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Why I'm considering calling the housing inspector (http://www.cityofboston.gov/isd/housing/rental.asp) :
There's been awful fumes in my apartment that neither the landlord, nor myself, can figure out.  The fumes, that come and go, are so toxic that they immediately make you lightheaded, shaky, achy, cause tingling on the roof of the mouth and top of the head, a bad headache, etc.  My doctor told me to get out immediately and not sleep there anymore.  I wrote to my landlord and he did nothing.  He offered no other place to stay and said he couldn't fix the problem.  I am tempted to call the housing inspector to see if they can figure this out.

What's holding me back:
I wondering if calling a housing inspector and having an inspection done is likely to cause the landlord to provide a negative reference about me?  If you are a landlord would you under these circumstances?

What's the solution?
I would really just like to move out.  Only problem is that I've been looking for months now and every decent place that I've found has been rented FAST (either before I got a chance to see it or right after I saw it).
Calling the housing inspector may be a gamble because on the one hand, the fume source might be found so that problem might (or might not) be solved.  If other problems are found with the rental, anyone doing repairs might be able to find the source of the fumes.  Since the fumes are off and on, having workers in the apartment is a good thing because they can alert the landlord when the fumes happen.  I think the landlord thinks I'm exaggerating, although I'm not, at all.  If anything, I've slightly understated the problem.  BUT, IF I cannot move (due to a bad landlord reference) AND the problem isn't solved, then I'm in trouble.  I cannot ignore this landlord since I've lived in this place for the last 10 years.

What would you do?  What would you definitely NOT do?

What the fumes are:
One type is oil vapors.  The other kind of fume is not identified, but causes the reactions mentioned above - and I mean just one breath, and you feel like you're doing summer salts.  It's that bad!  It smells very sweet like syrup or melted sugar would and undertones of burnt plastic.

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Update:

I'm moving!!!!!!!

I'll be out of this nasty apartment with the poisonous fumes by May 1st!  Got the keys tod... (more)

Gauss44 (Apr. 28, 2014 @ 12:02a) |

I recommend contacting the housing inspector while you still have access to the property.  If the landlord is already fi... (more)

NEDeals (Apr. 28, 2014 @ 12:14a) |

Congrats on a new home! another prayer answered    I concur with NEDeals

sloppyjo (Apr. 28, 2014 @ 2:43a) |


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Are there certain rooms you have smelled those fumes in? How long have you lived there? Do you have natural gas lines or all electric power? When was the building constructed? (Look this up on your county's auditor's website) Do you live with anyone else that has noticed it? Is there a theme to the time of day you smell this, when you use certain devices like the stove, etc.? Do you have people who live below/above/beside your unit? Have you discussed this with any neighbors?

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Gauss44 said:   
What's holding me back:
I wondering if calling a housing inspector and having an inspection done is likely to cause the landlord to provide a negative reference about me?  If you are a landlord would you under these circumstances?

 

 Keep written records of everything to show a future potential landlord.

Also your health is more important than some thing that may or may not happen in the future.

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ankitgu said:   Are there certain rooms you have smelled those fumes in? How long have you lived there? Do you have natural gas lines or all electric power? When was the building constructed? (Look this up on your county's auditor's website) Do you live with anyone else that has noticed it? Is there a theme to the time of day you smell this, when you use certain devices like the stove, etc.? Do you have people who live below/above/beside your unit? Have you discussed this with any neighbors?
  
I'm in a studio apartment so it's all one room.  10 years.  It's not natural gas, per National Grid who tested it.  I think the power's electric.  It's a very old building, late 1800's or early 1900's, I think.  (I can verify this on the auditor's website later.)  I live alone; however, the fire department and National Grid noticed the oil vapors and commented that they were pretty bad.  The sweet burnt plastic fumes tend to happen at night/early morning (like 1am-5am).  I get home around 1am, so the fumes might start up earlier without my knowing.  I checked the refrigerator (which is leaking a clear liquid btw) and it doesn't seem to be coming from there.  The stove is electric and I rarely use it so I doubt it's coming from it.  This is a huge building:  There's about 8 floors above me, and the boiler room's next to me.

