Ask a Friendly Landlord

'Help! My Apartment Smells Worse Than the Subway'

A friendly landlord swoops in to air out your apartment.

August 30, 2019
Photo by Emily Ringel

What's your apartment living pet peeve? Your next door nuisance? What do you do about the nosy neighbor who rifles through your mail? Or the guy who practices the trombone at 7 a.m. on weekends? In our latest series, Ask a Friendly Landlord, a peaceable expert suggests resolutions to the issues that arise when humans share space.

Some of the hardest things about living in apartment buildings is the lack of control we have on the environment. Thin walls and close quarters mean that we can hear the couple next door fighting about who has to take out the trash at night, and hear their alarm going off every 15 minutes the next morning. Of course, it can also provide intrigue—never forget Miranda Hobbes meeting the hunky Dr. Robert Leeds at a tenant board meeting—but things like sounds and smells are the most frequent reminders that so often, in apartment buildings, we’re living in someone else’s world.

The smells from other people’s apartments can often be alluring; my downstairs neighbor is always cooking something delicious-smelling, which can give me the endorphin rush of “cooking smells” without ever having to turn my stove on. But other neighbor smells aren’t as easy for us to love. This week, we’ve talked to Eric, a landlord from Pennsylvania, about all your odor-related concerns.

I have an indoor chainsmoker living above me. When we both have our windows open and the wind blows just so, it feels like he is in my kitchen with me.
Brian M.

Second-hand smoke is no joke—for your lungs and for your upholstery. But, Eric explains, your neighbor might not even know you’re smelling it. “One thing I promote in my properties is open communication amongst tenants,” he says. “They might not even realize their smoke is going into the other apartments.”

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I own two buildings on my little lot. I ban smoking. I know the damage that it can do to a building. That stench never goes away. My parents were heavy smokers and when they passed away we found it was impossible to get rid of that smell. I used to smoke and if I smell that lingering smell on a prospective tenant, even if they say they only smoke outdoors, I will not rent to them. I live here too. I don't want to be picking up cigarette butts. It amazes me how people think the world is their ashtray. ”
— Cathy W.

Having a conversation with your neighbor, Eric says, can lead to solutions. “They might say, ‘hey, did you realize I work from home, and sometimes I open the window and smell your smoke?’ Maybe they can step outside to smoke during the workday, when you’re most likely to smell it.”

A smoker friend, who I’ll call Jessica, agrees with this advice. “I think that you should be allowed to do what you want in your apartment, but if it’s disturbing your neighbors then you should adjust,” she says. “Talk to them one on one and see if you can come to a compromise.”

Whatever you do, though, don’t leave a passive-aggressive note. Jessica has gotten these in the past; according to her, they “make you feel like a child, and make you think, ‘I’m gonna do exactly what I want.’” Face to face communication will get you a whole lot farther.

My neighbor always complains I’m cooking ‘smelly’ food, whenever I use lots of spices or fragrant ingredients. One problem: It’s the food I love to eat? Who is in the wrong? What’s the solution?
Sarah Y.

For many people, “smelly food” can be a euphemism for “food from other cultures that I’m not used to eating.” It should go without saying that this phenomenon is not your fault, and I’m sorry you have to deal with it. Spices and fragrant things are one of the great joys of life!

But perhaps the solution here is to educate your neighbor about these delicious things you’re cooking. Inviting them over for dinner could both open their eyes and establish good will.

Eric has been on the other side of this: “In the building I live in, I have a tenant below me that cooks constantly. I’m always like, hmm...that’s fragrant! But one time I saw them, and said, “hey, when you’re cooking I smell it a lot.’ And they said, ‘oh, I’m trying to be a better cook and eat healthier. Maybe some of the things you’re smelling are broccoli or fish.’ And added, ‘why don’t you come over for dinner?’” A shared dinner turned out to be just the ticket: once someone eats a delicious meal someone cooked you, Eric says, they’ll be a little more understanding (and a little happier) the next time they smell your dinner.

