Life Hacks

'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.”

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“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.
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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!
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Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull

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3 Comments

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.