Stinky Sickly Air "Freshener" Situation
May 21, 2006 8:33 AM   Subscribe

I believe that another tenant has place an air "freshener" in the hallway out side of our apartments in violation of their lease. I want it removed. What should I do?

I guess this is the inverse of this post.

Recently, new neighbors moved in across the hall from me. A couple and a baby. Soon afterward, I noticed a Glade Wisp Air Freshener on the landing of the stairway immediately outside our apartment doors. I can't say the other tenant placed the device there, because I don't know that for a fact, but it is certainly likely. Maybe the landlord placed it, but I think they would have said something to me if they did.

The hallway now smells like a men's room, and I don't have the world's greatest sense of smell. Aside from the foul odor from this device, it is designed to emit a aerosol of "combustible" material "every 9 to 36 seconds". According to the product packaging, the aerosol is "hazardous to humans and household pets." I am concerned for myself, and my two cats. I am also concerned about the build-up of combustible gas at the top of the stairwell.

Full disclose: I smoke cigarettes, but not "every 9 to 36 seconds". Though not prohibited by lease, I have never smoked or carried lit tobacco products in the common hallway. I'd like to avoid restricting a legal activity that is not prohibited by my lease, but I'd being willing to compromise as long as the device is removed from the hallway permanently.

I believe the device is in violation of terms in the other tenant's (mine too) lease which prohibits items that "could damage the leased premises or harm tenants or others" and forbids "hazardous material from being stored in or around the leased premises". I want the device removed immediately. I'm ready to fire off a certified letter to landlord asking for that, but I figured I would google "smoking bothering apartment neighbors", and post a question here.

I haven't met these people, and I don't really care to meet them. I'm really mad that they would move in here and almost immediately do something to bother another tenant, they are obviously inconsiderate people. They must have toured our complex and looked at empty units before they moved in, if the hallway smelled like smoke then, they should have rented another unit.

Have any renters (smokers especially) been in a similar situation? From what I've seen online, the problem and resolution is typically told from the non-smokers perspective. While I welcome that here, POV from smokers might be more helpful in this particular situation. I've already checked out Tenants I don't really want to become the test case for smoking and tenants legislation, I just want to be able to walk up the stairs to my apartment with walking through a aerosol of foul-smelling hazardous material generated by a device placed there.
posted by Fat Guy to Law & Government (41 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Everything you complain about from their air freshener goes double for your cigs.

Realistically, the air freshener is not going to poison you or light on fire. There will be no buildup of combustible gases.

The proper approach in this situation is to write them a note, and not in this tone. Ask them if it is theirs, and tell them you think it smells foul and would like it gone or for them to find an air freshening product that does not smell so foul.

If you go to the landlord, or try to make terms in the lease cover your situation, you become a Bitch. You don't want to be a Bitch.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:44 AM on May 21, 2006

Uh, yank it out and throw it away?
posted by phrontist at 8:46 AM on May 21, 2006

Maybe the hall only smells like smoke when you're smoking. Since they have a baby, they want to reduce second-hand smoke, which is implicated in SIDS and the development of asthma. If it really bothers you, ask them if smoke is going into the hall. If it is, your city bylaws may say that enforcement is possible, in which case you're lucky that they only put in an air freshener. If it isn't, you could see about removing the air freshener. (I"m surprised you haven't taken it away, actually. I imagine that's what most people would do.) As for the hazardous material point, are you allergic to the air freshener? Keep in mind that they may come back and say their baby has developed an allergy to the smoke coming under the door.
posted by acoutu at 8:46 AM on May 21, 2006

Their lease doesn't include the hallway -- my take on this is that whatever is in the hallway is fair game. Just get rid of it. If you remove it during business hours (if they're gone during that time) they might think management or a contractor took it away.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:46 AM on May 21, 2006

Why don't you just ask the landlord? Via phone, perhaps? I would not mention the bit about the "hazardous materials" because he will probably laugh at you. In fact, I wouldn't mention most of the things you posted because they are all a bit mental.

