Author Topic: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)  (Read 8061 times)

freezerburn

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Hello MMM hivemind. I am in the middle of moving house and a situation has arisen that is making me anxious, partly because I don't know what course to take. I'm stuck in a feedback loop of fretting. I don't even know if this is the right subforum for this thread! Maybe you all can help me think more clearly?

The situation: my boyfriend and I recently signed a lease for a new place. Moving will trim $200+/month off our budget, one of the primary motivations (though not our only one) for moving. We picked up the keys a few days early and discovered some major problems that weren't apparent at the initial showing. One of the worst: a cat pee situation with the carpets.

We have a couple weeks' overlap with our current lease, so we postponed our move date by another week, started cleaning the place up, and alerted the landlord to the problems. Cleaning included a thorough wet vac with a pet-specific enzyme solution, which sucked up a disgusting amount of dirt and cat miscellany but didn't help the smell (unless you count vaguely lemon-scented cat piss as an improvement). We also cleaned the baseboards and walls. It's been hot and humid here and the smell is still so bad it's unbelievable. The carpets are old and torn in spots and there are multiple types of carpet of varying vintage and quality in the bedrooms and staircase (the rest of the house is hardwood, tile, or vinyl). I have since read possibly everything I could find online about ways to treat old cat urine on floors and concluded that the carpet must be banished and the subfloors treated before it'll stop stinking.

Some of the other problems have been worked on in the past week, but the carpets are still in place and I have yet to hear whether they will get ripped out (and the subfloors treated appropriately) and when. But BF and I agreed that we're not moving in there until that happens, however we only have a week before we have to get our stuff out of our current house.

I'm starting to wonder if we shouldn't just ask for our money back and see if we can get out of the lease. We would have to try to find somewhere else on very short notice, pay to store our stuff, and stay with family an hour's drive from our jobs in the meantime. It took us 2 months of looking to even find this place, which we didn't think was ideal even before urine became such a potent issue... but we ended up going for it because it seemed like it would do and we were running out of time. We live in an LCOL area but there are not a lot of good options when it comes to rentals. It's cheap to buy here (e.g. estimate PITI on a comparable house would cost about half what monthly rent does) but for various reasons buying is not possible for us right now.

I've also wondered whether we should remove the carpet and treat whatever's underneath ourselves, just to get it done on our schedule and to our standards. But: it's a rental! I don't want to take care of this on a property that I'm paying to live in but don't own... My state seems to have really vague guidelines for what constitutes "habitability" too, and there's nothing I can find that says the landlord has to fix something like this.

TL;DR: cat piss is ruining my dream of a more mustachian home. What to do?

1. press landlord to fix the problem asap, and we'd arrange to store our stuff somehow if this can't/doesn't happen in the next week (highly likely and I would ask for a rent reduction if so since this will cost us)

2. offer to rip it up ourselves, treat subfloor, and subtract our costs from July's rent (house is old, no idea what subfloor is made of)

3. ask for our money back and run far far away

4. some other option my addled brain hasn't yet thought of?



Victor

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #1 on: June 20, 2015, 12:38:35 AM »
A reasonable landlord would do some form of  perform the maintenance (himself, tenants, contractor) and the associated cost would come from the rent money.  A good while back I had a water softener go bad, the landlord had us (the tenants) replace it, give him the bill and he subtracted that from  the rent. If the landlord is unwilling to work with you then its a sign of things to come and I'd look for another place. 

Heckler

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #2 on: June 20, 2015, 08:50:37 AM »
Don't move in.  Cat pee will never come out until the carpet is replaced.  The landlord has a problem with his previous tenant.  Don't make it your problem. 

Heckler

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #3 on: June 20, 2015, 08:54:18 AM »
I would find somewhere else, hopefully short term until the carpets are replaced. Don't give the landlord a dime until they are.


Papa bear

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #4 on: June 20, 2015, 08:57:19 AM »
If it's bad enough, you have have to remove and install a new subfloor. (worst case scenario). I moved into my current house and it had cat pee odor.  No cleanjng or sprays would work on the subfloor (tried bleach, vinegar and baking soda, organic pet odor remover, and commercial strength stuff that animal shelters use) Had to paint it with  a primer to cover up the smell.

