Apartment Guru: Garbage out, Garbage Stench in

Dear Apartment Guru,

I moved into my place at the end of last summer and realized very quickly that the building's garbage, which coincidentally piles up outside my living room windows, is unbearably stinky. I spoke to the landlord and we walked the perimeter and figured out that there are apartment windows above every inch of the building. Since it was getting into autumn I let the whole thing go. But -- and I know you know where I'm going with this one -- summer's coming. I want to be able to open my windows and not get a whiff of rotting vegetables and pet waste. What do I do?

-- Nose Like a SuperheroDear Nose,

You poor thing! Is the problem that the garbage doesn't get picked up weekly? Is there so much garbage that the cans overflow? Does your landlord make it easy for all of you to recycle? (If not, maybe you need to ask him/her to instruct your neighbors on rinsing recyclables and separating those from the rest of the trash.) Perhaps the issue is that your neighbors are too lazy to make sure their trash actually gets into the garbage receptacles. According to Eli, a building manager in Queens, "The problem might just require a little neighbor cooperation."

Also along those lines, I wonder if you couldn't suggest composting to your neighbors. You or your landlord could look into organizations that collect compost for use in city parks, farms and gardens. Many offer free airtight composting containers and instructions on how to do it. That could take care of some of the funk. Unfortunately, some really smelly stuff can't go in it. For example, you can't compost meat, fish or dirty diapers.

"The thing is," says Eli, "you have the right to not have a stinky apartment." Eli suggests having your landlord look into airtight trash receptacles. "Check industrial supply houses. They even make smaller ones for things like oily rags."

Something like a wooden hutch can also help decrease some of the smell but they are often built with slats of wood so the less-than-clean-smelling air can still circulate. An unlikely fix to your current problem..

Truthfully, Nose, the problem may simply be that people are lazy. They see a "trash area" rather than a "garbage can" designed to keep in bad smells. If they cannot be coaxed into correctly depositing their trash into rather than near the receptacles (and sometimes it takes nothing more than pointing out the problem to them) you might need to get your landlord to take responsibility.

First of all, the landlord must ensure that there are enough receptacles to contain the ENTIRE weekly flow of garbage coming out of the building. Maybe it would be better if the landlord set aside a room or closet (with a door) inside the building for residents to put their garbage. It would then be the landlord's responsibility to either place the refuse on the curb, or ensure that it is placed in sealed containers under your open, though not-often-enough, window.

And of course, a little air freshener couldn't hurt...

Happy breathing!

The Aparment Guru is Joselin Linder, co-writer of
The Good Girls Guide to Living in Sin and Have Sex Like You Just Met. Having rented apartments and houses in Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Brooklyn, Columbus, OH and abroad in Prague, CZ, she knows what it means to live in home you don't own and still make it homey. Anything she doesn't know, she isn't afraid to ask.
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