Just say that someone put an air freshener in the common area, that it's bothering your health, and that you'd like to remove it.
posted by smackfu at 8:49 AM on May 21, 2006

Acoutu- The guy is smoking a cigarette not a side of beef. I don't think the smoke is wafting under his door. That aside some air 'fresheners' really are obnoxious.
One thought- If it is the neighbors maybe they put it there because of their own fowl cooking odors. Have you noticed anything like that?
posted by Gungho at 9:07 AM on May 21, 2006

fowl = foul
posted by Gungho at 9:08 AM on May 21, 2006

Ask the landlord. If he didn't put it there, yank it and pitch it.

Note to TheOnlyCoolTim: the poster did not ask for your opinion about his smoking, and your suggestion that it is somehow wrong to complain to one's landlord about other tenants' behavior is so asinine I can only conclude you own the building you live in.
posted by languagehat at 9:09 AM on May 21, 2006

I smoke, often.

This is probably a protest of your smoking. I know that when I smoke in the front room of my apartment, the hallway in front of my apartment smells like cigarettes. I really don't think that my neighbors should have to deal with this, so I smoke outside or in the backroom of my apartment. This pretty much solves the problem.

I suggest you yank the freshener and start doing your smoking in a room that doesn't open directly to the hallway. The person who put the air freshener there probably should not have moved in if your smoking bothered them, but they are there now. Going through the landlord will only piss him/her off because they don't want to deal with it, and piss off the person who put it there because they really aren't wrong in not wanting to smell it.

Be a good neighbor, acknowledge the complaint and fix it so you both get what you want. Neighbor pissing matches aren't fun.
posted by 517 at 9:15 AM on May 21, 2006

I both rent this apartment and try to deal with minor problems without running to the nearest vestige of authority.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:30 AM on May 21, 2006

I'd like to suggest that it may not be the smoke that's the issue, perhaps there are cooking or pet odors getting into the hallway. A polite, friendly conversation with your neighbor - not intended to develop into a friendship - may reveal that changes may be necessary.
I sometimes cook Indian food - love the curry! - and my neighbor loves fish stew - they cook it on Sundays. You want to talk about a rank-ass hallway?
posted by disclaimer at 9:59 AM on May 21, 2006

Unplug it and leave it in the hall. They'll get the message.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:01 AM on May 21, 2006

Is there an air freshener that you do like? Perhaps you could find one that doesn't bother you (or bothers you considerably less) and then ask the new neighbors to replace their obnoxious air freshener with your preference.

As a bonus: if they refuse, you can use their unwillingness to compromise as evidence that you made every effort to be a reasonable neighbor when you ask the landlord to force them to remove the offending fumes.

In other words, try a carrot before resorting to a stick.
posted by oddman at 10:03 AM on May 21, 2006

I haven't met these people, and I don't really care to meet them. I'm really mad that they would move in here and almost immediately do something to bother another tenant, they are obviously inconsiderate people.

My 2 cents - you come off sounding like a jerk. Go have a quiet smoke and relax a bit. Wigging out over minor annoyances leads to a shorter, more miserable life.
posted by anadem at 10:03 AM on May 21, 2006

I'm with WCityMike, talk to them nicely in person. Going through third parties is unmanly.
posted by LarryC at 10:05 AM on May 21, 2006

My building (about 250 apartments over 11 floors) installed these automatic air fresheners at the end of each hallway a few months back. At first everyone was blown away by how powerful and disgusting they smelled. Our hallways didn't even smell that bad to begin with. After a while though the fresheners mellowed out and now I don't think anyone notices them. Fact is, quite a few residents pulled them off and chucked them into the garbage at first.

Anyway, it turns out our building has a contract with some company that maintains these things and replaces them at regular intervals. I'm not sure if the building management sought out these things or if the company solicited them and our clueless management figured that it sounded like a great idea to buy into.

Over all your post seems a little paranoid. I could probably see an overly sensitive neighbor putting up a $1.99 air freshener... but these automatic jobs are more expensive, plus I don't even know where you'd buy one - restaurant supply store?