I recognize that this solution might require you to bite your tongue, and invite someone into your home who has been critical of you; but if you feel safe around them, you can think of it as an investment in years of delicious, unbothered dinners.

And if your neighbor continues to complain after you’ve extended the olive branch, consider recommending some scented candles and blocking their number.

There’s a lingering smell of mold or mildew in the entryway to my apartment building. I’ve written to the super several times asking him to check it out, to no avail. What other steps can I take? It’s gross and makes it way less comforting to return to my home.
Phillip H.

Yuck! Mold can cause unpleasant smells, but it’s also bad news for your lungs. “That’s a tough one,” Eric agrees, “because as a tenant, you can’t bring in your own mold investigator.” He explains that while many people will just go ahead and call the city, that could cause tension between you and your landlord. Instead, he suggests starting with re-reading your lease with a fine-tooth comb.

“Unless it’s in the lease, the landlord has no obligation to fix anything,” he says. “If the landlord promises to keep the place safe (in the lease), that might refer to barred windows and locked doors. But safe can also be classified as healthy-safe: you can say, ‘this mold is dangerous stuff, and per the lease, you have to do something about it.’” If you live in a big city, he says, you’re in luck: the courts in places like New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles tend to side with tenants. It looks like there’s hope for you and your dank entryway yet!

How do you deal with gross apartment smells? Tell us below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



myapartmentsmellslikeshit February 27, 2023
how tf did anything written here solve my detest for the smell that seeps through my walls and reminds me of the most disgusting things in this life? I was angry when I came to the internet for a solve and my dumb ass thought FOOD 52 COULD HELP?? HA. I'm reading "olive branch" and all I want to do is dump my trash outside their front door and let them know their "fragrant differences" are unwelcome here. I need therapy after this article.
Mary June 27, 2021
I used to live in a pre-war vintage building that developed a stench coming up from the basement that was unbearable, like decomposing bodies. I moved.
Sophie A. January 30, 2021
This article is useless, and flippant in its tone. Neighbors who live in apartment buildings must be sensitive to those around them. This includes offenses such as noise, and certainly pungent cooking smells. If someone wants to do as they please, move into a single-family home. And don’t invite me over for dinner to eat your repulsive pot roast that requires me to burn incense all day long. I would rather die.
L.D. E. February 20, 2021
Agree 100%. People think freedom allows them todo anything forgetting. what everyone. SHOULD know by now that is Your liberty ends where someone else's begins. I have neigbor smoKING and my house particularly my bedroom smell cigarettes that THEY CHOSE to smoke and I did NOT. They do so sitting on their deck aware smoke MOVES. Smoke is NOT static and this affecting and poising me in my house. I lived in my condo for almost 20 years long before them and since they moved in, I can no longer open my windows for ventilation nor air my house and let alone enjoy my deck which is overlooking a lake and the ONLY reason why I chose the house was precisely for the lake AND the green trees. I even bought a fake green grass carpet just before they moved in and that carpet NEVER got the chance tobe played on my deck comes summer they are the ONLY ones sitting out and enjoying the landscape I used to enjoy UNTIL they moved in. It is a mixed feeling because the previous owner was my best friend and she died of cancer. She was the first neighbor ever I consider like family. I wanted to befriend the new neighbors but cigarettes caused me headaches which my doctor told them they could smoke away from the porch to allow me to breath fresh air . I pray for bad weather JJUST to spare me from cigarettes smell. All my life, I lived a healthy living and now someone, out of nowhere destroying my health that I so previously protected to keep my body, temple of God, HEALTH. They are forcing nicotine from their cigarettes smoking on me with all the side effects including Vascular Constriction. As reported in CDC studies. All these in the name of "god" money/ greed of tobacco companies in Virginia making money AT THE EXPENSE of God creation meaning destroying the smokers (at least they chose their liberty to smoke). AND destroying my health trough those cigarettes smokers (as a secondary or PASSIVE smoker despite my will to preserve the temple of God to choose NOT to smoke). Bottom line, I concur with you, these SHOULD live in a single home rather than in community if they can't have conscience of the world around them that may or may not tolerate what the CHOICE they make for foods, cigarettes, sprays or whatever affects others through smell or health impact.
Katerina B. August 27, 2020
This advice is useless. My neighbors cook and smoke at ALL hours of the day and night and it's unbearable. No amount of air fresheners, baking soda, vinegar, or incense or oil diffuser helps to cover up the smell of smoke, greasy hamburgers, bacon, or potatoes. Cracking a window isn't an option in the colder months. It's even woken me up in the middle of the night on more than one occasion. It's worst in the bathroom; have a two floor apartment and the smells travel to every inch of the space, to the point I feel physically ill and have to breathe through my mouth. Moving isn't an option, either. Did I mention they smoke constantly? Some people are completely inconsiderate of others.
Ken M. August 28, 2020
I really feel for you. And not being able to move makes it a prison. Is there anything in your rental agreement or local laws that can protect you from your inconsiderate neighbors? Is there any way to approach your neighbors then landlord?
Ken M. January 1, 2020
No offense but the "advice" is very bad. If someone is stinking up a building then the offender needs to be considerate of others. You may enjoy "fragrant" cooking but others need to enjoy their apartments free from your smells. The offender is the one who needs to make the corrections.

