Canned Chili and Burned Popcorn: The Perfect Ingredients For a Potential Lease Violation

Microwave popcorn is pretty straightforward. You take the bag out of the wrapper, put it in the microwave right-side up, and remove it when the kernels have popped. All things considered, it’s an easy task for the average college-educated professional.

Then again, I never claimed to be average.

Just this week I destroyed my third bag of popcorn this year, unable to grasp a very valuable lesson: an additional 15 seconds in the microwave is the difference between a delicious snack and a charred mass unrecognizable to the human eye.

Desperate to avoid a repeat of an incident I had last summer when the smell of burned popcorn permeated our furniture for four days, I immediately carried the snack in question out to my balcony.

Back in the apartment, Fabreeze in hand, I worried that the smell of burning kernels would waft across to my neighbor’s balcony. I didn’t take the bag out to the trash for another two hours (I had a movie to watch), but the popcorn odor was on my mind.

Cooking smells come in all forms, and sometimes can bring up questions regarding fair housing. Popcorn isn’t an ethnic dish, but what if a resident is complaining about the smell of curry or fish coming from a neighbor’s apartment? How do you handle that?

In the April issue of units magazine, Nadeen Green discusses this very problem, which she refers to as “The Curry Question.”

To begin with, Green says it’s important to take the expression it “smells bad” out of your vocabulary. You may not like a particular cooking odor, but that’s subjective, she says. I, for instance, hate the smell of my roommate’s canned chili, but she may love the smell of dog food. It’s subjective.

When a resident does complain about a neighbor’s cooking odors, Green says you should handle it exactly as you would handle that neighbor’s complaint if it were about cigarette smoke, too much perfume, too much Lysol, or too much popcorn on the balcony that is black and smoking. Green says residents do not have the right to allow their odors—of any kind—to intrude into another apartment or common area. Simply put, it’s a lease violation.

However, Green says it’s important to remember that the resident’s country of origin, religion, race, color and familial status have nothing to do with this issue. Property managers must have a consistent process in place for all odor-related issues and follow it, accordingly, to avoid a fair housing issue.

The same holds true when dealing with a make-ready for a cooking odor-infused apartment. Green says if you charge to remedy left behind odors from cigarette smoke or perfume, you can charge for cooking odors, too.

With that in mind, I’m holding my roommate financially responsible for any charges we may incur upon move out. Canned chilli overpowers the smell of burned popcorn any day.

For more on how to handle cooking-related odors, check out Nadeen Green’s article, “When Residents Cause A Stink,” in the April issue of units, which mails April 8.