Bad Smells and the LawAlmost 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!