My neighbor stinks - literally.
November 6, 2011 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Bad smells filter through the heating system in my building, meaning that my apartment - and by extension, me - smell like these bad smells (cigarette smoke + other). Help us both to smell like something more pleasant?

I moved into a new apartment in September, and within a few weeks I noticed that cigarette smoke was occasionally wafting through the ventilation system. I complained to my landlord who said he'd "look into it" - whatever that means, though I have noticed my neighbors immediately below me going outside to smoke, so he may have spoken to them. I stopped noticing concentrated bursts of smoke coming in, so I figured the problem was mostly eradicated.

Unfortunately, it's not. We're just now hitting the time of the year when the heat is on all the time and the windows can't be open overnight (3rd floor, so it's warm enough up here that some fresh air is still necessary at times). Though the concentrated bursts of smoke are still gone, I've noticed that all of my clothes smell like smoke - even those laundered recently - and that the smoke is simply just more subtle and constant, so it's a slightly different type of problem. BUT: this is not all. Other smells come in with the heat, and I've noticed - and this is the really unfortunate part - that this smells just like my first-floor neighbor, who is.... unhygienic, shall we say. She smokes (cigarettes and otherwise), has a dog who I'm pretty sure is not housebroken, and when you walk into the house there's definitely a general mustiness and a slightly sickly sweet smell that is what is now drifting into my apartment. How I didn't smell this when I viewed the apartment (twice!) last spring, I have no idea.

One other detail: I'm personally really disgusted by cigarette smoke. I grew up with a chain-smoking father and the feeling of smelling like smoke just makes me want to throw things. So, there's that.

I will complain to my landlord again, but I'm not sure realistically what he can do, short of evicting her and doing a major cleaning purge of the houses's ventilation system - i.e. not gonna happen. Also, I may be a shorter-term tenant (1-2 years), whereas the others who live here have done so for a long time. So I figure I should suck it up as much as possible (pun not intended, but... ew).

This is all to say: what in the world can I do? I'm concerned primarily for my respiratory health (I've been sick twice since I moved in, which is double my usual record for an entire year) and for the smell stuck in my clothing, since this is part of the impression I make to the outside world. Can I put anything in front of the vents to soak up smells? Store my clothes in a certain way? Will an air purifier do enough? Any suggestions at all are more than absolutely welcome.

Potentially useful details: forced-air heat, I don't pay for utilities (I've been using the 'fan' option on my a/c at night a lot), limited budget on my end, but high priority placed on my health.
posted by AthenaPolias to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I use three air purifiers because I have the same issues. The downside is that my house sounds like NASA command. The sweet crisp pure air and no terrible allergy attacks outweigh that.
posted by winna at 2:56 PM on November 6, 2011

limited budget on my end, but high priority placed on my health.

How much of a bargain is this place versus the comparable housing stock in your area? I would be out of there immediately if I had any other reasonable options.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:02 PM on November 6, 2011

If it was me, I'd seal up the vents and get a space heater(s)*. And maybe an air purifier as well. And then move as soon as my lease was up.

*For safety reasons, I'd use one of those heaters that's basically an oil filled radiator.
posted by MexicanYenta at 3:08 PM on November 6, 2011

Response by poster: Yeah, moving is not an option - I looked for three years for this place (and trust me when I say this is a big upgrade from the awful landlord situation I was in before), and I'm tapped out on moving expenses, not to mention I simply don't have the time to even consider it. This is one of the many reasons I am trying to be as zen and accepting of this situation as possible, because as soon as I start getting really cranky, my quality of life is going to plummet.

posted by AthenaPolias at 4:04 PM on November 6, 2011

I use these. They are fantastic.
posted by h0p3y at 4:10 PM on November 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Place carbon filters over the air-vents and encourage your landlord to look into the filter at the source. Perhaps he could now encourage the first floor folk to become more hygienic, and perhaps a carbon filter could be installed at the air-intake in that unit.
posted by mmdei at 4:27 PM on November 6, 2011

Best answer: I recommend the febreze clean air plug in filter so many times on askme for these kinds of situations that I am reasonably sure the mods suspect me of shilling for the company. BUT SERIOUSLY it has saved my sanity over the past 5 years living next to two elderly psychotic chain smokers who smoke in their bedroom with the windows closed all fucking winter.

I also sealed up every single seam and crack in the walls with white silicone shower caulk.
posted by elizardbits at 4:41 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

This happened to me in a flat I lived in a while ago. (In my State a landlord isn't allowed to discriminate against non-smokers by law, so there's no way to stop someone smoking in their own house, regardless of the effects on neighbours. Fair enough, to be honest).

I worked out that it wasn't so much the vents as the loose floorboards and the gaps between the boards and the walls that were allowing circulating air between my flat and the one below (where the smokers lived). I sealed up the gaps properly and though it didn't entirely stop the smoking fairy, it was magnitudes cleaner. Have a look at the space between your floor and the wall and if there's a gap, fill the space underneath the boards up with some of that expanding no-more-gaps silicone you get at the hardware shop.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:30 PM on November 6, 2011

Response by poster: elizardbits - is this what you're talking about?
posted by AthenaPolias at 7:20 PM on November 6, 2011

What location (where in the country) are you? There might be local ordinances, but since the landlord isn't putting the hammer down, smoking in the building is probably not prohibited.

HEPA air purifiers are an option, but they're expensive and you'll need to replace the filters. And the noise can be an annoyance.

Is heat included in the rent, or do you have to pay for the electrical baseboards? It's unfair for you to close/clog the central air heating and rely on electrical heating, but try to find bulk amounts of "poster putty" - the stuff college kids use to stick posters/whatever to the walls. You can grab a chunk and roll it in your hands into thick noodles; great way to temporarily/semi-permanently seal cracks and seams to prevent smells from entering (or exiting) your area.
posted by porpoise at 9:26 PM on November 6, 2011

Response by poster: porpoise, I'm in Cincinnati. I haven't read anything about smoking in Ohio tenant law or anything city-wide, and I'm almost positive there's nothing in my lease prohibiting it (surprising... you'd think the fire risk would make it a standard clause?).
posted by AthenaPolias at 2:06 PM on November 7, 2011

Response by poster: In case anyone checks this thread in the future, that link was indeed what elizardbits recommended. I bought two for my three-room apartment and sure enough, within a few hours the smell had dissipated entirely. By contrast, the bathroom - the one room without an air filter right now - smells like smoke 'round the clock. I can also smell the smoke as it puffs out of the heating system, but the filter seems to deal with it immediately afterward. I am SO relieved.
posted by AthenaPolias at 3:36 PM on November 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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