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rufflesinc said:   
Gauss44 said:   
What's holding me back:
I wondering if calling a housing inspector and having an inspection done is likely to cause the landlord to provide a negative reference about me?  If you are a landlord would you under these circumstances?

 

 Keep written records of everything to show a future potential landlord.

Also your health is more important than some thing that may or may not happen in the future.

  

I agree about the health part.  If calling the inspector indirectly prevents me from moving, trapping me in with the fumes, then calling the inspector wouldn't help.  (The "indirect" part would be about getting a bad reference from the landlord.)

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Did the LL even tried to find what the problem is or just over the phone said... sorry, nothing I can do.

If the source of the problem is really unknown (after really trying to find it) and it comes and goes, what do you expect your LL to do... Put you up in another apt or hotel for months?? That's insane.

The housing inspector probably can only do a few things. Give your LL a warning, write a citation and fine the LL, close down the apt. So you better be ready to move out to another place. And not being able to find an alternate apartment because they rent out quickly to someome else is not your LL's problem.

Look, I was in your situation where there are things not getting fixed and I couldn't find another place halfway decent without paying a lot more in rent. At the end, it's just a matter of stay, pay cheap rent, and tolerate the problem or move. I moved.

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Gauss44 said:   
 
  
II checked the refrigerator (which is leaking a clear liquid btw) and it doesn't seem to be coming from there. 
 

  That is most likely condensate aka water.  

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Gauss44 said:      The sweet burnt plastic fumes tend to happen at night/early morning (like 1am-5am).  I get home around 1am, so the fumes might start up earlier without my knowing. 
 

 If that time frame is accurate that sounds like the time when somebody's furnace would be going all out because it is the coldest part of the day (I am assuming you are someplace up north).  Anyway with spring approaching I wonder if they problem might temporarily resolve itself till the fall.  If so you might want to take that time to come up with plan b.

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mmyk72 said:   Did the LL even tried to find what the problem is or just over the phone said... sorry, nothing I can do.

If the source of the problem is really unknown (after really trying to find it) and it comes and goes, what do you expect your LL to do... Put you up in another apt or hotel for months?? That's insane.

The housing inspector probably can only do a few things. Give your LL a warning, write a citation and fine the LL, close down the apt. So you better be ready to move out to another place. And not being able to find an alternate apartment because they rent out quickly to someome else is not your LL's problem.

Look, I was in your situation where there are things not getting fixed and I couldn't find another place halfway decent without paying a lot more in rent. At the end, it's just a matter of stay, pay cheap rent, and tolerate the problem or move. I moved.

  
If it weren't a life threatening issue, I would just tolerate it.  I've tolerated a lot, floors caving in, rodents, etc.  I guess I wasn't clear in my original message: If you try to sleep in this apartment on the wrong night, you will wake up suffocating and have to run outside feeling super dizzy, even in single digit weather, sometimes several times a night.  My doctor said it could be deadly and that oil fumes have been known to cause permanent neurological damage.  I had that experience a few times now.  Something needs to be done.  I'm not sure what the best thing to do is.

The landlord said what you said, that if he can't smell it, he can't fix it.  While I understand that logic, it doesn't solve the problem.

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Screw references. This is your health.

Get out and find another place. Let the landlord deal with his death trap apartment.

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Your landlord is violating the implied warranty of habitability. Get out of that place ASAP. Send him the bill for the hotel every night you have to leave until it's fixed.

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elph31337 said:   Your landlord is violating the implied warranty of habitability. Get out of that place ASAP. Send him the bill for the hotel every night you have to leave until it's fixed.
  
Any ideas for proving fumes that come and go?  I took note of the fire department and National Grid's comments.  My best idea so far is that next time the fumes are bad, be it 4am or whenever, I will stand outside and watch for any neighbors coming or going and just ask them to come in and witness it.  

