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August 19, 2010 9:11 PM   Subscribe

What are our legal options for relief from a neighbor's constant, extreme cologne when we have a severe, documented medical response?

He lives below us and we have no escape. Even with windows closed and A/C on the stench seeps up through our floor or through the A/C itself. It triggers my wife's Trigeminal Neuralgia, also known as "The Suicide Disease," and makes me want to vomit.

Management forbids us to speak with the neighbor directly (he is new and sensitive) and told us they could be sued if they do. At that time we'd not yet confirmed the medical link but now we have and can get a letter from our doctor. We emailed them with this when we got back from seeing the doctor within a few days if necessary. We hope for the best, but if management gives us more grief we need to act quickly because the flare-ups are almost unbearable.
posted by tangram1 to Law & Government (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The doctor's note might help get your out of your lease or get you relocated within the complex (I'm assuming you're an apartment dweller), but you cannot force him to change his cologne at all.

What do you mean by forbid? You may speak to whomever you like as long as you're not harassing them. If you haven't asked him already, do so, but don't ask permission from management. I really have no idea how they could get sued because a neighbor may not have liked someone asking them to not wear cologne.
posted by inturnaround at 9:16 PM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am sensitive to fragrances and in my experience it is very hard to educate people about the real health effects, or get them to change their behavior. It is also difficult and discouraging to have your well-being at the mercy of others' choices. My pessimistic view: you should not have much hope that your neighbor will change his behavior. Your best, safest option will be to use the medical information you have to persuade your landlord to let you out of your lease so you can move.
posted by not that girl at 9:16 PM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Management forbidding you to communicate with a neighbor is very weird, since "work it out amongst yourselves" is the usual preferred management response to conflicts between residents. If I were you, frankly, I'd simply inform management that they can either A) get the neighbor to quit the cologne immediately or B) release you from your lease immediately, since you have a legitimate medical condition that is not compatible with living in this apartment and which you had no ability to foresee. You may also want to consult with your doctor and/or a lawyer well-versed in disability law to see if TN qualifies; if so, you may have an ADA case to make.

I am not a lawyer of any stripe.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:17 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Your landlord can't keep you from talking with your neighbor. Let him know what's going on. Maybe that's all it will take. That's the reasonable first step before you even go to the landlord.

What do you want to do? Get an aromatic restraining order? Do you want to move out? If so, have you told your management you'll be leaving?

Are you sure it's just cologne? Maybe he's burning incense or something, too. Tell your landlord you think it's being used to mask drug usage/production and that you're going to call the cops. Then if nothing happens, do it.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:23 PM on August 19, 2010


A letter from your doctor isn't going to do you much good because, despite your assertion, you haven't documented any medical link. I suspect you're making the correlation=causation error (post hoc, ergo propter hoc).

If you hope to build a legal case here, you'll need actual proof of causation, which is going to be very hard to get. And of course, that's not legal advice.

I know this is not the answer you want, but I think you're just going to have to live with it if your neighbor isn't willing to accommodate you.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:32 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


yellowcandy: "A letter from your doctor isn't going to do you much good because, despite your assertion, you haven't documented any medical link. I suspect you're making the correlation=causation error (post hoc, ergo propter hoc). "

From the post: At that time we'd not yet confirmed the medical link but now we have and can get a letter from our doctor.

Your profile says you are likely in the United States, so: Most residential leases include a clause stating that the tenant is entitled to "quiet enjoyment" of the leasehold property. Usually that clause is there so that it enforces a rule against the signatory tenant violating that right of another tenant, but in your case it's important. Because of the actions--however inadvertent--of another tenant, you do not have quiet enjoyment of your residence. It's also not a matter of personal preference ("the next door neighbor's TV is too loud!"), you've apparently managed to document a medical problem.

I echo the sentiments of the earlier replies: Go to the management company and insist that you be allowed to move. If that fails, you could see if there is a tenant's rights organization nearby and seek advice from it. Depending on the rental market, you could simply get a new place and then give notice to your existing landlord that you are moving due to unabated medical reasons and leave it to them to come after you. That last option is the most hazardous, and most professional management companies will chase you for the balance of the lease, so don't take that step lightly.

