Pet Urine Soaked Carpets — Cosmetic or Sanitary?
October 20, 2012 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Urine (pet) saturated carpets in our new apartment. Merely cosmetic? Or is this an un-sanitary living condition?

Initially, we asked the for the carpet to be replaced due to what we felt was an excessive amount of staining and wear. We were told that the carpet was inspected by a 3rd party expert who determined that the carpet was in salvageable condition. The carpet was then professionally cleaned.

While moving in, we noticed a pungent odor, which, under blacklight inspection, revealed a significant number of concentrated (dog?) urine stains which were confirmed with an sniff test, as well as dribble strains leading outward from the spots.

We've perused the WAC, the new SMC, the tenants union, and solid ground's websites, but we can't determine if this is in fact considered an unsanitary living condition or a cosmetic issue.

Also, given the management's insistence that the problem has already been professionally remediated, must they now move on to replacing the carpet, or can they just endlessly attempt to 'solve' the problem with more cleaning?

Non-helpful answers would include instructions on how to use Natures Miracle.
posted by mmdei to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I had this exact problem in Washington state, though it was about 20 years ago. There is a weird grey area between "We had it cleaned." and "It is clean." that causes problems here. In my case, similar to you, I was moving in to a place predicated on the carpets not smelling like animal pee. When I moved in, they still smelled like animal pee, made my eyes sting and it was just not acceptable to me.

Usually your options are to push it with your new landlord and hope they see it your way [mine grudgingly replaced the carpets which was a headache and then raised my rent which was probably illegal but I didn't know it at the time] or use this as a convenient excuse to break your lease [obviously talk to your local tenant's union people before you proceed down a path like this]. So I don't think this is what's called an unsanitary condition like it would be if you had rats, but I do think that you can say "We asked for the carpets to be replaced because the place stinks. You cleaned them instead, the place still stinks, how are we going to resolve this issue?" Time is sort of of the essence here because you need to basically be like "We can't live here like this" and let the landlord figure out how to either make it right for you or find other tenants.
posted by jessamyn at 11:32 AM on October 20, 2012

I would think it would be really unsanitary to have pee stained carpets. I would also be worried about the padding underneath the carpet as well.

Plus if it's cat pee, which is ammonia based, than its going to be really really hard to get rid of the smell even if you get the carpet cleaned (I had a kitty who did not like to use the litterbox).

Definitely fight to get the carpets and padding changed.
posted by littlesq at 11:40 AM on October 20, 2012

Given the fact that you had to use a black light to discover that this was even a thing, and the carpet has been inspected by a third party, I think it's probably not an official unsanitary living condition.

How bad is the smell? Can you be in the room? Is it nausea inducing? Does it keep you up at night?
posted by Sara C. at 11:41 AM on October 20, 2012

I'm not versed in Washington state tenant law, so I hope this isn't the non-helpful answer you're not looking for.

In my experience, as the owner of multiple pets, and who not coincidentally no longer has carpeting:

1) Black lights can be unreliable as indicators of urine. False positives are common. However, your nose and eyes, one would assume, are pretty reliable.


2) No amount of cleaning, professional or otherwise*, will get a carpet completely clean that has been saturated by pet urine, especially if it is an older carpet already showing stains and wear. In fact, the cleaning probably made the situation worse by "reactivating" previously dry and non-smelly urine spots. If the urine is in the padding and has soaked in to the floor underneath, no cleaning process will be effective, and it will continue to be a problem.

Are you allergic to dogs or pet dander in general? That could be one avenue to explore as far as it being a health issue for you. Or maybe you have a toddler (living with you or visiting) who will be crawling and playing on the floor.

I would force the issue of replacement asap. Once your heat turns on for the winter, the smell will get worse before it gets better. Good luck.

Believe me, I tried. The makers of The Dog Urine Cleaner That Shall Not Be Named drive Mercedes because of me.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 11:50 AM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does it need to be "unsanitary" to be unacceptable? Any detectable odor of urine would be a deal breaker for me, regardless of whether it's "unsanitary" in some official sense. The carpet would go, or I would.
posted by jon1270 at 11:51 AM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does it need to be "unsanitary" to be unacceptable?

In order to file an official complaint, usually. Also an important distinction if mmdei hopes to use nonpayment of rent to force the landlord to change the carpet, or if they hope to break the lease with no repercussions.
posted by Sara C. at 12:18 PM on October 20, 2012

Response by poster: Followup Notes

Blacklight — I understand that not all blacklight stains are urine. We've made the distinction.

Withholding Rent — We have no plans to withhold rent, or break lease without the assistance of a Tenets organization. Nor do we want to. With the exception of the carpet issue, we love the place and location.

Smell — Now that I know what dog urine smells like, it's noticeable upon entry, and near-vomit inducing when laying on the carpet.

Floorboards — The floor is concrete. If they do end up replacing the carpet + pads + damaged tack strips, what do we need to ask for when it comes to the concrete? Wood needs to be replaced, does concrete need to be enzymatically cleaned or sealed?