As a landlord, I do not allow cats in my units.  Dogs can ruin carpet and moldings.  Cats can ruin houses.


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freezerburn

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #5 on: June 20, 2015, 04:04:34 PM »
Thank you everyone for your responses.

Update: we checked the place again today and the smell has lessened. I guess the enzyme stuff did help somewhat. We spoke with the landlord who will send someone on Monday to put "deodorizer" on the carpet and see if that helps, and if not, then he'll replace it. No assurance if the subfloor will be treated too or how long everything will take. Judging by a recent repair that was done ineffectively (something is still leaking through a freshly-applied coat of Killz) I don't hold out much hope. This all seems like a waste of time and money.

So we're looking at having to put stuff in storage because I doubt all that can happen within the four business days before our move date. In the meantime we're doing what we can to document everything in writing and will wait and see what happens (or doesn't) early next week.

Ugh.

Cranberries

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2015, 04:10:42 PM »
Something to be aware of: an ozone generator would knock out the smell temporarily but it would come full force soon after you moved in as long as the source of the smell is still there. Hopefully the landlord does not know this or is not shady enough to do it. Alternately, if the carpet does get replaced renting an ozone generator for a day will knock out any lingering smell quite nicely.

protostache

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2015, 05:39:21 AM »
Run. The landlord rented it knowing full well the condition, and if they didn't do anything between tenants what makes you think they'll do anything when they're actually getting rent checks?

FWIW when DW and I visited our house an hour after closing we discovered a similar situation and it cost us $14,000 to fix. The primer required to treat the subfloors is not cheap and is pretty caustic to work with, plus all new carpets and not-terrible laminate, plus installation.

Greg

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2015, 10:19:29 AM »
While I'm a fan of cats I can't abide cat pee on furnishings or my home, so your planned apt would be a no-go for me.  It's an odd thing about cat and other animal pee; you get accustomed to it if it's your pet and it happens over time.  Also some people just don't notice stuff like that.

I would strongly recommend passing on this rental and of course getting your money back, it's simply not rentable.  Document your problem timeline, and consult with a tenant right lawyer just in case.

Annamal

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2015, 05:08:12 PM »
Not to add to your paranoia but...apparently the by-products of meth labs can sometimes also smell like cat pee.

If possible get your landlord to rule this out by testing because the by-products of meth labs are also not good for your future health.

freezerburn

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #10 on: June 23, 2015, 04:54:42 PM »
Thanks again for the replies and thoughts, it's reassuring to get others' perspectives and knowledge on this. And Annamal, I admit that scenario hadn't occurred to me! I met the former tenants and luckily I'm sure it wasn't a meth lab, there's just a major feline legacy at work, on top of structural neglect.

Another update: we checked on it again Monday night and nothing had been done, and moreover the smell had come back stronger. We're checking on it again tonight. We consulted a tenants' rights lawyer and will be writing the landlord, but I hesitate to write more details here until I hear what the response is.

ZMonet

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #11 on: June 23, 2015, 05:11:48 PM »
If you signed a lease, you have a contract that the landlord breached by not providing you a habitable rental.  If he won't take aggressive action to make sure the problem is corrected, make sure that he knows that he will be responsible for any resulting damages, including any money you are out for furniture storage, any costs beyond the cost of the rental to find a place to stay, etc.  As long as your damages aren't too large, this is likely something you could address in small claims court without a lawyer.  I do think you need to let him know that this is a serious issue though and that his costs to remedy are going to go up if you have to move in and then out.  Hopefully he'll smarten up and realize how lucky he is to have tenants like you that are willing to even pitch in to correct the problem!  Good luck.

Eric

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #12 on: June 23, 2015, 07:02:11 PM »
Ugh, cat pee is the worst.  I cleaned carpets for a few summers, and I'd say that your research is correct.  Just cleaning the carpet rarely conquers the stink.  A serious case needs, at a minimum, new carpet and treated subfloors.  Sometimes whole new subfloors.  It can be really hard to get rid of even after all that if it was allowed to fester for a long time.  If you have any other options, I'd consider them, even if it meant spending more for a year or so.  There's no way it's worth living in a litter box to save money.

protostache

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #13 on: June 23, 2015, 07:22:29 PM »
Ugh, cat pee is the worst.  I cleaned carpets for a few summers, and I'd say that your research is correct.  Just cleaning the carpet rarely conquers the stink.  A serious case needs, at a minimum, new carpet and treated subfloors.  Sometimes whole new subfloors.  It can be really hard to get rid of even after all that if it was allowed to fester for a long time.  If you have any other options, I'd consider them, even if it meant spending more for a year or so.  There's no way it's worth living in a litter box to save money.

