In the summer of 2015, cell phone video captured Dwayne and Chris Matt of St. Petersburg, Florida, being confronted by a county environmental inspector asking the brothers about neighbor complaints regarding smoke and odor from their backyard barbecue grill. The video, in which the inspector asks the men to try to contain the smoke from their grill to their yard per a county ordinance, quickly went viral.
While the Matts were ultimately not cited by the county for air pollution, Memorial Day’s unofficial start to summer means outdoor grilling is heating up—and with it, the question over the legality of your barbecue practices.
And air pollution isn’t the only concern. Violations of fire safety ordinances and regulations pose even bigger problems for many residential grillers.
Check your city code
In most major cities, fire codes require that grills be a minimum of 10 feet from anything that can catch fire, including building walls. Such codes also rule out most charcoal and wood-fired grilling on balconies or fire-escapes. Also a requisite: quick access to a fire extinguisher or water source.
And as the Matt brothers’ story attests, city and county air pollution codes can also come into play if your barbecue emits noxious smoke and odors.
Check your lease or condo association
The fine print of your lease and condo covenant may contain specific barbecue restrictions. Propane is generally a no-no for apartment dwellers, since city gas codes frequently state that you can’t store standard propane cylinders on a balcony, roof deck, backyard, or in a courtyard. Natural gas grills can be used, but they must be made for residential (not commercial) use. And gas lines need to be installed by a licensed master plumber.
Many apartment and condo complexes do allow electric grills on balconies, terraces, roofs, or yards, but check before plugging in your appliance. What’s more, a licensed electrician should visit to make sure that your outlet can handle a grill.
Check your HOA
Homeowner associations are notorious sticklers for barbecue grill enforcement; wood-deck grilling in particular is a fire hazard and affects a community’s insurability. To find out if your association allows grilling on decks, balconies, or patios, check your governing documents, including the rules and regulations section.
If you find that’s the case in your community, it may be something to discuss at your next board meeting.