Foodie September 15, 2019
No one should have to smell anything from another home .
I lived next to someone that cooked mainly India culture food, That constant smell literally got to the point of making me ill front the late night smell radiating from their home . Not to mention the cigarettes smell that came from another neighbor home .
You may have a right to cook or smoke what you like in your (own ) home, but if you are making it a unpleasant and un-peaceful living situation for your neighbor/neighbors
in an attached home situation, then the rules must change. Those are people that need to live in their own home. Not where they are interfering with others even if unintentionally..
I don’t agree with the invite one to dinner and all goes away. That’s a dream world.
Staunch is staunch anyway you smell it.

Cathy W. September 8, 2019
I own two buildings on my little lot. I ban smoking. I know the damage that it can do to a building. That stench never goes away. My parents were heavy smokers and when they passed away we found it was impossible to get rid of that smell. I used to smoke and if I smell that lingering smell on a prospective tenant, even if they say they only smoke outdoors, I will not rent to them. I live here too. I don't want to be picking up cigarette butts. It amazes me how people think the world is their ashtray.
MarieGlobetrotter September 7, 2019
In Montreal, it’s illegal to smoke in your apartment if you rent it. And even if you are the owner, it’s very much frowned upon.
Sylvia March 30, 2021
I’m in Toronto and have been loving scent-free for 9 years until the guy next door moved in. I never used my balcony except for plants (not one to sit outside, but would be nice during pandemic). He smokes cigarettes and weed initially on the balcony (same balcony just loudly divider) and indoors too. I tried to talk to him, but big mistake he swore and has been getting revenge on me because someone else complained about his chain smoking during the pandemic and he thought it was me because of the timing of the chat (I later accidentally learned that his downstairs neighbour suffered one week of 24/7 chain smoking). Now he just smokes freely and punches my walls and stomps loudly around on purpose, and talks loudly until 2:30am on the balcony that I cannot use so it’s like he’s in my room. I have to be careful when I open even a crack of my only window beside the balcony for fresh air (yes I only have one window in my bachelor so can’t escape smells!).

Thanks to the marijuana legalization, there are other smokes inside the building (below me loud coughing hackers smokes weed and sprays lots of air freshener and other tenants too) so I get smells from elsewhere indoors too.

On a less stinky note since it’s more of a nuisance and not unhealthy like smoking 🚬, a couple moved in across the hall and often cook Indian food and it has come into my apartment too more of a greasy smell and once it lasted in the common outside hallway for 2 days. No offence but I love Indian food just don’t want my hike smelling and btw I’m Asian but don’t like stir frying at home because I don’t like smells.

People are inconsiderate and shouldn’t be allowed to do stuff like this when it affects others.