Yep. Sometimes in really bad cases you have to chop out the bottom 2-3 feet of sheetrock because the cat pee has absorbed up through the subfloor and into the walls. When we had our subfloors sealed we had them go up 2 feet onto the drywall before we painted to try to prevent that, and we made sure to spray sealer all the way under the sills in the bad spots.

It's so gross, and very much not worth it, even if you have to forfeit your deposit for a bit until you sue the landlord for it.

Cressida

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #14 on: June 23, 2015, 09:46:52 PM »
When y'all say "treat" the subfloor, what exactly do you mean?

freezerburn

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #15 on: June 24, 2015, 10:54:46 PM »
When y'all say "treat" the subfloor, what exactly do you mean?

Based on the wisdom I have gained about cat pee in the last couple weeks, this means applying something (hydrogen peroxide seems recommended) that reacts with the ammonia in such a way to neutralize it as much as possible, then applying a sealant to block any remaining odor. May or may not involve sanding before the sealant. But this is all academic for me since I haven't actually witnessed this put to the test, I'm sure others could answer this from experience. In trawling for knowledge I found some helpful threads on here, including this one: http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/do-it-yourself-forum!/priming-cat-urine-stained-plywood-subfloors/msg63716/#msg63716


Today's cat pee update (such as it is...) is that we sent the landlord a detailed letter reiterating the need for action on this and other maintenance problems, with options outlined of either fixing them by the time our previous lease expires and compensating us for our costs due to a delayed move-in, or terminating the lease and refunding our money. The former option will be much more expensive for the landlord in this case. We sent photos but it's too bad smell-o-vision isn't a thing that exists or we would've included that with the letter.

We've checked the house every day but no further maintenance seems to have been done. We don't want to live there, and we don't think he'll repair everything satisfactorily in the timeframe we outlined. We're looking for another place to live.


Dicey

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #16 on: June 24, 2015, 11:40:43 PM »
Posting to follow and offer my sympathy. DH is a painting contractor, but he's asleep at present. I'll ask him tomorrow if he has any other suggestions. I know from experience (pre-FIRE, I was a Sales Rep for a major carpet mill) that cat pee is The.Worst. Having experience as a tenant and a landlord, my vote is that you don't move in until the problem is dealt with to your satisfaction. I'm assuming you've already paid a fat deposit and that the check has cleared, so withholding $$ is not an option. Ugh.

Le Poisson

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #17 on: June 25, 2015, 06:55:15 AM »
I haven't read all the replies so far. This may have been said before.

Use coffee.

Buy a can of coffee - cheap stuff. Sprinkle it in the rugs etc. Buy a candle melter and spread a layer of coffee in it and set it out for a couple days.  Vacuum everything up. Smell should be mostly gone.

More eloquent explanation: http://www.purrinlot.com/remove_cat_urine_odor.htm

Jellyfish

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #18 on: June 25, 2015, 11:28:10 AM »
If the cat pee is truly in the carpet and smells as bad as you describe, then it likely won't be resolved without replacing the carpet, padding, and likely the subfloor.  My beloved 19 year old cat just died, and started peeing outside the litterbox towards the end.  Now that he's gone I have to replace the carpet and subfloor in his "favorite corner".  I first tried shampooing the carpet, no go.  Then I ripped up the carpet and padding and painted Kilz on the subfloor.  Still smelled.  Time to find a crowbar...

Sibley

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #19 on: June 25, 2015, 12:20:45 PM »
Cat urine is the worst. I have cats, my parents are landlords and they've dealt with this. Based on what you've posted, here's my assessment:

1. The carpet isn't salvageable.
2. Neither is the padding.
3. The track strips (used to lay the carpet) may also need to be pulled up and replaced.

