Help! There's an awful smell in here

Am I in the right board? If not, please give me direction.

I’m in NYC, in a 1929 building, rent stabilized (i.e. not as expensive as otherwise) – I’ve been here more than 40 years and I’d like to stay here until I voluntarily move out.

I have no sense of smell – lost it about 10 years ago and that’s not in any way, covid-related. No sense of smell complicates everything. No one can describe it to me – some people say it smells like kitty litter – I have one cat with one small litter box which I empty daily (empty, not just clean out). Others say it doesn’t. I’ve bought lots and lots of cleaners and sprays and such. A neighbor said it smells like a dead body. The landlord just keeps telling me I have to fix it.

I got rid of my couch and five carpets, also a tall corner cabinet and a tall secretary. So now the stuff that was in the drawers has no home. Note: I’m no minimalist. I spent several years selling at a local flea market and loved it more than any real job I ever had. And I’ve traveled a lot with lots of souvenirs

The main thing I’ve found on google is “Mice.” There are mice in the building but you don’t see them often – If it is mice, is there anything I can do on my own or would I have to hire someone? I’m not sure of the law in that case.

What’s an old lady to do? (Sorry this is so long.)

How long has it been going on? Because if just a couple of weeks, it could be a dead mouse, and when the decomposition is complete the smell will go away. Could your cat have killed a mouse and hidden it somewhere, maybe behind the stove? Of course, if the mouse is in a wall, you just have to wait it out. (One reason why I always use snap traps for mice, and never poison.)

Personally, my next step would be an exterminator who handles rodents as well as insects.

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Another thought: do you have a friend who can smell, who can go through your things with you?

One time when I visited my parents, the house reeked, and it turned out to be a small box of shrimp that my dad had put into the pantry instead of the freezer while putting away groceries. It took me about an hour to find it. Had to take almost everything out of the pantry and examine each item.

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Have you talked to others in your building? Is yours the only apt with the smell?

You might want to continue downsizing belongings as a sort of Swedish death cleaning thing as well as an effort to get rid of the smell.

Check for any holes along baseboards where mice can enter. I had an entry point for mice in an apartment I sublet around 10 years ago (in NYC). Taped over it with duct tape IIRC. And snap-trapped the mouse already in the apartment.

The firs time I heard the mouse, it was in the wastebasket, making the plastic liner crinkle. Second time I was talking on the phone after dinner and the mouse ran around the still-dirty pots on the stove(!), rattling the stirring spoons.\

In addition to taping the hole and killing 2 mice with traps, I kept the apartment cleaner (threw out the trash every time I left the apartment, even if mostly empty, cleaned the kitchen immediately and throughly after every meal before relaxing).


I guess it goes without saying that if you can’t smell, then you’re not the right person to diagnose the problem. I would take a survey of any friends you have and ask for them to help.

Absent that, I would call a cleaning service and ask for a price for a “top to bottom” cleaning of the house. I’ve used them in one way or another in many cities I’ve lived in (often when moving in - or out - of a home) and the women (and it’s invariably women) are ruthless in rooting out problems, cleaning the refrigerator, mopping under cabinets, etc.

About the only places the don’t get is under the refrigerator (any chance of a dead animal there?) and the attic (ditto).

Short version: get someone with a sniffer - and then have them sniff. And then clean.

Last thought: any chance your landlord is trying to chase you out so he can raise the rent for a new tenant? In which case you have a whole other problem.

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Last thought: any chance your landlord is trying to chase you out so he can raise the rent for a new tenant? In which case you have a whole other problem.

Funny you should mention it. I’ve wondered about that myself.

I’m going to look for a deep cleaning company right now.

Before you spend a lot of money, have a friend over to try to “sniff it out” for you. Maybe just a dead mouse behind the stove. Try the easy fixes first, before calling in the pros.