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Bad Smells and the Law

By: Helena Stratford - Updated: 11 Jul 2019 | comments*Discuss
Bad Smells And The Law

Almost everything has a smell and for the most part, we live our lives perfectly easily surrounded by all kinds of odours which we have come to recognise and expect as part of our daily lives.

However, occasionally, smell can become a problem and when this happens; it can hugely disrupt our daily lives and adversely affect our quality of life. We may find that doors and windows have to be shut, that we can’t go out in the garden that the bad smell is giving us headaches, making us nauseous, and affecting our sleep.

Common Nuisance Odours

There are a number of things which are often complained about by residents as giving off a bad odour. Common complains include:

  • Muck spreading by farmers
  • Sewage smells from sewage treatment works
  • Smells from restaurants, factories and breweries
  • Acrid bonfire smells – perhaps when plastic or rubber is being burned
  • Bad smells emanating from a nearby house

The Law

Regulations are in place to protect citizens from bad smells, but for the law to become involved, a smell must first be deemed a ‘statutory nuisance’ under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

The Act defines odour as being fumes, gas, dust, steam or smell and the Environmental Protection team of your local council have a responsibility to investigate complaints.

If the smell is found to be a nuisance and the perpetrators deemed in breech of conditions, the council then has powers to fine the perpetrators of the smell up to £20,000 and also to force remedial action to be taken.

Who You Should Contact

If you are concerned about a bad smell in your area, you should contact your council’s Environment team.

You will need to tell them as much as you can about the nature of the smell and they will then need to determine:

  • Its strength
  • Frequency
  • Level of discomfort it is causing
  • Its duration
  • Whether it is deemed to interfere with quality of life inside their home of an average person

What You Should Do

When you complain about a persistent bad odour, the council’s environmental team will ask you to keep a diary or logbook of when, what times and for how long you detect the smell which they will then use to help determine the level and frequency of nuisance that is being caused and its effect on the community.

However, there are some smells they won’t be able to do much about. These include cooking smells from domestic properties (although they may have a word with the residents on your behalf) and certain ‘expected’ smells.

Some unpleasant smells are deemed ‘normal’ or incidental to where you live, for instance if you live in the middle of the countryside, you may be expected to put up with a reasonable amount of manure odour at certain times of the agricultural year. Or if you live near a sewage treatment plant, or refuse centre, then it may be seen as inevitable that you should detect odours associated with that industry from time to time.

However, if the council feel that the odour constitutes a statutory nuisance, then they may serve an abatement notice and require the person or persons responsible to take remedial action.

Legislation For Individual Citizens

If the smell is excessive, individuals also have the opportunity to make a complaint directly to a Magistrates court rather than via their local council. If the complaint is upheld, fines can be given of up to £5,000 with a daily fine of £500 for every day it goes on.

So if you feel you’re suffering unduly from a bad smell in the neighbourhood, then don’t feel afraid to kick up a stink yourself!

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The windows of our house are overlooking the restaurant with big extractor fan, which is a problem of smell and noise. 5 windows can’t be opened when restaurant is open. The smell of fumed is awful, even closed windows don’t help. Council is silent!!! Can you, please give me any advice how to approach the problem?
Nuisance - 11-Jul-19 @ 10:02 AM
Please can you help. I have a treatment plant and each time we empty it, it smells for 3 or 4 weeks. I’ve bought Bactria powder to put in but still it smells. Please could you advise how I could avoid this happening??
Paul - 8-Jun-19 @ 9:31 PM
Hello I have just come across this website on odour problems and would like to introduce you to our D-Noses project which may be of interest to some of you. D-Noses is a three-year EU funded research project which aims to provide a solution to the largely neglected issue of odour pollution. The project will use innovative and accessible mapping tools to record and collect odour issues and identify solutions. In effect we will be putting odour on the map! We are looking for a community in London to support in their endeavours to deal with odour pollution in their neighbourhood. If this is you then please get in touch at info@mappingforchange.org.uk. If you aren't based in London then you can still get involved and use our tools; such as the Odour Collect app which you can download for free from any app store. If you have any questions, please get in touch with us. Thanks Mapping for Change team
Mapping for Change - 29-May-19 @ 12:46 PM
Our garden is next to a cesspit that serves 16 houses, this is controlled by the local housing association, the cesspit is not covered and the smell on some days is unpleasant enough to not venture into the garden.
Mick - 27-Mar-19 @ 10:00 PM
hi bought a new flat 6 months ago,im directly above a kebab shop have had the environmental health up about 6 times to deal with fumes and smells something needs to done about it as my health is suffering because off this running out of options about how to deal with this
ian - 22-Nov-17 @ 10:23 AM
We live atunwin road Sutton in ashfied NG17 4ht. We live straight across from the sewer we have lived here for five years. The last two years we have been getting a rotten egg smell and a rotten dish cloth smell.We have reported this to council and seven Trent every single week. This has made my wife poorly. We don't know where to go with this we need some advice
Lee - 26-Aug-17 @ 9:09 AM
It is impossible to sit outside on the patio as the smell from the neighlbour's cats' mess is so unpleasant. Also, the smell comes in through the patio doors into the living room. I am sitting inside now with the door ajar as it is so warm and I am aware of the disgusting smell. Is there anything which will mask the smell?
Heppie - 25-May-17 @ 1:44 PM
I have the unfortunate pleasure of occasionally travelling to work by Cross Country train.In the summer the train carriage stinks of sewage. On a recent journey the stench was so bad I could smell it on my clothes all day and the next day I woke up feeling ill with a stomach based illness. I think there is a real health and safety issue for the workers on the train but also for the passengers as a whole. Please could you advise the most appropriate legislation under which a complaint can be filed?
T-Lauper - 24-May-17 @ 12:24 PM
shazza - Your Question:
Hi I would just like to say for 6months I have put up with the neighbour not cleaning up after her 2 dogs. The smell is that bad you can,t open the windows.what can be done.i would prefer not to involve the Enviromental Health but its got that bad it is makeing live between me and my husband hell.

Our Response:
If you do not want to involve Environmental Health, you can either: (1) speak to your neighbour directly, or send a note advising them how much you are affected by this (2) take legal action through the courts.
PollutionIssues - 22-Feb-17 @ 11:27 AM
Hii would just like to say for 6months i have put up with the neighbour not cleaning up after her 2 dogs. The smell is that bad you can,t open the windows.what can be done.i would prefer not to involve the Enviromental Health but its got that bad it is makeing live between me and my husband hell.
shazza - 19-Feb-17 @ 9:05 AM
Hello I would just like to say that my family are suffering a really bad odour in the homeand it has been ongoing now for 6 weeks or more, It has been reported to Enviromental Health on numerous occosaions and the landlord aswell,, what will be the next step as we cannot take anymore of this really bad smell, It is making us all ill and feelng sick please help... C
none - 25-Jun-14 @ 10:09 AM
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