Helpful Tips Property Management RPI

Lingering odours hanging around like a bad smell?

residential property investor rpi
Sally Walmsley
Written by Sally Walmsley

Nothing will put potential tenants off like the stench of cigarette smoke, damp, pets (or indeed damp pets), but lingering pongs can be notoriously difficult to get rid of. Here we talk to industry experts and look at how you can banish those stubborn smells for good.

The house was lovely, clean and well decorated – but the smell of damp from the cupboard beneath the sink made my eyes water. Sound familiar?

Whether is a nasty pong in a particular area or an all-encompassing stench pervading the whole property, bad smells can immediately turn potential tenants or buyers off a home.

So, what can you do if a tenant leaves lingering odours in your property, how do you get rid of them and – of course – who pays for the remedial works?

Smell, what smell?

Deposit disputes regarding smells are not usually recorded individually – instead lumped in with cleaning – the top reason for disputes, with 57% falling into this category.

But although figures regarding disputes specifically about smells are difficult to obtain, a cursory glance at landlord advice forums shows there is a real problem.

Pets and cigarette smoke are among the biggest culprits, so it seems, so if you are worried about the impact of either, the easiest thing to do is to simply ban both.

However, as you will see on page 20, more and more tenants now want to keep pets – so a ban could affect the pool of potential renters for your home.

Animal smells and smoke predominantly affect soft furnishings, such as carpets and curtains, however smoke can pervade walls and fixtures and fittings. Floorboards can also affected by pets –made worse if animals have been toileting indoors.

How can you tackle it?

If a thorough clean (see panel) won’t get rid of the smell it might be time to get the professionals in. Professional cleaners will have the expertise and experience to banish stubborn smells from your rental property, but can be expensive

Another option is the use of ozone generators. These machines are a relatively new way of eliminating odours from properties, with glowing testimonials from those that have used them

The machines, which cost from around £49 to buy and are also available to hire, claim to permanently remove smells ranging from shoes and pets to cigarette smoke and paint.

According to the manufacturers, machines work by drawing in air and passing it through an electrical charge to enrich it with oxygen. The extra oxygen finds anything foreign in the air and destroys it.

Keith Ferris is managing director of Ozone Clean Air Ltd, which provides ozone generators for pub and hotel chains, care homes and clients including property consultancy Knight Frank.

He said: “More and more people are using these machines in both commercial and domestic settings. We have big London lettings agencies as clients, as well as individuals selling or renting out homes.

“The machines can tackle absolutely anything in terms of smells, without leaving a chemical or synthetic scent.

“The best way I can describe the air left behind is the sort of fresh clean air you get after a thunderstorm.”

Professional standard carpet and upholstery cleaning machines are also available to rent or hire if your property is in desperate need of a deep clean. Companies such as Rug Doctor have a range of equipment available, with the cost of 24-hour hire starting from around £22.99.

Who picks up the bill?

Deposit protection service TDS said tenants must foot the bill when it comes to banishing bad smells, in situations where they are so bad the property cannot be rented out, or if they affect the amount of rent a landlord can charge.

Rebecca Johnston, director of business development at TDS said: “Firstly landlords should always make sure the smell of the property is mentioned in the inventory.

“Inventories are not just about what is in a property and its state of repair, it is always worth describing the cleanliness. For example, ‘cleaned to a professional standard, and free of odours’ could be recorded.

“When it comes to responsibility for banishing smells and who should pay, it all rests on whether the landlord has ‘suffered a loss’.

“If a landlord went into a property and there was a bad smell when they opened the fridge, but that smell went away after the doors were left open for a length of time, then there has been no loss.

“However, if the smell in the property is so bad the landlord has to redecorate, have carpets cleaned or even replaced, then they have suffered a loss and can claim money from the deposit to cover the cost.

“They are being compensated as the property is not rentable and has depreciated in value.”

When is a smell a sign of something more sinister?

While they are an issue, pet and cigarette smells are easy to identify and – hopefully – easy to remedy. But what if smells indicate something more serious? If you smell any of these things you must take action.

Gas: As a landlord you must make sure that gas appliances in your home are safe and regularly checked, with a gas safety inspection every 12 months. If you or a tenant smells gas or thinks there is a gas leak you should air the property, turn the gas off, evacuate and call the National Gas Emergency service on 0800 111999.

Damp/mould: The first thing to do if you smell damp is to identify where it is coming from. If water is coming into the house or there is an issue with the pipes, you as the landlords are responsible for repairing the property and putting right the damage caused.

However, condensation is the most common form of damp in rented properties, which is often caused by tenants not ventilating their properties properly – drying clothes indoors or keeping doors and windows closed after hot showers.

Tenants should be advised to keep a lid on pans when cooking, dry clothes outdoors if possible and keep the door closed and window open when drying clothes indoors.

They should also ensure the home is properly heated. Regular heating keeps the walls and other surfaces warm and reduces the risk of condensation.

You can treat mould growth to remove it and stop it getting worse by using a fungicidal wash, available from DIY shops or supermarkets. If the problem continues a dehumidifier could be installed.