For truly horrible damage: pull up the carpet, padding, and track strips. If you're willing to replace the subfloor, do so. Otherwise, wash the floor. Get the commercial stuff that "eats" bacteria (the one my parents used was at least $30 for a gallon, but it worked), spray liberally. Possibly pour over the worst spots. Wash the floor again and allow to dry. Paint with odor-block primer. Then put new carpet down.

FYI - Higher temps and humidity will bring out the smell. So if you can't smell it but it's cool outside, then that isn't a good test. It needs to be hot and humid and smell ok.

freezerburn

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #20 on: June 30, 2015, 09:42:57 PM »
Thanks all for your comments here, I really appreciate it. And Jellyfish, I'm sorry to hear about your loss.

Update: when we drove past the house last weekend, there was a For Rent sign out front. I take this as an indication that the landlord chose to dissolve our lease rather than repair any of the problems (cat pee or otherwise), but we haven't received any assurance of this in writing or any response at all to the letter we sent. Luckily our current landlord hadn't found new tenants for the place we're still in, so we arranged to stay there a month longer. I'm relieved we're not homeless and we don't have to find storage on short notice, and most of all that we don't have to move into a house-sized litter box!

Tomorrow we're talking to a lawyer about the next steps we should take to get our money back. I imagine that we'll end up filing in small claims court. As an MMM-related aside, I have to say that I'm relieved to have had an emergency fund that meant that we can afford to pay the extension on our current rent and put down a deposit on a better house while we wait to see how this all pans out. This has all been aggravating and stressful, and we need to get the money back, but if it had happened a year ago the loss of the deposit and 1/2 month's rent we're out now would have been financially crippling and left us with far fewer options.

Greg

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #21 on: July 02, 2015, 03:17:38 PM »
Be sure to snap a date-stamped pic of the place with the for rent sign showing.  This may be helpful in court type stuff for getting your money back.

freezerburn

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #22 on: July 02, 2015, 06:46:49 PM »
Be sure to snap a date-stamped pic of the place with the for rent sign showing.  This may be helpful in court type stuff for getting your money back.

We did exactly that over the weekend. But before we could follow up with a lawyer, today we received word in writing that we'll get our money back. The landlord admitted that the problems are his responsibility, and is therefore sending us a refund check. I do wonder if the house will actually get repaired, since it's a shame to let a place get so run-down. (But: not my problem any more.)

Dicey

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #23 on: July 04, 2015, 12:06:06 AM »
We did exactly that over the weekend. But before we could follow up with a lawyer, today we received word in writing that we'll get our money back. The landlord admitted that the problems are his responsibility, and is therefore sending us a refund check. I do wonder if the house will actually get repaired, since it's a shame to let a place get so run-down. (But: not my problem any more.)
Hooray!

Zamboni

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #24 on: July 04, 2015, 12:48:26 AM »
Glad that worked out so well for you in the end!

Greg

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #25 on: July 04, 2015, 09:03:04 AM »
Good news, move on.  The owner is in a tough spot, they left it too long and now will only get similar yucky renters, good renters who slowly realize they have a problem, or will have to fix it.  But, not your problem.  Also, now you know to really check the carpet for smells (and often a yucky stickiness/smell that wipes off on your hand) on you new place!

We did exactly that over the weekend. But before we could follow up with a lawyer, today we received word in writing that we'll get our money back. The landlord admitted that the problems are his responsibility, and is therefore sending us a refund check. I do wonder if the house will actually get repaired, since it's a shame to let a place get so run-down. (But: not my problem any more.)

protostache

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #26 on: July 04, 2015, 12:44:23 PM »
Recommendation for current/future home hunting: get a cheap UV/black light flashlight and scan corners and such when you're looking at places. That simple $15 investment would have saved DW and I all the money we spent fixing our car pee issues.

fishnfool

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Re: What to do about stinky problem with a new rental (warning: cat pee)
« Reply #27 on: July 04, 2015, 12:49:59 PM »
Don't move in.  Cat pee will never come out until the carpet is replaced.  The landlord has a problem with his previous tenant.  Don't make it your problem.
x's 2

You cannot get that odor out of the carpet or padding and the subfloor needs a heavy coat of kilz paint before new pad and carpet gets laid.