Good luck!
posted by fireoyster at 9:46 PM on August 19, 2010


Honestly? From what I know about trigeminal neuralgia by far your best and safest course is to get your wife out of there like immediately and then to move out.

Personally I'd ask your neighbor to stop with it since management has absolutely no authority to forbid you from talking to your neighbor. Maybe he's a nice guy and the problem will immediately cease. But failing that you should just bail.
posted by Justinian at 9:48 PM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


yellowcandy, what do you want the OP to do, run a double-blind study? A note from a doctor explaining that this situation exacerbates a medical condition is documentation of a medical link.
posted by not that girl at 9:49 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are you sure it's just cologne? Maybe he's burning incense or something, too. Tell your landlord you think it's being used to mask drug usage/production and that you're going to call the cops. Then if nothing happens, do it.

Please, please...don't follow this advice (truly, I am hoping it was sarcasm).
posted by AlliKat75 at 9:51 PM on August 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm terribly sympathetic to your wife's disease; it was unknown to me and sounds incredibly frustrating. But I think the best course of action is to use that doctor's note to break your lease and move.

Given your wife's condition, it may just not be possible for you to live in certain types of buildings where odors can drift into adjacent units so easily.
posted by desuetude at 10:05 PM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just so you don't misinterpret: I'm not weighing in on the validity of the OP's health issues. I'm just saying I really doubt they have the evidence to show a clear causal connection. If they expect to be able to demand changes in the neighbor's behavior, they will need to show precisely that. So what do I expect them to do? Frankly? Find a solution that doesn't involve forcing change on the neighbor, because I suspect the link they claim to have documented isn't going to hold water.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:20 PM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


And before I begin....

Don't call the police and make up stories about drugs!

You could get in trouble for filing a false report and/or I would sue you if I were that neighbor. (Also, maybe that is what management is trying to protect you from here? Maybe they know something about this neighbor's demeanor and resources that you do not?



Absolutely move. The toll this will take on you physically can not be mitigated by a reduction in rent, the time it might take to seal your apartment off from the one below, your neighbor to be convinced to help solve the problem etc. etc.

Please see it from your neighbor's point of view for a moment: He's in his home and not doing anything particularly unusual or normally harmful.

If anything, this odor seepage may be a structural defect your landlord is responsible for - I don't know you can lay this at your neighbor's door even though it's his cologne. "Quiet Enjoyment" cuts both ways in this situation.

Good luck with this situation.

(When I was in your shoes over something neighbor-related that affected my health... well, let's just say that 3 years later, I wish I had moved when the problem began. Deciding to "tough it out" was the wrong choice, and I have yet to completely bounce back health-wise.
posted by jbenben at 10:23 PM on August 19, 2010


I echo the advice of others to, for health reasons, move. Vroom vroom.

However, I would caution you to first send a certified letter to your landlord stating the problem, attaching the doctor's note, and requesting that the landlord either 1) inspect and repair any structural issues that may be causing the odor to seep into your unit; and 2) ask the malodorous tenant to do something about his cologne; and set a deadline of maybe a few weeks (basically whatever is enough time for you to locate a new rental and move). The landlord will not do either of these things (most likely). And if they do, it will take a long time...maybe long enough for your wife to get sick. However, the certified letter gives you proof that you raised the issue with your landlord and that landlord did nothing about it, in the event that landlord threatens to or does sue you for breach of contract (your lease being the contract).

