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Posted by on Aug 2015 in All Stories, Member Support | 2 comments

Member Support: Smell from a dirty apartment is bothering neighbours

We have a tenant in our building whose unit is always dirty and the smell of rotting food, body odour, and pet mess is bothering other tenants. Our maintenance supervisor is worried that the mess, if left uncleaned, will lead to damage to the unit. How should we handle this?

There are many reasons this tenacluttered counternt may have for letting their unit become unacceptably dirty. The tenant may be away from their unit for long periods of time, leading to food and garbage decay. Or, the tenant may have a disability that makes it difficult for them to maintain their home. If this is the case, the Ontario Human Rights Code may require your organization to make accommodations to assist the tenant in meeting their tenancy obligations.

As a first step, have a conversation with the tenant, preferably during a unit inspection, to share your concerns and to make sure the tenant understands that their behavior is having a negative effect on other tenants in the building. During the inspection, point out specific examples of problem areas in the apartment and offer to connect the tenant to community supports, if needed.

Given the state of the unit, it’s reasonable to arrange monthly unit inspections to see if conditions in the unit improve. Give the tenant several days’ notice before inspections and indicate that photos may be taken. If there is no improvement after two inspections, you can consider contacting your local public health unit and asking them for support.

Follow up with the tenant in writing after each meeting and inspection. This will create a documented history of your interactions with the tenant, which will be helpful if you need to go to the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) later on.

trash on curbYour follow up letters should summarize the meeting, what was agreed to, and should be specific about what parts of the apartment are dirty and how they need to be cleaned. For example, you might write that the cat litter pan is dirty and smelly because it’s being shared by three cats; to remedy this, the tenant should purchase an additional litter pan and needs to remember to scoop both pans each day and change the litter every two weeks. Letters should also include recommendations on where tenants can access supports. You can quote the section in the lease about unit cleanliness and keeping the unit in a reasonable state. You can also let the tenant know that any damages to the unit will be charged to them and that their tenancy is at risk if they don’t clean the unit.

If the written reminders, deadlines, inspections, and support options don’t motivate the tenant to improve conditions in the unit, you should file an N5: Notice to End your Tenancy for Interfering with Others, Damage or Overcrowding. The N5 should come with a notice of inspection just before the end of the seven-day period to see if the tenant has complied. If they have not, file an L2: Application to End a Tenancy and Evict a Tenant and proceed to the LTB. In this case, the goal of going to the LTB is to enter a mediated agreement that requires the tenant to get the unit to a reasonable state and to agree to accept services or supports, if required.

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  1. I have an Autistic/Asperger son who lives in a 5 unit apartment building that is held in trust for him by me. He has driven 3 tenants out of the building because of the odour coming from his apartment.He has 4 cats and when he is not feeling well can’t keep up with the cleaning of the litter boxes. Strong air purifying machines don’t help and he won’t let ANYONE clean it. Help!!

    • Hi Erna, that sounds like a very difficult situation for you, your son, and his neighbours. Here are a few suggestions:
      – connect with a mental health support worker who may be able to build a rapport with your son and assist him with keeping his home clean
      – in Toronto, call 3-1-1 or Toronto Public Health (416-338-7600) and speak to a nurse about strategies. (If you’re outside Toronto, call your local public health office.)
      – try creative solutions; for example, placing litter boxes near the door so that they can be taken out and cleaned be a visitor, or purchasing a self-cleaning litter box. You may also be able to get support from a volunteer from your local humane society or cat rescue.
      – can the unit be separately ventilated, so the HVAC is not shared? Alternatively, are there other options for a living arrangement for him?
      – if your son becomes a danger to himself or others, a more invasive strategy may be required. CAMH has some resources on this:

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