You don't even know if your neighbors did it - so talk to your landlord - seems like a no brainer to me.
posted by wfrgms at 10:22 AM on May 21, 2006

I once had neighbors put an unpleasant air freshener in the hallway. After some rounds of me (and others) unplugging it and them plugging it back in, I took out the air freshener, wrapped each prong in electrical tape, and put it back in.

They never even realized that it wasn't putting out perfume anymore.
posted by Steve3 at 10:25 AM on May 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Don't smoke inside. There are plenty of people who are highly sensitive to it. Smoke inside your unit or outside. Stub it out when you are in the public space inside the building.

And rip out the air freshener and toss it. No, better yet, do what Steve3 just said; disable it but leave it there.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:43 AM on May 21, 2006

Also, if the problem is that your in-unit smoking is leaking into the hallway, fix the problem. It's as easy as two things: one, put a seal strip on the door, so that the smoke can't get out; two, if that doesn't adequately solve the problem, flip on the bathroom fan or somesuch, so that the unit is negatively pressurized, ie. airflow is from the hallway into the unit.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:46 AM on May 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

When I sit on my couch in my living room, I often can smell the perfume that my neighbors wear when she simply walks through the hallway. I live on the third floor, and she on the second. Ther are only six units in the building. She lives second floor back, and I third floor front. Yet, I can always smell it when she goes in and out. She's in the hallway very briefly. Yet, there it is, and it is overwhelming. And I do not have a particularly acute sense of smell either (smoking for ten years kind of dulled it - I no longer smoke).

It's indeed likely that you'll certainly be smelling that freshner in your apartment depending on how much air flow goes through the hall and the direction of the airflow. (I smell my neighbors perfume becuase there is a noticeable airflow through the building from back to front - west to east breeze off the pacific ocean - we face east, she faces west - and there's an old garbage flap that goes to a bin in an open garage). However, it's just as likely that they can smell your smoking. I can smell people smoking standing on the sidelwalk in front of my house with all the windows closed. I'm on the third story and yet it comes right up and penetrates the closed, latched, mostly sealed windows.

This sounds more like a bit of a passive-aggressive back and forth more than anything. Neither of you want a confrontation. But you're both annoyed by what the other one is doing. They put out the air freshner to try and deal with it without being confrontational, but I can bet you money they were also thinking "Maybe he'll notice that we had to put something out there to deal with the smell from his smoking." and hope you'll stop smoking. That rarely works, of course. Instead, it just made you angry (to a degree) and now you're looking for your own sort of passive-aggressive way of dealing with it that they won't have a rebuttal to. But they will, of course. They'll just say the obvious "Yeah, we put it out there because he smokes and it seeps into the hallway and we can smell it." (Along with aforementioned "we're concerned for our newborn, I'm allergic to smoke, etc.).

I'm not against smokers, or smoking, but if you smoke, you should realize that whether you believe in second hand smoke or not, or whether you think you contain your smoking smells or not, the stuff really travels and penetrates the best of your efforts to contain it. It's unfortunate. I generally think people should be able to smoke if they want, especially in their own homes. On the other hand, I live in a city (San Francisco) where smoking is largely frowned upon indoors at all, and honestly, I like it because it means I can go into bars and have a drink without coming out and having to wash my clothes as soon as I get home (otherwise the whole hamper smells like stale smoke, as does the whole room the hamper is in).

I find those public air fresheners equally stinky though. Nasty stuff. Especially the ones you're talking about.

Still, in the end, the only way you're going to solve this is either (1) stop smoking in your apartment, (2) hold out until the neighbors move, (3) move yourself to where this doens't matter, (4) have a conversation with the neighbors to see if you can reach a mutual agreement/understadning. If you go with (4), be very self-effacing and humble and apologetic if you have to. I think that will get you much further than "standing up for your right to smoke". But I suspect because they are new parents, they are probably on a constant lookout for "dangers" and they perceive this as one (although the air freshener, of course, does NOTHING to resolve that, except give you a public hint that they find smoking offensive).