The chances of you getting any kind of court injunction to stop your neighbor from using Axe is...about as likely as a court enjoining an Indian family from cooking very strong curry in the next unit just because it makes a very sensitive person sick. Also, the time and money isn't worth it. No lawyer would do it for free. Plus, your wife is a special case in that she's super sensitive to smells. You'd have to show, generally, that the average person would also gag or get sick (for nuisance at least).
posted by KimikoPi at 10:37 PM on August 19, 2010


Trust us. The average person would definitely find this level offensive. We're talking about compulsive use, so that his hallway is impassable without breath-holding after he's been through it. My wife is not especially sensitive. I thought i'd lost my sense of smell and it bothers me.
posted by tangram1 at 10:49 PM on August 19, 2010


We're willing to move but it would be a real hardship physically and financially. Relocation would leave us forever concerned about management's priorities.
posted by tangram1 at 11:17 PM on August 19, 2010


What is more important, your wife's health or your concern for management 's priorities?
posted by nestor_makhno at 1:46 AM on August 20, 2010


Management forbids us to speak with the neighbor directly (he is new and sensitive) and told us they could be sued if they do.

This sounds like crazy talk. I'm no lawyer, but they can't forbid you to talk to your neighbor. Talk to your neighbor. Give him a copy of your doctor's note and a link where he can look up more about the disease. If he agrees to cut out the cologne, then crisis averted; if he doesn't then you turn to the more expensive and troublesome option of relocating.
posted by taz at 2:30 AM on August 20, 2010


Just thought I would mention that even if someone speaks to the guy downstairs and he cuts his cologne usage in half (very reasonable on his part) that may still not help the situation for your wife. Guy might find he is unable to go without cologne and is within his rights to make that choice.

Move. Maybe to an empty unit in your building to keep costs down, all you would need is a few friends.
posted by saradarlin at 2:52 AM on August 20, 2010


Is the cologne use noticeable to other neighbors?
posted by megatherium at 3:07 AM on August 20, 2010


A side-option to temporarily relieve things is to positively pressurize your apartment, so that air doesn't leak in, but out. This can be as simple as AC units blowing air in from the windows.
posted by fake at 5:42 AM on August 20, 2010


We're willing to move but it would be a real hardship physically and financially. Relocation would leave us forever concerned about management's priorities.

This sounds like a very frustrating situation for you and your wife. And it sounds like the ultimate outcome you need is for you and your wife to be in a living space where her health condition is not triggered. That is the ultimate goal.

Because you cannot control management or your neighbor, you can only make requests which they may or may not entertain, the cost-benefit decision you are really looking at is this one:

The cost of staying in this unit and having your wife suffer the effects on her health


versus

The cost of moving


You could try to throw a lot of money at it from a legal standpoint, but the outcome would not be guaranteed and the stress of a legal battle with management and your neighbor would also be a cost that you would certainly incur.

Management's priorities are to collect rent and provide a safe living environment as required by local laws. Local laws probably don't cover this specific situation, and the situation is difficult to understand and explain to those who don't have direct experience with it (I say this as someone who also lives with a condition that is not visible to others and can be difficult to explain). Noise is more easily measured than smells are, and while there are standards in decibels for "too loud", there aren't commonly known/accepted societal standards for "too smelly" or "unpleasant smells" outside of rotting corpse/rotting garbage. It would be difficult for management to fight this battle for you on your behalf. Allowing them to relocate you in the building would demonstrate that they do care and that is an action that they can take within what is possible for them to control (versus the insensitivity that they would demonstrate if they said, "So what? Your problem. No, we will not let you out of your lease either.")

The best option within your control is to move. Either unit or building. It isn't "losing to the neighbor". It's "looking out for my wife's health."
posted by jeanmari at 5:59 AM on August 20, 2010


fake: "A side-option to temporarily relieve things is to positively pressurize your apartment, so that air doesn't leak in, but out. This can be as simple as AC units blowing air in from the windows."

A decent option, but most A/C units won't filter the air, so you'd be bringing in MORE of the cologney* air. You'd need a clean source of air, and I think this is less good than the other options discussed.

