Mimi Kirk is a writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. Her writing has also appeared in The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, and Smithsonian.
Across the globe, those in close proximity clash over each other’s smells. Here are five of the most litigious cases we found.
Our sense of smell has historically been undervalued. “Man smells poorly,” wrote Aristotle, and Charles Darwin noted that smell was of “extremely slight service” to humans. But tell that to the plethora of people around the world who file complaints and lawsuits against their neighbors for the allegedly stinky odors they produce (or to the many researchers who are finding that the human olfactory sense is stronger than we give it credit for).
This past spring, Italy’s highest court even ruled that residents who allow cooking odors to permeate their neighbors’ living space are committing a crime, dubbed “olfactory molestation.” The ruling arose from a case in which neighbors in an apartment block in the town of Monfalcone, on the Adriatic Sea, complained about the smells of pasta sauce and fried seafood wafting from one couple’s unit. The judges in Rome said the smells were so strong they were “beyond the limits of tolerability,” and ordered the offenders to pay a fine of $2,200 USD.
We found five other extreme cases of so-called aromatic misconduct in Asia, Europe, and North America, for which we offer lessons on how neighbors might have headed off a complaint or lawsuit.
Let us know in the comments what other cases we’ve missed—and your tips for, ahem, clearing the air.
A mammoth pile of manure
In 2001 David and Joan Gallant bought their house outside Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, from Lee and Shirley Murray, whose farm abuts the Gallants’ property on three sides. For years, the two couples appear to have coexisted peacefully, but relations soured for unnamed reasons toward the end of the decade. In 2013 the Murrays erected an unusual barrier on their property line near the Gallants’ house: a massive, reeking pile of cow dung so large it could be seen on Google Earth.
“The manure was fresh, unseasoned, wet, [and] raw,” David Gallant said in his affidavit. In 2015, the Gallants sued the Murrays, and were awarded $11,300 USD in damages.
Be a better neighbor: Build a fence made of wood, not excrement.
20 cats in a one-bedroom
In Chicago, a cat lady and her neighbors are battling it out over a stench created by 20 felines. Johanna Torres and Matthew Greenberg, who live below a cat lover in a condo building in the city’s Lakeview neighborhood, say that the malodorous effect of 10 oft-used litter boxes in a one-bedroom unit is making them miserable and decreasing their property value. Smells of cat urine and feces snake their way up the shared chimney, particularly bothering Torres, who is allergic to cats. The plaintiffs are suing not only the tenant, but the condo association, individual board members, and property managers, claiming that they allowed the resident to keep the cats. Torres and Greenberg’s attorney did not respond to requests for information on the status of the case.
Be a better neighbor: Three cats. Maximum.
In Singapore, a newly-arrived Chinese family living in an apartment next to a Singaporean Indian family could not abide their neighbors’ cooking smells—particularly curry dishes. The Indian family agreed to shut their doors and windows when they cooked curry, but they balked when the Chinese family subsequently asked them to stop cooking it altogether.
A government mediator helped them come to an agreement: The Indian family would cook curry only when the Chinese family was out, and the Chinese family would try a curry dish. The case caused an uproar in the Southeast Asian city-state, with many Singaporeans declaring that the agreement treated the Indian family unfairly and that the Chinese family should learn to tolerate Indian Singaporean cooking. A nationwide curry movement erupted, including a “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry” campaign and an annual weeklong series of curry-themed events.
Be a better neighbor: Don’t discount other cultures’ cuisines. Give them a try, or at least curb complaints.
In the fall of 2016, 78-year-old cigarette smoker Friedhelm Adolfs of Dusseldorf, Germany, defeated an eviction notice. Adolfs had lived in his apartment for more than 40 years, but three years ago his landlord tried to get rid of him after neighbors complained he didn’t ventilate his unit or empty his ashtrays, causing cigarette smells to seep into the building’s hallways. Though the district court ruled in favor of the landlord, the federal court overruled the judgment. Throughout the process, fellow smokers and pro-smoking groups raised funds for Adolfs’s legal fees. The defendant reportedly lit up a celebratory cigar in front of the courthouse after his win.
Be a better neighbor: Open a window when you smoke. Or hermetically seal your apartment.
In southern Colorado, the owners of a horse farm are suing a pot-growing warehouse adjacent to their property. The plaintiffs, the Reillys, claim that the warehouse will decrease the value of their land by emitting “noxious odors” and attracting “unsavory visitors.” They had attempted to stop the establishment of the warehouse in 2015, but a federal district court dismissed the suit and the outfit opened the following year. But now, in a defeat for the marijuana industry, a federal appeals court has ruled that the Reillys can sue for smells and other issues that could harm their property value.
Be a better neighbor: Relax.