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Question DetailsAsked on 4/22/2017

What is causing swampy, musty odor?

Hi, I rent a duplex from a property management company. We have forced-air heating but no A/C. Since we moved in a year ago there has been a swampy, musty odor coming from the vents and from behind the bathroom sink. At one point we had a sewage gas leak and I had to move heaven and earth to get the property manager to fix the problem, which was a pipe with a hole the size of my fist dumping all its water into the crawlspace. Now we still have an odor that is not present at times, and very bad at other times. The manager has sent a handyman to change the furnace filter and look for leaks, not finding any. When we turn the furnace on there is a smell like something is on fire, then the musty odor. With the furnace off, the swamp odor comes out of every vent. I've had sinusitis since October and suspect this is related. Any ideas? Could the furnace itself have mold in it? I can't look because our furnace and ductwork are in our neighbors' unit and they're a bit reclusive. Thanks!

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Voted Best Answer

Yes furnaces can have mold in them - but more commonly ducts, and especially A/C evaporator coils in ducts (but you say you have no A/C).

Because of the burning smell when the furnace turns on, I would guess it needs cleaning, and is burning off dust in the combustion chamber and in the heat exchanger when it kicks on.

I would guess the swamp odor is from damp crawlspace (with the sewage maybe not properly cleaned up in it).

If putting pressure on the management company does not get the problem solved, and asusming this is a true rental where they are responsible for general building maintenance, I would contact the owner and tell them the management company is not following up on your complaints. if no response then, there are a couple of things you could do, on the rather more aggressive side.

1) When furnace kicks on and you smell the burning smell, you could call the fire department to check out possible furnace overheating or burning components - though in your case that will likely (unless neighbors are home) result in them getting a broken-down door or window for the firemen to get in.

2) On the odor thing, you could contact the public Health Department (or local rental unit regulatory agency if your city is large and has one like NYC or Boston) about possible mold/fungal growth in the crawlspace, or basement where the furnace is. There may be mildew/mold growing in there.

Basically, on rentals (as opposed to some types of leases or owner apartments or condos), the building owner is responsible for this sort of issue. If you are sub-letting, you may have to go through the primary renter.

If you still have the musty odor behind sink, you may have a pipe leak in there - or air leak through a pipe penetration of the drywall, letting in basement or crawlspace odor. This too I would complain about to the owner - and if no response, to the health o rental apartment department, because a moldy bathroom area can be hazardous to your health, and pretty much all city codes make moldy conditions in a living unit mandatory for the owner to remedy.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD



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