Good luck too you (and them as well). I do not think you're going to have an easy solution. In the end it's going to boil down to communication between the two of you and probably the landlord. But anti-smokers can be largely unreasonable and they have this sort of "public opinion" against smoking on their side. On the other hand, if your landlord is smoker, well, hey, that might work in your favor. :)
posted by smallerdemon at 10:49 AM on May 21, 2006

...flip on the bathroom fan...

Most bathroom vents form into a communal line before they exit the building. Sometimes they have a flap that checks inflow, sometimes they don't. If the flap is there, most of the time, it stopped working years ago. Blowing your smoke into the bathroom vent just sends it to the apartments above you.
posted by 517 at 10:54 AM on May 21, 2006

Me too. That's sheer genius.
posted by languagehat at 11:20 AM on May 21, 2006

The neighbors, if it was them, exhibiting passive-aggressive behavior in an effort to curb your smoking. That's my guess. Sure, you have a right to smoke, but consider for a moment you're making someone else's life miserable. I had a couple of smokers below me for two years, and I realized a few months into it that my apartment was starting to smell like shit.

So I have zero sympathy, but for what it's worth, I think you should rig the thing Steve3-style.

I think it's hilarious you are concerned about the effects of an air freshener on your and your cats. It's troublingly ironic.
posted by symphonik at 11:42 AM on May 21, 2006

air fresheners don't remove smoke, they just mask the smell in a cloying scent. The baby-has-allergies argument would be completely bogus.

I would ask the landlord if they put it up. If not, I would talk to the neighbours in a manly, non-confrontational, non-bitchy manner: first, to find out if they put it up and if so, second, to find a resolution. As tenants, they have equal rights to you: people are not rats and primacy of occupancy is not the main determinant of territory.
posted by Rumple at 11:54 AM on May 21, 2006

I have to confess, I've done this. (Put an air freshener in a communal hallway.) The reason I did it was because my next door neighbor stayed home and smoked all day, every day - literally - and I have never smelled a more foul hallway. (I actually like the smell of (fresh) cigarette smoke, normally.) Entering my building made me feel slightly nauseous, and I didn't like to think of friends having that be their first impression when they came to my home either. The other reason is that I picked what I thought was a very pleasant, mild scent, and I thought everyone would appreciate it. It really didn't occur to me that anyone would consider it a problem. And, I didn't think it was a big deal, at all, so I just did it, rather than involve the landlady, etc., etc. So that might be their motivations - not sure if that makes you hate them less, but that's where I was coming from. (Now I know better.)

Anyway, after a few months it was removed. I'm not sure who did it, but I just figured it had bothered someone, so I let it drop. So just removing it may well work.

I'd actually recommend just speaking to the neighbors, in a very friendly way, though. That way, if they do replace it, you don't to have to either sheepishly admit you removed it the first time, or get into a pissing contest with them over the issue. I don't think it's the big deal you think it is, though, so I would try really hard to be friendly when you ask them to remove it.

P.s. I'm not at all sure it's your smoking that bothers them. Those hallways can harbor nasty cooking smells, etc.
posted by Amizu at 12:22 PM on May 21, 2006

I believe the device is in violation of terms in the other tenant's (mine too) lease which prohibits items that "could damage the leased premises or harm tenants or others" and forbids "hazardous material from being stored in or around the leased premises".

Well, your smoking can cause just as much damage to the premises and probably will cause more harm to tenants and others than a dinky air freshner, so you really don't have much of a case. So my advice to "What should I do?" is to get over it and move on. They probably don't like the stink of your cigarette smoke any more than you like the Air Wisp, and I don't blame them. Nothing is more disgusting than stale cigarette smoke, but you probably don't notice it permeating everything anymore because you're so used to it.

