You are here

Home & Neighbours

Q&A

I’m a tenant. Is there anything I can do about unbearable smells coming from the neighbouring apartment?
I’m not sure what my neighbour is doing, but it smells pretty bad. As a renter, I’m not sure there’s much I can do.

I’m a tenant. Is there anything I can do about unbearable smells coming from the neighbouring apartment? - Answer

If the smells are preventing you from using and quietly enjoying your own property, the law of nuisance can help. The concept of nuisance is explained here. That same page also explains how local bylaws may limit the odours that are allowed.

Specifically for tenants

As a tenant, there are some additional factors to look at. 

Standard rental and lease agreements usually contain a clause about quiet enjoyment. This clause:

  • gives you the right to live in your rental home in peace, quiet, and privacy, and
  • requires that you don’t unreasonably disturb your neighbours.

A rental or lease agreement may also specifically prohibit certain activities, such as smoking in the unit. A lot will depend on when the agreement was signed. 

The important date is October 17, 2018. That’s when recreational (that is, non-medical) cannabis became legal. If a resident became a tenant before then, any no-smoking rule in their agreement applies to smoking cannabis as well as tobacco. (The rule wouldn’t apply to vaping cannabis, though.) Tenants couldn’t light up anything back then. Under this “grandfathered clause” they still can’t, anywhere on the premises, under the law

If a tenancy agreement doesn’t say anything about smoking, or specifically allows smoking, then a tenant is allowed to smoke cannabis.

But if the tenancy agreement was signed after October 17, 2018, that changes things. Here, unless the agreement specifically says no tobacco or cannabis, smoking cannabis is allowed (as long as it doesn’t affect the rights of other residents to quiet enjoyment of their homes). 

Tenants who have been prescribed medical cannabis may be able to consume it in their rental unit because people with disabilities have a right to use medication that supports their health and well-being. A landlord has a duty to accommodate them; if they don’t, they could be violating BC’s Human Rights Code

At the same time, medical cannabis smokers can’t violate other residents’ rights to quiet enjoyment of their homes by smoking in common areas or even their units, especially where those other residents have a medical issue as well. They may want to consider using cannabis in edibles or some other alternate form that is less intrusive to their neighbours.

What you can do

If your neighbour is breaking the rental agreement or the law, you can take legal action. To start, though, you can write a letter to the landlord. The Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre (TRAC) has a template letter you can use. Smoke-Free Housing BC also has information about writing a complaint letter. In your letter, you can explain how your right to quiet enjoyment of your space has been affected. 

Your landlord must investigate your complaint. If they’re aware of the problem and don’t take reasonable steps to protect your right to quiet enjoyment, you can take them to dispute resolution through the Residential Tenancy Branch. If you prove your claim, you may be able to get an order stopping them from smoking. In some cases, you could even get monetary compensation for your suffering.

For more information, you can contact TRAC. They provide information about residential tenancy law to tenants across British Columbia.

Lisa Frey
Lawson Lundell LLP
Reviewed November 2020