We moved into our apartment on February 1, and for the past month we have been dealing with all the normal moving experiences: getting new furniture, organizing our stuff, meeting the neighbors, etc. We have also been dealing with some unexpected issues: having to empty the last tenants’ abandoned boxes and other junk out of our storage space in the cellar, trying to get keys to our mailbox (still don’t have those!), and dealing with some … less-than-pleasant smells.
Our bathroom is divided into two spaces. There is the main room with the bathtub and vanity, and then a smaller room inside that holds the toilet. When I got the keys to take over the apartment, all the doors were open and everything was aired out. (They were still finishing the maintenance/cleaning.) I didn’t notice a thing. However, as soon as everything was closed up, we noticed a terrible smell concentrated in the toilet room.
We started doing some research, and we came up with a couple likely problems: 1) There is a crack/leak/broken seal in the plumbing, or 2) There is a blockage in the sewer vent pipe. Don’t know what a sewer vent pipe (a.k.a. a stack vent) is? I didn’t either. But it turns out that proper plumbing includes a pipe coming out of your roof that allows sewer gas to escape. Without it, the sewer gas has nowhere to go and can come bubbling back into your home. (Or it can cause pressure to build up in the pipes, at which point all the sewage can come flowing back … ew.)
For the past month, we have tried to communicate the problem and our theories to the building owner. He has been responsive, but not terribly helpful. He decided that it must be a problem with the air vents not venting the air properly. It was nice to have the vents cleaned, but that didn’t solve the problem. After a number of visits from the Hausmeister with no real results, we were at our wits’ end. (The last straw was when I was using my very basic German skills to try to communicate with the Hausmeister, and he patted me on the shoulder, declared, “Ist besser!” and left.)
Finally, we turned to our very helpful Makler (real estate broker), who talked with the owner and sent over a more qualified plumber last week to look at the problem. The plumber couldn’t access the roof to look at the sewer vent pipe (the upstairs neighbors weren’t home to give access), but he said that was likely a contributing factor. Two plumbers from his company returned today, and after looking at the bathroom upstairs they told us the problem: The sewer vent pipe doesn’t vent to the roof; it just stops at the toilet on the top floor.
WHAT?! Our neighbors (in all three other apartments) told us that they have experienced bad smells coming and going, but no one ever mentioned the problem to the owner. I felt a little crazy going back to the owner over and over for the past month, but now I am just amazed that this hasn’t been addressed before. The plumbing hasn’t been working properly, because the sewer gas has nowhere to go. (Apparently it is possible for the plumbing to work without a vent pipe, but that isn’t the case here. Especially given that the plumber plunged our toilet and discovered that it isn’t flushing properly. Again … ew.) I’m amazed that nothing has backed up and overflowed before now.
Thank goodness for our persistence. Hopefully the owner will be responsive and fix the problem! I know this can happen anywhere, but it has been such a headache for us to deal with this problem along with everything else we are trying to adjust to.