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Gauss44 said:   
ankitgu said:   Are there certain rooms you have smelled those fumes in? How long have you lived there? Do you have natural gas lines or all electric power? When was the building constructed? (Look this up on your county's auditor's website) Do you live with anyone else that has noticed it? Is there a theme to the time of day you smell this, when you use certain devices like the stove, etc.? Do you have people who live below/above/beside your unit? Have you discussed this with any neighbors?
  
I'm in a studio apartment so it's all one room.  10 years.  It's not natural gas, per National Grid who tested it.  I think the power's electric.  It's a very old building, late 1800's or early 1900's, I think.  (I can verify this on the auditor's website later.)  I live alone; however, the fire department and National Grid noticed the oil vapors and commented that they were pretty bad.  The sweet burnt plastic fumes tend to happen at night/early morning (like 1am-5am).  I get home around 1am, so the fumes might start up earlier without my knowing.  I checked the refrigerator (which is leaking a clear liquid btw) and it doesn't seem to be coming from there.  The stove is electric and I rarely use it so I doubt it's coming from it.  This is a huge building:  There's about 8 floors above me, and the boiler room's next to me.

  Okay.

1) You're sane to pursue this further with the housing inspector. Especially because you've lived there for 10 years and have documentation from 3rd parties, any future landlord should be happy to have a tenant like you.
2) Make sure to tell them that the fire department and national grid have both commented on the oil vapors.
3) Keep us updated.

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Gauss44 said:   If it weren't a life threatening issue, I would just tolerate it.  I've tolerated a lot, floors caving in, rodents, etc.  I guess I wasn't clear in my original message: If you try to sleep in this apartment on the wrong night, you will wake up suffocating and have to run outside feeling super dizzy, even in single digit weather, sometimes several times a night.  My doctor said it could be deadly and that oil fumes have been known to cause permanent neurological damage.  I had that experience a few times now.  Something needs to be done.  I'm not sure what the best thing to do is.

The landlord said what you said, that if he can't smell it, he can't fix it.  While I understand that logic, it doesn't solve the problem.
 

  This could be fumes from the boiler next to you (assume it's burning heating oil) or some other building's boiler and somehow being drawn in to your studio.     It can be sucked into the HVAC air intake or somehow drawn into your unit by infiltration.

Does the HVAC system serve all the different apartments in your building?   If so, air drawn into it would've gone to other apartments too.  So if other people don't smell the fumes, then it's not this.

Can you get into the boiler room and check if that place has an oil smell?  

 

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mmyk72 said:   If the source of the problem is really unknown (after really trying to find it) and it comes and goes, what do you expect your LL to do... Put you up in another apt or hotel for months?? That's insane.

 

  
Absolutely wrong. The OP has a contract for a livable space. If there are toxic fumes in the space, the landlord is required, by law, to fix whatever is wrong to make it livable again. In the meantime OP absolutely has the right to get a hotel room and send the bill to the landlord or deduct the hotel cost from future rent payments.

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Gauss44 said:   
elph31337 said:   Your landlord is violating the implied warranty of habitability. Get out of that place ASAP. Send him the bill for the hotel every night you have to leave until it's fixed.
  
Any ideas for proving fumes that come and go?  I took note of the fire department and National Grid's comments.  My best idea so far is that next time the fumes are bad, be it 4am or whenever, I will stand outside and watch for any neighbors coming or going and just ask them to come in and witness it.  

  That doesn't seem legitimate at all...

"Hey, I know it's 4am and you're wasted, but can you come up to my apartment to smell something?"

I can only imagine what I'd say to that.  This has already been asked but not answered: Has anyone else in the building smelled it in their rooms?  Is the LL the owner of YOUR APARTMENT only or the entire building?  I'm going to agree with the others that if the LL tells you basically to f-off after being a tenant for 10 years you tell him the same.

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Gauss44 said:   
elph31337 said:   Your landlord is violating the implied warranty of habitability. Get out of that place ASAP. Send him the bill for the hotel every night you have to leave until it's fixed.
  
