.

A couple kissing under the mistletoe, wearing gas masks. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

When it comes to getting your neighbour’s smells and odours under control you should try this 3 stage approach:
1 Communicate directly
Contact your neighbour or the business causing the smell.If your worried about directly approaching them set out your concerns in a letter or email.
Whatever way you choose to communicate make sure you are polite and courteous. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar as my grandma use to say. With some fair minded negotiation you might achieve an outcome that suits you both.

2 Talk to your local council
Local governments can respond to your complaint or they can take action against someone causing an environmental nuisance.

Local government officers use emission and noise standards to decide if there is an environmental nuisance. This can include checking things such as:

  • audibility (loudness),
  • duration, and frequency of noise;
  • frequency and intensity of exposure to dust;  
  • the nature and strength of odours and smells 

Local governments can also act against neighbours or businesses causing the environmental nuisance. This can include making them change their activities, issuing a fine, or in more extreme cases taking them to court.

3 Report your concern to your State or Territory environmental organisation. 

Each state and territory has a body, such as an environmental protection authority whose job is to monitor environmental pollution. If you decide to bypass your local council and report a problem at this level, it must not be trivial.
To bypass your local council and report a problem at this level, it must not be trivial. (For example, a cooking smell or a small pile of smelly rubbish in a neighbour’s yard would not be reported to your state environmental organisation)

An offensive odour at this level is one that affects the general life, health and wellbeing of an individual as a result of the intensity, character, frequency and duration of the odour. Before an environmental organisation can take action on offensive odour, it must be verified and sourced by an environment protection officer who is accredited to assess odour and take statements from whoever has reported the pollution.

Here is a list of the environmental organisations across Australia (most of them are called the EPA):
EPA NSW 131 555
EPA VIC 1300 372 842
EHP QLD 1300 130 372 (Commercial and industrial only, all others to local council)
EPA SA (08) 8204 2004 or 1800 623 445 (Non-metropolitan only)
DER WA 1300 784 782
EPA TAS 1800 005 171
EPD ACT 13 22 81
EPA NT 1800 064 567 (Urgent), 08 8924 4218 (Non-urgent)

Apartment and community housing residents

For people living in strata title properties or community and neighbourhood schemes there may also be specific by-laws relating to smells and other offending conduct. Take time to check out what rights you have under these rules. The matter may be able to be dealt with from within your building or community housing management saving you the time of dealing with the council. Similarly, tenants in residential parks must obey park rules that cover these issues and tenants in residential tenancies must comply with terms that restrict these aspects of the tenancy.