Can I grill on my apartment balcony?

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Photo: Oleg Senkov (Shutterstock)

Nothing says summer like the smoke billowing from my kitchen window. The smoke is courtesy of my very curious and very fashionable downstairs neighbor, who has lived in the building for 14 years and therefore feels entitled to light his propane grill. It doesn’t always bother me; on the smoke side, it is rather generous with its grilled chicken. But I wonder: is it legal? Specifically, can an apartment dweller grill on his balcony?

Can I have a barbecue on the balcony of my apartment?

The answer is complicated. First, let’s look at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines, who recommend placing the grill “well away from the house, patio railings, and out of eaves and overhanging branches.” But it’s not a law, just a suggestion. Turns out, grilling regulations vary by state, city, and individual property managers.

I live in Chicago, so let’s take a look at the current city fire code regulations. Chicago Code Section 15-26-540(4) states that “the storage, handling, retention or use of any liquefied petroleum gas” is not permitted in apartment buildings housing 20 or more people. My building only houses seven people, so my neighbor’s propane grill is technically legal. It’s also worth noting that I couldn’t find any laws regarding charcoal grills on balconies, which is good news for me and my dinky. camp grill.

One final note: Although the City of Chicago technically allows propane barbecues, homeowners, condo boards, and homeowners associations all have the power to set their own rules. I double-checked my lease and my landlord specifically prohibits grilling in outdoor areas. Well. I am not narcissistic. I could just recheck my smoke detectors.

Safety tips for grill on your porch

The NFPA Reports that gas grills have historically been involved in an average of 8,900 home fires per year, including 3,900 structure fires and 4,900 outdoor fires per year. With that in mind, here are some tips gleaned from the NFPA website:

  • Check your propane tank for leaks: The agency reports that about 10% of gas grill structure fires and 22% of outdoor gas grill fires have been caused by “leaks or ruptures”.
  • Locate your grill away from building structures: NFPA research found that 29% of structural grill fires started on an outdoor balcony or open porch, while 27% started in a yard, deck or patio. Please ensure your grill is a safe distance from eaves and awnings. (I need to tell my neighbor about it.)
  • When in doubt, stick to charcoal: The NFPA found that gas grills started four out of five structure fires. If you’re not a confident griller, consider switching to a lower-risk charcoal grill.

Lora M. Andrew