Odd, scary apartment smells

Just recently, we moved to the UK, found an apartment, and promptly discovered some nasty problems with it. We don’t have the know how to properly diagnose the exact nature of it though, which has proven exhausting to us… so I thought I’d throw it out to the community and see what your opinions might be.

When we first viewed the place, my fiancee and I immediately noticed a somewhat prominent odor, that I assumed was a mixture of fresh paint and the place being closed up for a few days… we both also assumed it would air out. We signed the place and moved in.

Upon moving in, we found the cheap ikea furniture the place was furnished with were all warped on the inside drawers from dampness, the mattress also smelt damp, and the carpets in the bedrooms as well. Then, the pervasive smell that I took for paint would come back even after being aired. The laundry machine stunk like a swamp sewer. We thought this was the primary source. However, something really odd smelled from under the sink, too.

We spoke with the landlord, who divulged that the place had sat empty for several weeks, probably after being buttoned up a long time and after the carpets had been cleaned, and not left to dry. They removed the furniture and cleaned the carpet.

A plumber then came by, immediately labelled our smell as “sewer”. He noticed that there wasn’t a trap under the sink, put one in, left. The maintenance man took the laundry machine away, as it was irreparably moldy with trapped filthy water on the insides.

However the overriding problem we have is that the weird, acrid, almost chemically pungent smell, which is only medium-strong as you come in but of course with olfactory fatigue dimishes to a point, continues to be in evidence. We think it is residual smell from the kitchen, as it is much less in evidence when we shut and seal the kitchen off. More worryingly, the kitchen itself is eminating this strange sweet, wet and alarming aura that always returns no matter how much we heat or air it out.

Now, we thought we remembered some yellow spots under the sink before the maintenance man slapped some anti mildew paint on there when he removed the washer.

My best guess would be mold spores along the walls on the inside of the kitchen sink and cabinets, but you can imagine the landlord, having cleaned the carpets, replacing the furniture, and replacing the dish washer is in no more mood to do anything else. But our noses tell us something is very foul, especially and possibly only from the kitchen, although it seems to seep everywhere. Note that otherwise the apartment is newly refurbished, and seems perfectly sealed along the baseboards, ceilings, etc. The walls are dry and the paint not cracked or moist. From all indications the place looks brand new.

Right now we’re being called crazy by the lettings agent and the landlord. Yet we feel unsafe by the smell, being aware of what mold/mildew can do but have no proof and no way to check short of using a crowbar. We have elected to stay in a hotel or sleep on friend’s couches than spend our nights there. Does anyone have any experience with how I’ve described what we’re experiencing?

Yep, we had some nasty mold in our old home. It only cost $17,000 to fix it!

Here’s what I would do:

  1. Start with a home mold test. This can, at least, give you an idea of what you are dealing with. You can test surfaces, if any are exposed, or the air. These vary from very simple to things you bring to someone else to specifically test (I’d recommend the latter if you are worried).

  2. If #1 gives you any interesting results, hire someone to come out and test for mold. This will give you a much better idea of what you are dealing with and should give you the power you need to make your landlord fix it.

All of this depends on the smell (if it’s bad enough to not live there, start testing) and your lease (if it is easy to get out, do so).

Side note: I don’t buy your landlords explanation of the carpets if they had to remove the laundry machine due to mold.

Yeah, it sounds like the lettings agent is in bed with the landlord, and neither of them give a shit about you – they just want to make some money off the fucking mold-heap apartment, and they’re frustrated that you’re the latest in probably a long line of renters with functioning noses.

What was the landlord’s explanation for the unbelievably moldy laundry machine? How the fuck does a laundry machine even GET that moldy? And “the carpets had been cleaned and not left to dry” – what the hell does THAT mean? What carpet cleaner puts carpets back wet?

Has it rained since you’ve been in this apartment? What about the other units in the building? How many units is it and do they all fucking reek as well?

Something is deeply wrong here and you should probably contact a local tenant’s rights organization to find out about getting out of your lease due to unhealthful conditions and misrepresentation. Getting the mold test is an excellent idea to give you some objective grounds to fight from.

Great to hear people agree. It’s been tough not having friends who can just pop over to corroborate.

Yeah, these guys have been sketchy the moment we reported problems, and it was only through cross referencing different tidbits from different people that we were able to start making sense of the situation.

It sounds like the previous tenant, who had stayed there for 2-5 years, was a bachelor who was almost never home. We’re not sure if he was a slob or never used his appliances, or had his nose hairs fall out from excessive smoking or what, maybe or maybe not he let the place fall into disuse. The agents first claimed he was gone only a week before we showed up, but the upstairs tenants had reported a gas leak in our flat a week before we got there, and had smelled it for about a week before that. We finally learned it was entirely possible the tenant moved out much earlier and only handed the keys in recently, no way of knowing when he actually moved.