Still looking for what constitutes an 'unsanitary condition' from a code perspective. Perhaps a more general question would be: How does one come to understand the law when terms such as 'unsanitary' are used without definition?
posted by mmdei at 12:41 PM on October 20, 2012

I would document to them, one more request that the carpet is soiled and smelly since you moved in.
Ask for confirmation in writing of this "third party" that inspected it and ask for them to reinspect it.
If nothing else, I'd want this documented so they don't withhold Your deposit when you move.
posted by calgirl at 12:44 PM on October 20, 2012

I think it depends on what you want out of this situation. I have found, personally, that fighting the landlord over stuff you can fix yourself is rarely helpful.

The path of least resistance here is to get the carpets cleaned with enzymatic cleaner. You can do it yourself using Nature's Miracle or have a company do it.
posted by zug at 12:51 PM on October 20, 2012

My neighbor had a dog that frequently had accidents inside for many years (gross, I know). After he moved away, I have watched the new owners of the house do many things to try to fix the odor issue and so far nothing has worked in the 4 months he's been there. The smell is less but basically he's been told that the wood floor will need to be replaced entirely to get rid of the smell because so much pee soaked into it.

He has tried:
-Removal and disposal of old carpet and padding
-Sanding and refinishing of the floor below the carpet layer
-Repainting the entire interior of the house and replacement of all drapes, etc

If smell is a dealbreaker, then I would not bet on ever having a non-smelly apartment. You should cut your losses and find a different place to live.

I know you said you're not interested in products, but if you're desperate try Zorbx it's an odor removing spray.
posted by dottiechang at 1:04 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have found, personally, that fighting the landlord over stuff you can fix yourself is rarely helpful.

So with you on this. When I move in, I expect to take two days to clean the place up/fix things.
posted by mmdei at 1:10 PM on October 20, 2012

Please document everything. If you decide to stay with the nasty carpet, I bet you they will try to nail you for the cost of replacing the carpet when you move out. I also wonder if they made the last tenants pay for carpet replacement without actually replacing the carpet.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 1:56 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think they should replace the carpet. If the smell is that bad, then the carpet is not really clean. Have your manager come over after you've been gone all day and smell it.
posted by amapolaroja at 1:59 PM on October 20, 2012

Also, the apartment should be clean when you move in. What have they been doing since the last tenant if not cleaning and repainting and replacing nasty carpet?
posted by amapolaroja at 2:05 PM on October 20, 2012

mmdei: "Floorboards — The floor is concrete. If they do end up replacing the carpet + pads + damaged tack strips, what do we need to ask for when it comes to the concrete? Wood needs to be replaced, does concrete need to be enzymatically cleaned or sealed?"

Well, in all the animal shelters I've ever been in, the surfaces that get peed or pooed or puked upon are either stainless steel or concrete, for ease of cleaning. So my guess is that if the concrete isn't cracked, a good scrubbing will be fine. If it is cracked in places where pee could have seeped down, then a good dose of enzymatic cleaner soaking in that crack for a good while and then allowed to dry completely (per the directions) would probably make it ok.

You might consider calling one of those crime scene cleanup services, and ask them what they advise, or what they'd charge to do the work.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:33 PM on October 20, 2012

We were told that the carpet was inspected by a 3rd party expert

Which is almost always the handyman the landlord contracts with. Just sayin'.

Visible stains and obvious smells are unacceptable, and the carpet should be replaced. If that doesn't happen, and you stay, I'd make absolutely sure that every spot, stain and smell is documented and signed-off on by you and the landlord. Otherwise, you may well find the landlord burning your deposit (when you move out) to finally replace the carpet, blaming you for the mess.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:11 AM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I sympathize. My MIL's house reeks of dog pee and it's vile. Carpet cleaning did next to nothing. Even the carpet cleaner guy said the carpets and padding need to be replaced.
posted by radioamy at 7:03 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sounds to me you need to get your own third party experts in, as well as going down and getting a notarized written complaint stating that the carpet smells, you've asked to have it taken care of, and nothing's been done. Heck, get several people from different places--a carpet store, health department, the humane society to come in and make a statement as to the smell and the fact that they agree it will be worse in winter with the heat on. Have them rate it on a scale of one to five. Take pictures of the black light stains. Document everything you've done so far. Make copies and send them with a formal letter asking that your landlord either replace the carpet or release you from the lease. Best if you can get a letter written on a lawyer's letterhead. Just the fact that you have gotten all your ducks in a row and have 'official' looking documents sometimes carries the day.

Demand that the landlord give you the name of this third party 'expert' and what their qualifications are. You also need to know exactly who cleaned the carpet and what they used. Ten to one it was some carpet cleaning company with a bottle of store-bought goo that he got out of the phone book. Or he did it himself with a Rug Doctor, and his buddy agreed it was good enough.

If it's so disgusting that you do wind up breaking your lease, at least you will have some evidence in your favor that indicates how bad the problem was and that you tried to resolve it with the landlord.

No one should have to live with piss.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:07 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

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