Any ideas for proving fumes that come and go?  I took note of the fire department and National Grid's comments.  My best idea so far is that next time the fumes are bad, be it 4am or whenever, I will stand outside and watch for any neighbors coming or going and just ask them to come in and witness it.  

  why not call your LL at 4 am or whatever hour it is... EVERY TIME

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mmyk72 said:   
Gauss44 said:   If it weren't a life threatening issue, I would just tolerate it.  I've tolerated a lot, floors caving in, rodents, etc.  I guess I wasn't clear in my original message: If you try to sleep in this apartment on the wrong night, you will wake up suffocating and have to run outside feeling super dizzy, even in single digit weather, sometimes several times a night.  My doctor said it could be deadly and that oil fumes have been known to cause permanent neurological damage.  I had that experience a few times now.  Something needs to be done.  I'm not sure what the best thing to do is.

The landlord said what you said, that if he can't smell it, he can't fix it.  While I understand that logic, it doesn't solve the problem.

  This could be fumes from the boiler next to you (assume it's burning heating oil) or some other building's boiler and somehow being drawn in to your studio.     It can be sucked into the HVAC air intake or somehow drawn into your unit by infiltration.

Does the HVAC system serve all the different apartments in your building?   If so, air drawn into it would've gone to other apartments too.  So if other people don't smell the fumes, then it's not this.

Can you get into the boiler room and check if that place has an oil smell?  

 

  
There are 2 different types of fumes.  The oil vapors are definitely coming from the boiler room and oil exhaust pipe above a very drafty window that sort of sucks the fumes into the building (window kits don't help, they get blown right off).  When the fire department came, the smell was stronger in the boiler room (fire fighters actually choked on it), second strongest in my apartment, followed by third strongest in the rest of the building.  Any time the oil is filled, oil fumes permeate the entire building and are at their worst.  The rest of the time, I get strong oil fumes on and off in my apartment.

Who knows where the burnt plastic/sweet fumes are coming from...  In terms of noticeable physical effects the sweet burnt plastic fumes are far worse.  (Don't get me wrong oil fumes are quite bad too.)

rated:
Check your state laws on landlord retaliation for making a complaint in good faith.

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I'd call the housing inspector - but not to file a complaint, but to see if they have any equipment (or know where to get such equipment) to leave in the apartment overnight to identify what it is.  That'd go a long way to getting it fixed.  

No neighbors are having this problem?  Or, did one of your neighbors start up a meth lab?

Since you have no idea what the smell is, you have no idea if it is toxic or not.  My guess would be the boiler vent running to the roof has separated, and is now venting into your apartment instead.  If you've been there 10 years, how long ago did this start?

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PhDeez said:   
Gauss44 said:   
elph31337 said:   Your landlord is violating the implied warranty of habitability. Get out of that place ASAP. Send him the bill for the hotel every night you have to leave until it's fixed.
  
Any ideas for proving fumes that come and go?  I took note of the fire department and National Grid's comments.  My best idea so far is that next time the fumes are bad, be it 4am or whenever, I will stand outside and watch for any neighbors coming or going and just ask them to come in and witness it.  

  That doesn't seem legitimate at all...

"Hey, I know it's 4am and you're wasted, but can you come up to my apartment to smell something?"

I can only imagine what I'd say to that.  This has already been asked but not answered: Has anyone else in the building smelled it in their rooms?  Is the LL the owner of YOUR APARTMENT only or the entire building?  I'm going to agree with the others that if the LL tells you basically to f-off after being a tenant for 10 years you tell him the same.

  
I haven't surveyed all the other tenants.  People have commented on the oil fumes while making small talk by the mailboxes.  I've been meaning to ask my neighbors about the other fumes.  My sense is that they are not having the same degree of trouble as me since I haven't seen them outside waiting for their apartments to air out several times a night.  LL owns the entire building.

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Glitch99 said:   I'd call the housing inspector - but not to file a complaint, but to see if they have any equipment (or know where to get such equipment) to leave in the apartment overnight to identify what it is.  That'd go a long way to getting it fixed.  

No neighbors are having this problem?  Or, did one of your neighbors start up a meth lab?