Mice: Mouse urine has a strong ammonia-like smell. The stronger the smell the closer you are to mice activity. This smell can linger for a long time, even after an infestation has been removed. If your tenant reports a smell like this it is advisable to tackle the infestation first, using traps or by contacting a pest control expert, before tackling the smell left behind.

Can smells help when it comes to leasing my property?

It has been well documented that smells can have a positive impact when it comes to selling, or renting out a home.

Brewing coffee, baking bread and freshly laundered linen are all said to encourage tenants or buyers to sign on the dotted line.

A clean house is obviously the best bet. In short, things that smell clean are clean, and while there are all manner of air fresheners, reed diffusers and scented candles out there, a house that is too highly scented can be suspicious – with potential renters or buyers left wondering what smells are being masked?

While there is no firm evidence saying properties will rent more quickly the better they smell (after all everyone has different tastes) a simple, or neutral aroma is undoubtedly preferable to a smelly sports kit or the cat’s litter tray.

According to a survey carried out by a property website last year citrus is the most attractive smell to potential buyers/tenants – so if you do want to give your property an extra boost then fill up that fruit bowl.


Cleaning firm Merry Maids is called upon by landlords, tenants, and management companies all across the UK to carry out end of tenancy cleans. Here their team of experts share their top 10 tips for carrying out a quick, effective clean.

  1. Clear the clutter before carrying out the clean.

Working around belongings will mean areas are missed, so clear the mess, put furniture back in its place and you’ll be in a much better position to carry out the clean.

  1. Work top to bottom

Merry Maids work in this way in every property we clean across the UK; top to bottom, left to right. This proven process ensures that you never miss a spot and won’t become distracted by other tasks.

  1. Dust first, vacuum later

Whilst vacuuming will bring a sense of achievement and create a clearer floor, in truth you’re going to have to vacuum again later so save yourself a task and grab the duster first and get to work.

  1. Use a spray-on degreaser for all kitchen surfaces and appliances

Again, once the kitchen is cleared of debris, use a strong but safe degreaser and always follow the instructions on the bottle. If you are advised to leave the product to rest on the surfaces before wiping away, use this time to carry out another task.

  1. Kitchen cupboards need attention

Kitchen cupboards can be deceiving; they may look clean but when you get up close and personal, that’s when you find the tea and coffee stains on the doors and the dried cereal hiding at the back. Use a safe product for the cupboard doors and a simple disinfectant and a clean sponge for the inside. Again, start at the eye level units and work down to base cabinets and whilst you’re there, wipe down the plinths too.

  1. Spend some time in the bathroom

Using a bathroom cleaner, scour the bath, sinks, toilet and tiles and open a window to allow some air in. If the tenant has neglected to circulate air and mould has developed; allow the bathroom time to dry completely before using a good quality mould spray on the area. If you aren’t confident about cleaning up mould and it is causing concern, consult a professional cleaning company.

  1. Invest in a good multi-purpose cleaner

With your clean cloth and a good quality multi-purpose cleaner, work your way across units in the living room, bedroom; wardrobes, tables, chairs, handrails, doorknobs, skirting boards, light switches – if you can touch it, clean it.

  1. Carpets, upholstery, curtains and mattresses need a professional

A good vacuum will remove much of the surface level debris but the real dirt is hidden beneath the surface in the fibres. There are carpet and upholstery cleaning machines available for hire, but we would advise bringing in a professional and reputable company like ServiceMaster Clean to take the stress and responsibility out of the job.

  1. Mop hard floors

Whilst mopping doesn’t always improve the look of a floor, using hot water and a disinfectant in the bucket will kill off any bugs still circulating. Ensure you use fresh water on each floor as you don’t want to transfer dirt from one room to another.

  1. Inspect and sniff

If the property doesn’t smell clean, it probably isn’t. Revisit any areas that aren’t too fresh and give them another clean. As you move around the property, ideally in your socks or bare feet so you don’t soil your nice clean floors and carpets; open all drawers, cupboards, doors and allow them to breathe before your next tenant arrives.

Merry Maids is a national domestic cleaning provider, operated by locally owned, franchised businesses. For information visit

This article is taken from the Residential Property Investor, the RLA’s official members magazine, which is provided free to members. To read more join the RLA here or visit the RPI website here

About the author

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley

Sally Walmsley is the Magazine and Digital Editor for the NRLA. With 20 years’ experience writing for regional and national newspapers and magazines she is responsible for editing our members' magazine 'Property', producing our articles for our news site, the weekly and monthly bulletins and editorial content for our media partners.

1 Comment

  • I have lived in this rented bungalow since August las year and the bad drain smell still won’t go away I keep on top of the black mould as much as I can but it is growing out of my cold water tap horrible black and slimy, the toilet cistern gets really bad, I use a mould removal spray but it still keeps coming back and the bad drain smell together I think they a responsible for my recurring stomach problems, I had cancer/treatment last year so my immune system is compromised and I feel so sick all the time with the smell. I don’t want to have to move again but I think I might have to to get away from this awful smell. should my landlords be doing something about it do you think?

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