Environmental Irritants and Condo Sensitivities

November 2020

Environmental toxicity – chemicals, smoke, pet fur, allergens, mould and other irritants – can make life miserable.  In a home the solution is controllable.  Remove the pet or plants.  Use hypoallergenic or environmentally-safe products.

Removing or eliminating irritants is more complex in a high-rise community.  That pet causing your eyes to water may belong to a neighbour.  Landscaping and common area cleaning products causing your skin irritation are beyond your control to eliminate.


Common environmental irritants


Pets are an important part of residential living.  For some they are a companion or friend.  For others they cause sneezing, sniffling and watery eyes.  More serious conditions may include emphysema or asthma.  Pet dander travelling through the HVAC system can be a problem.

Pet owners can’t be forced to give up their pets.  Possible in-suite solutions may include adjusting the airflow or sealing gaps.  Owners with pets can install HEPA [high-efficiency particulate air] or similar air filters.  Adjustments to a building’s HVAC system may be possible to prevent or minimize air flow between units.


Second-hand smoke is a known and recognized health hazard that has become a major issue in communities.  Condo documents may prohibit smoking in common areas or suites.  Where smoking is allowed, communities have an obligation to ensure second-hand smoke from a suite does not affect other residents.  There are enforcement mechanisms to ensure smoke does not migrate from its source to other suites or common areas.  Solutions may include air purifiers, higher air pressure in hallways and filter systems.  More extensive HVAC solutions are available.


Chemicals are necessary to eliminate insects, rodents and other pests.  They are commonly used as part of landscaping.  Many cleaning products also contain chemicals.  Building residents may use them in their suite and service providers will use them throughout indoor and outdoor common areas.

Pest control services can be asked to use environmentally-friendly chemicals.  Residents with sensitivities can request advance notice of their use so they can make arrangements to be away from the building at time of use.  Fumes usually dissipate after a few hours.


Where mould is present in a condo suite responsibility for its removal lies with the resident or owner.  Mould arising from a common area should be removed by building management.


Condo residents are expected to take measures ensuring unreasonable odors don’t escape their unit.  Doing so can be a breach of condo documents and lease.  When complaints are made, condo residents and owners allowing or causing odours to escape their unit are expected to prevent this from occurring.  When a building-wide HVAC system allows this to occur, the condo corporation may be required to take corrective action.

Management has a responsibility to help address these problems.  Pet dander, smoke and odours should not be entering your unit from air vents.