Honestly, you just sound bitter that they seem to not like the smoke smell and have done something to try & combat it. I find it incredibly hard to believe that the Air Wisp is causing you and your cats so much distress. It sounds like you're looking for a way to get back at them for being a little passive aggressive about not liking the smell of your smoke. Chill.
posted by tastybrains at 12:59 PM on May 21, 2006

Those air freshners are likely as harmful to a baby as cigarette smoke. Seriously nasty stuff, I have no idea why people put them in their houses.
posted by fshgrl at 1:39 PM on May 21, 2006

As with amizu, I've been on the other side of this, sort of. We have a communal staircase with two other flats, and the middle flat smoke. The stairway often reeks of smoke, we out out one of those glass vial things that has about a month's worth of fragrance in it. It wasn't through a desire to piss people off, it was simply to blunt the smell. I doubt that your neighbours have done it to annoy you - they maybe thought the same as you, "they are obviously inconsiderate people" - in your case, because they put air freshener out, perhaps in their case because of smoke. (NB I am assuming that there is some possibility of the smoke smell escaping from your flat, since you don't smoke in the hallway itself).

But if you want them to stop, I'd pray your cats in aid. Introducing yourself to them and then mentioning "oh yeah, I noticed the air freshener, it's just that I'm a bit worried about my pets" may well clear things up.

And the automatic fresheners are not expensive - maybe about twice as much as the glass things, if that. It's the refills that cost you.
posted by greycap at 1:52 PM on May 21, 2006

What about replacing the stinky air-freshener with something like these air sponges? I use these next to my cat's litter box, and they really help with that type of stink. I think I've even seen a version marketed specifically for covering up secondhand smoke.

Maybe if you disable the stinky air freshener unit, but leave it out in the hall along with this, it would be interpreted as "I think your air freshener stinks but here's another way to get rid of the smoke smell". That at least shows that you are sympathetic to the issue while getting your point across that you don't like the stinky "freshener". (And I definitely agree - some of those fresheners are just vile.)

The sponges last a long time, and don't smell at all, so they shouldn't be an issue to anyone as long as they aren't in a spot that someone would trip over it. They don't cost a lot (I can find them at the dollar stores where I live), so it may be worth a try.
posted by melissa at 2:28 PM on May 21, 2006

they are obviously inconsiderate people

Really? Because I bet they have no idea that the odor bothers you. How would they as you've never actually told them? So instead of trying open a dialog you want to send a certified letter to the landlord that may be put in the tenents' file? Isn't that a lot a time and effort when it could be solved by "Hey, did you put that up and if so can we work out another solution that makes us both happy?"
posted by nadawi at 4:05 PM on May 21, 2006

Steve3 for the win!
posted by fixedgear at 5:11 PM on May 21, 2006

I always wonder, who are these people who wig out over the silliest shit? Thats you man. Air freshener smells bad to you? You smoke! Are you retarded? At least air freshener isn't carcinogenic.

Go find an air freshener that doesn't bother you and bring it to your neighbors. Be polite and explain that the current one is bothering you and ask them to use the one you picked out.
posted by Tryptophan-5ht at 6:01 PM on May 21, 2006

Please, just be an adult and ask your neighbors about it. Then you can have a conversation about what the problem is and work with them on ways to compromise.

Also, why would you think an air freshener is bad for your cats but not your second hand smoke? You could be giving your cats lung cancer, but you're worried about an air freshener out in the hallway that they never even come into contact with?
posted by i feel possessed at 7:59 PM on May 21, 2006

I used to smoke. When you quit smoking, the smell of someone smoking in your vicinity is like eating a jar of ashes. It's horrifying. I had a roommate who smoked, and at first he was curteous and rarely lit up in the apartment. But then we started not getting along, and would passive-aggressively smoke more than usual. I coud barely strand to be in the house.

Then, after moving into my new place, I have found that a downstairs neighbor sometimes smokes. I can tell instantly. And I live in a building with separate HVAC and lots of space between units. If they're across the hall from you, I am sure it's worth. Make no mistake, YOU are the reason that freshener is there. As long as you keep smoking, they'll continue pursuing a solution to their perceived odor issue. I'm not arguing for either side here. You have your rights and they have theirs. Cooking cloves of garlic or heaps of curry with dinner every night isn't illegal either, but that doesn't mean it's not going to offend or annoy your neighbors. It is what it is. If you want to continue smoking and they want to continue living there, work out an arrangement.
posted by ninjew at 8:13 PM on May 21, 2006

I am sure it's worth
posted by me, above.