*"cologney" is a perfectly cromulent word!
posted by JMOZ at 6:22 AM on August 20, 2010


I would guess that there's something unusual about your neighbor, both because of the cologne issue and because management called him "sensitive"--either he is from a very different culture, has some type of hygiene problem, has a mental problem, works in an unavoidably stinky job, or has a medical condition that results in serious body odor. Someone wearing a bit too much cologne is one thing, someone using so much cologne that the smell permeates his apartment building --"compulsive use" as you characterize it--points to something in the person's life being either very unusual or problematic. I think you should feel free to talk to him, regardless of what the management company says, but I just wanted to point out that you're probably walking into something bigger and more complicated than just a clueless young guy who hasn't yet figured out how much cologne to use. He may have some kind of disability or other protected status that the management is aware of but doesn't know their legal obligations around, so they're passing the problem off to you.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:02 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


How did we ever function without MeFie? We're printing off a a page about the condition and hilighting perfume as trigger to fold, staple, and put on his door while we wait for management to see the light. We'll also start looking for another place, believe we'll qualify for Legal Aid if thi gs get uglynre the lease. We down-sized to an apartment a year ago when my job of 25 years was eliminated. Before the move we discussed all the possible perils of close neighbors but never considered this. I'd read about the man-perfume rage and now it's a little too up close and personal. He's older, and apparently single. Inwonder what woman could stand this.

Thanks so much, everyone!
posted by tangram1 at 7:06 AM on August 20, 2010


Sorry mega. Yes, other neighbors notice it. Theynwould never for a moment consider complaining tom management, though. That's the other part of this...seeing how fearful many people are about doing that.
posted by tangram1 at 7:08 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


tangram, if you're proposing to leave your neighbor a pile of highlighted computer printouts without any context, I would suggest that you rethink. You need to go to your neighbor's apartment, knock on his door, and introduce yourself. You need to apologize for the intrusion, but let him know that your wife is ill and that unfortunately, the shoddy construction of the building means that smells from his apartment get into yours, exacerbating her illness. You need to tell him, face to face, that you'd really appreciate it if he could refrain from using cologne, for the sake of your wife's health. A passive-aggressive note is not going to do the trick.
posted by decathecting at 7:52 AM on August 20, 2010 [15 favorites]


I am in the words of my allergist "exquisitely sensitive to fragrances." I've been fighting battles like yours for more than a decade at work for several employers.

Do not specifiy "cologne" as the problem unless you know for sure that cologne brand XYZ is the scent. If you cannot specify a product, you are much better off saying "a fragrance" or "a scent."
posted by Carol Anne at 8:03 AM on August 20, 2010


Yeah, what decathecting said. The note idea is a really bad one. In person is the only chance you have of this being successful.
posted by liquado at 8:53 AM on August 20, 2010


A passive-aggressive note is not going to do the trick.

This.

Let's think through the spectrum of reasons WHY your neighbor might be dousing himself in scent. And how he might react to your request:

Scenario #1: Fancies himself as a lay-deez man. Douses himself in scent because he feels that it might be attractive like butterflies to the flower of his love.

Reaction in Scenario #1: Either embarrassed and appreciative that you are pointing out the error in his strategy, apologizes profusely and reduces scent usage. Or defensive and uncaring, telling you in not so certain terms to "go jump off a bridge". No reduction in scent usage.
_______________________

Scenario #2: Follows the norms of a different culture or social history than yours. One where using strong scents are desirable and welcome. It is as familiar and normal as brushing one's teeth or combing one's hair to apply scent.

Reaction in Scenario #2: See "Reaction in Scenario #1"
_______________________

Scenario #3:
Suffers from hyperhidrosis, Trimethylaminuria, Diabetic ketoacidosis
or any other condition where persistent and uncontrollable body odor is a symptom. He uses liberal doses of cologne to mask his symptoms because it is preferable to him than having to have many conversations with co-workers/strangers/etc. about his usual body odor. Gives him a sense of control in a frustrating and emotionally painful situation.

Reaction in Scenario #3: Instantaneously sheds his embarrassment about this body odor problem and stops using cologne. OR intense embarrassment and defensiveness.
_______________________

I can't think of any scenario where printing out information about your wife's condition and stapling it to his door will result in your ultimate outcome...to protect your wife's health.