Since you have no idea what the smell is, you have no idea if it is toxic or not.  My guess would be the boiler vent running to the roof has separated, and is now venting into your apartment instead.  If you've been there 10 years, how long ago did this start?

  
The person answering the phone at the housing inspector's office doesn't seem to be very reliable or intelligent.  Talking to an actual inspector might work better.  I just finished answering the neighbor question a second ago (probably while you were posting this).  I was wondering about a meth lab: The sweet burnt plastic smell, fuel smell, and occasional soapy smell would fit the profile as far as I know, and possibly explain why the fumes are so toxic.  The fumes are toxic, otherwise they wouldn't make you dizzy, give vertigo, etc.  Those are signs of toxicity.  It started about 3 months ago.

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bullcity said:   Check your state laws on landlord retaliation for making a complaint in good faith.
  
Any law in particular?  I have but I'm not sure which one you are referring to.  PM me if you want.

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Forewarn your LL to either fix it or youre moving - uninhabitable conditons. Get letter from your doctor. Let LL figure out problem.

This cant find a place is BS... or right after I saw it so nothing prevented you from making a decision to rent it. WTF you complaining about.

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Glitch99 said:   I'd call the housing inspector  .... to see if they have any equipment (or know where to get such equipment) to leave in the apartment overnight to identify what it is. 
 

You're looking for a magic machine that tells you exactly what the smell is.... this machine doesn't exist yet.    There are VOC detectors in the market that detect where the concentration is higher in the air which may lead you to the source or at least to where it's entering your studio.

OP... sounds like you know about the fuel oil smell from the boiler, have lived with it and not bothered by it.... and the issue you're having here is you suspect another 'chemical(s)' coming from elsewhere?    Sorry it took this long, but I guess i'm slow interpreting these clues in bits and pieces.

If it is a meth lab you're suspecting, isn't there a Gov't dept that deals with drug trafficking  (I'm thinking it's called DEA but I'm probably wrong with the name)

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JaxFL said:   Forewarn your LL to either fix it or youre moving - uninhabitable conditons. Get letter from your doctor. Let LL figure out problem.

This cant find a place is BS... or right after I saw it so nothing prevented you from making a decision to rent it. WTF you complaining about.

  
Seeing a place doesn't entitle you to rent it.  You submit an application, and if you are chosen from a pool of applicants, you get the apartment. 

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It sounds a lot like exhaust fumes from the furnace leaking into your unit. Fire or inspection department should have CO2 / oxygen measurement equipment that could see the O2 drop or CO2 spike when it turns on.

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First of all, don't take legal advice from anyone here. There is not enough information provided for anyone to reach any conclusion and give advice. Besides if this is a big building then the have full time lawyers that will attempt to bleed you dry even if the building happens to be completely wrong here.

When living in a problem situation like this it can become all consuming and make you irrational. Heck I have been enduring three years of construction across the street and now directly next door, waking to garbage trucks carting off junk each morning and jackhammers at other than legal times let alone the persistent annoyance of all the noise... But I digress. Just wanted to say that you can not fully trust your own opinion in this situation and should find someone you trust to be a sounding board for you.

The simplest thing to do is move. If you are under contract you can either pro-actively ask the landlord if they will let you out of the lease or you can fight about the lease terms after you move. But they will go after you for the unpaid months and that is another thing to consider.

If you call an inspector that is truly qualified then you will be looking at spending thousands and they will place monitors in the home that will sniff the air around the clock. This will help determine exactly what the odor is. Being next to the boiler room it seems pretty likely that you are smelling oil vapor because oil is leaking from part of the boiler or not being burnt and not being vented correctly. Your fire department may inspect the boiler at your request. Or the department of building may have a way to issue a complaint against the building that would also prompt an inspection. Also you can consider something called negative pressure and change it. Negative pressure is when your home draws air from the outside, like when you have a vent in a kitchen that is connected to a roof vent as required by code in most places. This exhausted air needs to be replaced and that new air either comes in from an open or leaky window, door, or cracks in the wall. When the boiler is on and hot that increases the air pressure of that room and could cause it to more aggressively enter yours. You may find that covering your kitchen vent minimizes the problem of drawing this odor into your home but that is obviously is not a long term solution. You need to get the fire department or building department involved (at the only cost of your time) or pay big money for environmental inspectors, or move. Lawyers may be able to get you compensated for a loss that you have suffered but may not and will cost you tons of money and time.