WORSE. wastedfilter
posted by ninjew at 8:15 PM on May 21, 2006

At least air freshener isn't carcinogenic.

Well, it might be, but I still couldn't help laughing at the thought of a smoker concerning himself with the chemical properties of an air freshener. Smokers generally don't realize how awful they smell and how awful they make their environment smell. I'm willing to bet that's the root cause, but maybe not.

The freshener is not out there to protect the baby from second hand smoke, it's there because someone thinks the hallway smells awful, due to smoking, cooking, pets or something else. Go ask if it's your smoke and if so try to keep it from seeping out into the hallway. If it's something else, volunteer to talk to the landlord with your neighbors about getting that problem addressed. You'll both be happier. I don't know anyone who likes the smell of air freshener, it's just that some people like the smell of air freshener better than ambient odors of a paticular area.
posted by jaysus chris at 8:15 PM on May 21, 2006

I detest air freshener too, and stale cigarette smoke.
You should probably calm down a lot before you try to talk to your neighbour about this, you come across very likely to think the worst.
My first guess would be the neigbour is doing something to the common areas as a DIY improvement, which they see as a favour to all the tenant's. Many, many people buy air fresheners and apparently think them a good idea.
Your neighbour is probably expecting thanks for making the place smell so nice.
Perhaps as step one you could mention you don't like the smell of air fresheners? If they retort with something about cigarettes why not apologize and offer to try and fix the problem? Then they look like the petty ones for not bringing it up directly?
posted by bystander at 8:47 PM on May 21, 2006

Stale cigarette smoke stinks. I smoke, but hate lingering smoke. I can be driven from excessively smoky rooms.

Some air fresheners (I haven't smelled them all) stink, but worse, they taste. That shit can get in my mouth and coat my tongue. Being offended at it does not surprise me in the least. But you know, the TV says they are GREAT! So people assume that anyone (especially a nasty horrible smoker!) who would complain about one must be a "bitch".

Society has decided that cigarette smoke is something it is okay to complain about and be offended by (and obnoxious about). They haven't yet got around to understanding that these air "fresheners" can be equally (or more!) offensive. Some have to lead, others follow.

Further, this entire thread has bought the assumption that it is the poster's cigarette smoke that brought the air freshener. Is it not possible that the new folks just like the scent, and thought it an improvement? Or that they were concerned about baby odors from their own place?

As for the poster's smoke: You may certainly stop smoking in your apartment...when the new neighbors start paying your rent, or you decide, for yourself, that it's time to change that. (Meanwhile, it might not hurt to put a towel or rug along the door jam. Getting along is usually more pleasant)
posted by Goofyy at 4:35 AM on May 22, 2006

Yank it out and toss it. Goofyy's right, these folks may not even be protesting your smoke, they may like the smell of the thing.

But also try to make sure that your smoke isn't getting into the hallway -- stale smoke in hallways is pretty foul.

My downstairs neighbor has people over frequently in the evenings and they smoke so much that our entire shared hallway reeks. Really reeks. And I don't mind smoke, usually. As I'm not likely to change her behavior, how DO you ask someone to be more considerate about this?
posted by desuetude at 8:00 AM on May 22, 2006

I wish someone would post some identifying info about this electrical "air freshener" -- since it seems to be something which periodically sprays some aerosol, we're not talking about a filter or an ionizer, correct? So I can understand if there's some debate about how "fresh" this thing is making the hallway.

I'm reminded on an office-mate I had once -- one of the firrst things he did was to place a curious object on his desk which contained a sticky substance. He called this (non-electrical) object an "air freshener" but I didn't notice any difference. I believe it was supposed to absorb odors (although ours was a non-smoking office building) but when I sniffed it up close I thought it smelled foul. He was hispanic, if there's perhaps a not-yet-mentioned ethnic aspect to this situation.
posted by Rash at 8:52 AM on May 22, 2006

I wish someone would post some identifying info about this electrical "air freshener"

Glade Wisp. I can't be the only person who has heard the particularly annoying ad jingle for this product.
posted by Dreama at 12:48 PM on May 22, 2006

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