You seem frustrated (for good reason) about more than just this guy's cologne. You've lost your job of 25 years. Had to move to a living situation which was not your first choice and requires you to interact more with others living very close to your space. The reduction in the amount of freedom that more income would give to you. Your neighbor, "Cologne Guy."

I'm also gleaning from your responses in the thread that you will not be satisfied until Cologne Guy stops using cologne or moves. Which is not likely to happen, even with educating him about your wife's condition, even with complaining to management, even with bringing the wrath of legal services down on his head.

Strategy #1: You can pursue that (Cologne Guy must stop using cologne or move), win, and then live in an apartment where management does not feel very kindly towards you, your current neighbor is resentful of you, and your new neighbor burns incense. You will be victorious/defensive for the rest of the time that you are in that apartment, where every question or request by management is seen as related to this incident. You would be winning the battle and losing the war. And there may be another battle right after this one. Wife's physical health (eventually, perhaps after many months) will improve. Emotional energy spent.

Strategy #2: You can pursue that (Cologne Guy must stop using cologne or move), lose, have wasted a LOT of time/money/emotional energy, still have to contend with the scent, and then live in an apartment where management does not feel very kindly towards you and your neighbor is resentful of you. You will end up moving anyway and spending the money, not on relocation to another unit, but to another building entirely. Wife's health does not improve, emotional energy spent.

Strategy #3:
You can pursue being relocated to another unit in the building near long-term tenants whose scent environment is a known variable and where your current scenario is a known variable and unlikely to be an issue. Wife's health improves, emotional energy is not depleted, smaller financial outlay (for moving from one section of building to another).

Strategy #4: You can move to another building where the units are more sealed off from each other, or obtain a living situation where you are unlikely to be in any contact with others. Wife's health improves, larger financial outlay.

Trust me. I am someone who defends my rights FAR more rigorously than most people, and I have no problem speaking up, asking for what I need, etc. However, I'm also aware that I balance that with the probability of the outcome I need + the effects on my health. I will protect my health above all else. I suggest that you do the same. It's not productive to lose one's health in the battle to be "right."

In case you're wondering which Strategy I'd pick? I'd pick #3, and then #4.
posted by jeanmari at 8:54 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, I would recommend moving away from that crazy management. You are free to speak to whomever you please. Yeesh.

But really, go knock on his door. Introduce yourself. Be friendly. Chat. Then politely explain to him your situation. He is just another human being living near you. Is the possibility that he is compassionate and understanding so far out of reach?

(I would be offended by a note stapled to the door, btw.)
posted by Vaike at 2:10 PM on August 20, 2010


Agreed about an impersonal note. Good catch. Management has told us a bit about him and we've met him. For the curious it's not a cultural thing and we don't think it's medical. jeanmari nailed it, I think, in her descriptive language about the ladies and butterflies. A bit clueless, it seems, and in his own space for the first time.

The trick will be to not embarrass him.

By management's priorities I meant that we would lack a sense of security, not knowing which lease clausenthey would selectively ignore next (we have one against "offensive odors." The manager today told me we do not and I had to show her). Does this clause help us at all?
posted by tangram1 at 5:13 PM on August 20, 2010


not knowing which lease clause they would selectively ignore next (we have one against "offensive odors." The manager today told me we do not and I had to show her). Does this clause help us at all?

All those restrictions that are written into leases are really there so that landlords can legally evict disruptive tenants who will damage the landlord's investment. IANAL, I have no idea if it would help you in a legal dispute (like if you and the landlord wound up in small claims court over returned-deposit/lease-breaking fees.)

But I think that it could help your persuasive argument that they should be taking more proactive responsibility regarding the quality of life of their tenants. Maybe there's a turn of phrase in your lease that references the security/health/safety of other tenants?

Check the tenant's rights laws for your area too, not so much for a cologne-clause, but more for your rights as a tenant with a complaint about a neighbor that has been brought to the attention of the landlord.
posted by desuetude at 12:48 PM on August 21, 2010


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