Can a HOA really tell you what to do about your grill smoke?

Make sure the law is on your side before you smoke the perfect prime rib

Grilling burgers on a gas grill and causing grill smoke
(Image credit: Getty Images / Demetri2k)

Summer is nearly here and that means that it's the perfect time to get grilling. 

However, if you live in a homeowners association, you may need to think twice before you fire up your grill. Homeowners associations - or HOAs - often have regulations about where and how you grill. 

I've tested a lot of the best grills and had to bear these limitations in mind as I worked. To make sure you stay on the right side of the rules, I spoke to a grilling expert about your rights and responsibilities as a homeowner.

Do HOAs have rules about grill smoke?

A close up of grilling sausages on a charcoal grill, with grill smoke

(Image credit: Getty Images / Sean Gladwell)

Lots of homeowners associations have rules about grill smoke. Grilling expert Luis Mata told me 'These rules often include restrictions on open flames and the use of charcoal or wood.' While they're most common for condos, HOAs in more suburban areas are also likely to have rules about grill smoke. 

It can be a little frustrating and smells a little of so-called 'NIMBYism', but there are actually good reasons for these rules. These rules are almost always for fire safety. Whether you live in a condo or a house, grilling always poses a fire risk, so some HOAs place restrictions on grilling to avoid the risk altogether. 

The rules also exist to foster neighborly harmony. I love the smell of grill smoke, but many friends can't stand it. Unless you have a lot of open space, everyone will be smelling what you're cooking, and that smoke can easily blow into their house through a window and cling to their clothes and soft furnishings. This is especially important if you live in a condo. If you live on the third floor and grill on your balcony, that smoke is travelling up through every balcony above you, which is a little antisocial. 

Some HOAs have rules around smoke to close a loophole, too. Some enterprising pitmasters in HOAs with rules about 'open flames' buy pellet smokers in order to circumvent the rules. Pellet smokers technically don't have 'open flames' so get around this rule. It's understandable to want to smoke meats at home, but smoke can still be a fire risk, as well as being a potential irritant for neighbors - hence a ban on pretty much all forms of grilling.

A headshot of grilling expert Luis Mata
Luis Mata

Luis is Co-founder of Meat N' Bone, a nationwide purveyor of premium meats for the home cook. He's also a culinary chef and resident grill master, cofounding Miami's first casual steakhouse, The Wagyu Bar, and the local catering service, Grill Masters.

Do HOAs have rules about where you can grill?

A Coyote 18-Inch Electric Grill cooking on a balcony

(Image credit: Coyote)

Most homeowners associations have rules about where you can grill. Luis Mata told me that 'HOAs typically designate specific grilling areas to ensure safety and minimize disturbances. These areas are often strategically placed away from buildings and communal spaces, with many newer buildings locating grilling stations near the pool for convenience and ambiance.'

If your HOA doesn't have a designated area for grilling you should still be careful. Some have rules about how far from your home your grill must be, or bylaws about how much clearance you need above your grill. These vary from place to place, so make sure you double check your HOA's rules before you start to grill. 

What should you do in a dispute about grill smoke?

If you've accidentally broken the rules - or a neighbor thinks you've broken the rules - the most important thing is to do your homework. You need to go through all of your HOA's rules to ensure you've followed the agreement to the letter. If you're in the right, then you have nothing to worry about,. If you're in the wrong, you can work out how to make amends amicably. 

Luis Mata agrees, and told me 'In the event of a dispute regarding grill smoke within your HOA, the first step is to review your association's regulations to clearly understand the specific rules.'

However, it also pays off to know your legal rights. HOAs re legal entities and can enforce fines. What's more, disputes can easily become litigious. Luis says 'It's also important to be aware of your rights, which can vary significantly between different states and cities.'

What grill should I buy if I can't make any smoke?

Make sure you double-check the rules, but you should be fine with an electric grill. Full disclosure, I think these are far off the flavors of a pellet smoker or charcoal grill, but unlike those grills, an electric grill will cook without smoke. 

Homeowners Association grilling FAQs

Can homeowners associations enforce rules?

Homeowners associations can enforce rules. They are legal entities which can impose fines for rule violations; in extreme circumstances, HOAs can put a lien on your home. 

For more advice about HOAs and grilling, take a look at our examination of when it's antisocial to grill. To learn more about smoking, we took a deep dive into the best wood for smoking

Alex David
Head of eCommerce

As Head of eCommerce, Alex makes sure our readers find the right information to help them make the best purchase. After graduating from Cambridge University, Alex got his start in reviewing at the iconic Good Housekeeping Institute, testing a wide range of household products and appliances. He then moved to BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, assessing gardening tools, machinery, and wildlife products. Helping people find true quality and genuine value is a real passion.