ps. You should immediately purchase a carbon monoxide detector.  The danger of heating oil vapor is largely from carbon monoxide leading to suffocation.  A $25 detector will give you some peace of mind that you are safe, and should it go off then it gives you something to discuss with the landlord, the fire department, and the department of buildings.

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Op, are you in an area wheere fracking occurs? This sometimes causes blooms of noxious vapors in random places.

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Like other said, move out ASAP.

Have you called the gas company? I would call them even if the apartment is not served by gas company. They would be more than willing to come out and take a look and they usually carry the multigas monitor that checks for the 4 most common problem gases, CO/LEL/H2S/O2


CO can kill you quickly and in low doeses kill your brain cell one by one... this is what I would worry about the most
LEL check for anything explosive - if there's any level, it would give tips to what the gas is.
H2S is sewer gas
O2 is just Oxygen level.

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How about 911? "I smell something that might be GAS, please come to check it out".
Fire dept comes, goes throughout the building, finds a meth lab, police come, problem solved.

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As OP said "LL owns the entire building." and it is a 8 story or something bldg.
Landlord probably has deep pockets, and doesn't get the tenant's plight.
If OP were to report the sweet fumes to the cops and mention they happen 1-5 am, and only started about 3 months ago, the cops might check the apt during those hours. Wouldn't that, hopefully, give the OP some witnesses?

--------------------------
Is daily rental of a gas monitor just $49? If that, and the manual/instructions can found online... 
 

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I seriously think it's a meth lab.

GTFO immediately before you die from inhaling these fumes, or the place blows up. Go stay at an extended stay hotel for a few weeks, bill the landlord for it, and find another place as soon as possible. Document everything in case the landlord tries to sue.

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Gauss44 said:   
JaxFL said:   Forewarn your LL to either fix it or youre moving - uninhabitable conditons. Get letter from your doctor. Let LL figure out problem.

This cant find a place is BS... or right after I saw it so nothing prevented you from making a decision to rent it. WTF you complaining about.

  
Seeing a place doesn't entitle you to rent it.  You submit an application, and if you are chosen from a pool of applicants, you get the apartment. 

  RIght...then you rent a u haul, load the truck, drive to new apartment, unload truck, and enjoy.

I think you're starting to get the hang of it.

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CO detector is a great suggestion.

With the weather warming up now, you should keep all your windows open (at least while you're home).  

Get serious about finding another apt.  It's end of school season coming up so there is no better time than this.  As soon as you find a new place, tell your LL you need off the lease because of these smell issues - you may have to fight or get off easy.

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Yeah.. get the fuc* out NOW!!

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howie888 said:   How about 911? "I smell something that might be GAS, please come to check it out".
Fire dept comes, goes throughout the building, finds a meth lab, police come, problem solved.

  This.

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mmyk72 said:   
Glitch99 said:   I'd call the housing inspector  .... to see if they have any equipment (or know where to get such equipment) to leave in the apartment overnight to identify what it is. 
You're looking for a magic machine that tells you exactly what the smell is.... this machine doesn't exist yet.    There are VOC detectors in the market that detect where the concentration is higher in the air which may lead you to the source or at least to where it's entering your studio.
 

  There are plenty of detectors, even consumer-quality off the shelf, for common household gases and toxins.  Of course it wont tell you exactly what the smell is, but it will allow you to make an educated guess as to where it might be coming from. 

It doesnt sound like the "right" kind of smell, but you can also get some pretty nasty odors from an uncapped sewer pipe or old sink where the drain trap water has dried out.

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Spend $40 and get a Carbon Monoxide Detector...this is your health we are talking about.

Skipping 97 Messages...
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Congrats on a new home! another prayer answered    I concur with NEDeals

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