It is London, so I guess it is to be expected that with a long period with no heating dampness might settle in, but the ikea furniture being that musty and actually warped was pretty alarming. How a washing machine also get that smelly is pretty impressive. Even more impressive is how the agent was able to put his nose to it, and after smelling a load that came out like Baba Yaga had it hidden it in her nether region, also claim it normal, was the first sign we were going to have problems.

Since then we’ve caught him in all kinds of little white lies, some things, like claiming to have checked our previous landlord reference (we wanted to make sure he knew we weren’t problem tenants normally) so benign there was no reason for him to do so.

On top of this, even though we haven’t slept more than a single night there in three weeks, the landlord has agreed to let us out of the lease only when new tenants are found, and forcing us to cover the rent until they move in (which could be weeks).

Anyway, I’ve put a couple ads on home repair and maintenance websites, hopefully we can get this assessed. Once we have some kind of proof, we’re going to slam them with that, with lawyer advice we are getting through a friend, and a nice little clause related to our deposit that is a technical breach of contract and can award us 3x the deposit. It’s time to bring out the big guns.

Be thankful you’re only renting.

Sounds like you may also want to talk to a lawyer who specializes in property/renters’ rights in the UK. I obviously don’t know how it works over there but you should be able to get some sort of inspector involved, I would think.

The agent sounds ridiculously dodgy to me, let alone the stinking apartment. I hope the stuff you mention at the bottom of the second post lets you get out of there with minimal fuss and sting them on the deposit.

Out of interest, what area of London are you in and which agency is it? Good to know in case I need to avoid them like the fucking plague in future.

I’m not gonna name them yet so a random google search won’t reveal my hand. But after that I’m gonna plaster the internet with my story so it never has to happen to anyone who looks up reviews again. Wish I had thought to check earlier, as there are already plenty or reviews of them with horror stories equal to mine.

From the horrible pervasive smells and the creepy landlord’s immunity to them it sounds like you might also be living in a Lovecraftian horror story. Be sure to start keeping a journal so we can have a detailed account of your last moments.

The first thing my mum said when we skyped was, is there a dead person under the floor?

For the finale: We talked to mold specialists, but they suggested the problem sounded more like plumbing leaks. We brought in a plumber, who promptly identified the lack of P-traps under the sink, which would also have compromised the washer and probably the fridge (although the last wasn’t as stinky) and caused mold of which there were signs behind the cabinets as well as bucket traps in the bathroom connecting to the kitchen which can also get stinky from disuse or neglect (they’re illegal in the States apparently).

So, the plumbing was unfinished/incompetant. We showed this proof to the landlord and agents who told us we could shove it, since they could bring in their own plumber and have him say whatever she wanted to. Way to go, assholes. However, we mutually agreed to terminate the contract, although they insisted we wait until another tenant signed a lease. We didn’t like the idea of a wait, so started on our legal options, but thankfully a new tenant did sign within a week and a half, we got the F out of there and have now signed a great flat in a nice area from a friend of a friend who has lived there for years and is only moving out 'cause she’s buying. The landlord is great, met face to face, with no agents involved. Ahhhh, closure.

You let a new tenant move into THAT?

Keep everything in a safe in case they decide to file suit for some loophole in the contract.

Burn it down!

Glad to hear it worked out. I lived in a room one semester and had no problems - but when the next guy moved in, he complained all year about the smell. Sucks to live in a crappy place.

Sounds like the best possible resolution to me. Even if you could have forced them to fix it, you’d still have a crappy landlord. Good for you.

We had to let them find a new sucker, as it was our only real option other than taking the legal route which would have cost us time, effort and money. I guess we could have had the work done ourselves and subtracted the cost from the rent, but we were told that can get rather ugly. Being in a new country with new jobs, it just wasn’t allowing us to have the right head space.

Yeah, we have all the documentation from our plumber and the agents and tons of photos backed up three times sideways, but I’m really hoping I never have to hear about it again.

I do feel sorry for the new tenant, but it’s entirely possible we were more sensitive than most, or that he’ll be a slob. But the landlord told us he was an “odour scientist” which sounds like so much of an ironical coincidence it has to be made up… but if not, they’re going to hear about it all over again. But, seeing as the work needing to be done really isn’t expensive or a big deal (unless they want to be thorough about the mold damage) I have the feeling they’ll give him an easier time, especially now that they’d know we weren’t trying to get out of the lease for other reasons (the agent told us he suspected we were trying to break the lease for other reasons, like we had found a better flat or something, even after our plumber report.)

Jesus, what a cockmongering excuse for an agent. (And a landlord, for that matter.)

Once smelled the smell of something vile in my apartment, like that of a beast most abominable. As I followed the accursed olfactory trail towards it’s source my dread mounted as it slowly it dawned on me that the true beast was me.

The smell is coming from inside your asshole.

How is it even remotely possible that plumbers didn’t install p-traps?

It is the second thing they learn. The first thing is “pipes grade at a quarter inch per foot”. The third is “pay day is on Friday.”