It's not all in my head!
September 28, 2011 9:46 PM   Subscribe

There is a mold or mildew problem under the kitchen sink in my new apartment. My allergies are a curse that cause me to detect smells that normal people can't, and my landlord can't smell it and thinks I might be crazy.

When I moved in, I discovered that the kitchen sink had a leak down below, and the previous tenants had stuck a plastic container under there and let it pool with nasty water rather than informing the landlord. When I informed him of the leak, the landlord got a plumber to come fix it. After that I proceeded to spray the living hell out of the inside of the cabinet with diluted bleach, then a couple of days later vinegar, then a couple of days later Lysol, followed with hours of a space heater directed into the cabinet. Each time the smell would almost completely go away, then it would come right back a couple of days later. I've taken to avoiding the kitchen and never opening the cabinet doors, but I'm having bad allergies. The smell is extremely strong to me, but non-allergic people can't detect it, which means that when my landlord came in to inspect it, he couldn't see or smell anything. He's trying to help me, but I think he's starting to think I'm imagining it, and he seems to be at a loss for what to do. I suspect that the leak probably got into the wood of the cabinet or down under the cabinet, and that it needs to be torn out and replaced. What can I do/how can I prove that there's a problem, and not just with my head?
posted by Dilemma to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Call a mold-abatement company and charge it to your landlord when they find the stuff. If they don't...hmm, maybe it's something else :)
posted by rhizome at 9:49 PM on September 28, 2011

OK. Sadly, I've concluded I am a "super taster" probably due to my absolutely ridiculous sense of smell - you are not crazy.

I've also owned, worked in property management, and had my commercial real estate license. Here is the deal...

Your landlord is lying because the wood is absolutely infiltrated. The entire structure (including drywall!) needs to be ripped out and replaced. Down to the studs. And treated before being re-built. Full stop.

Stop treating the problem. Call your city apartment inspector. Make a formal complaint. If you live in a good jurisdiction, they will come out and measure the mold, inspect it visually - whatever. They will then IMMEDIATELY require your landlord to remedy the problem.

Your issue is maybe not bad enough to require that your landlord temporarily or permanently re-home you at his cost, but you should get rent considerations while your kitchen is dismantled and fixed. I think.

If this is Toxic Black Mold (your city inspector will test, I hope) all bets are off and I have no idea what will happen, but the remedy will be burly.


Call the city or county. That's your answer and best resource.

memail me for more anecdata and stories in my personal experience dealing with this.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 10:19 PM on September 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

instead of spraying on surfaces put a bowl of white vinegar (alcohol vinegar, the one i use has 7% acidity) in the cabinet/kitchen. that way it evaporates slowly and permeates the entire area.
posted by canned polar bear at 12:03 AM on September 29, 2011

mold likes hot humid places with no air circulation. i forgot to mention, in addition to the bowl of vinegar (which won't change things overnight), in my experience using a mixture of diluted vinegar and bleach to wipe surfaces down gets rid of the smell and a dehumidifier will probably be more effective than any type of heater if there's still some humidity lurking around. all this is assuming you're still interesting in trying to get rid of the problem.
posted by canned polar bear at 12:25 AM on September 29, 2011

I had a similar problem (fortunately I wasn't the only person who could smell the musty). What really really helped, though, was getting one of those Damp-rid sets -- it's a dehumidifying thing that works using a bag of dessicant powder in a sieve over a bucket, basically -- and I put it in the space under the sink. It worked a treat -- if you decrease the humidity in that space, the mold/mildew/whatever can't grow.

The Damp-Rid things are fairly cheap -- no more than 15 bucks -- and you can get them in most hardware stores. Go for the plain in-a-bucket kind (the "bucket" is only the size of a smallish plant pot), rather than springing for the fancy-pants one that looks nice enough (in theory) to be out on a shelf. Get a couple of the refills on the dessicant, though -- you'll have to change the powder after a few weeks, and if your hardware store is like mine, they tend to run out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:18 AM on September 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

The bottom surface of most cabinents are usually raised up about 5 inches off the floor. So do you think when the water was leaking it seeped down and pooling under the cabinent? Mold could still be growing there. The only way to be sure is if your landlord actually took your sink apart and pulled out the cabinent.
I am pretty sure that's the problem with my bathroom sink. It was leaking when I moved in a couple months ago. They have fixed the leak but I noticed a smell still coming from under my sink, and you can see that the bottom surface of the cabinent is water damaged, so one can only guess how long this was going on. I can probably pull this cabinent out easy enough since it's so small, just haven't gotten around to it (or possibly scared snakes will jump out as well). But anyway, there are signs of mold coming up, i see black marks creeping out which appear to be mold. My brother can't smell it or any of the other smells I pick out in my apartment, but he's lived in many apartments around this town and may have become immune to it. Maybe your landlord has become too accustomed to the smell as well. So I suggest pulling out the cabinent if he hasn't already done so.
posted by udon at 6:58 AM on September 29, 2011

Tell the landlord that the floor under the sink cabinet may be rotten, the whole cabinet could fall through into the downstairs eventually if he doesn't attend to it. If the mold persists it could be a sign of another leak somewhere else.
posted by mareli at 7:03 AM on September 29, 2011

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