Moisture, Smells, Roof

“Rancid smells, nicotine, animal and organic odors are very hard to remove even after painting the walls and cleaning the carpets.”

Dear Maintenance Men:

A few months ago, you had a question about bath fans and removing moisture from the bathroom to avoid mold issues. Our residents never seem to switch on the fan or leave it on long enough for it to do its job. What else can I do?


Dear Mike:

We have often commented about wiring the light switch and the fan switch together; however, if the resident turns off the lights as they leave the bathroom, the fan also turns off. Rick, a general contractor who reads our column, sent us what he does in this situation. Read below for his suggestion which we think is a great idea and will eliminate any moisture issues in a bathroom.

The key is to do one of two things. Either replace the wall switch with a moisture sensitive switch or replace the fan in the ceiling with a humidity sensing bath fan. Both will work equally well. The fan will turn on and off depending on the humidity in the room, thereby helping eliminating any mold issues due to excessive moisture. When installing the fan option, make sure to eliminate the switch and wire directly to the fan. Both the switch and the fan can be found at most home improv ement centers.

Dear Maintenance Men:

The stench in the rental unit following a nasty eviction was overwhelming. The tenant smoked heavily and collected all sorts of garbage. The unit was a disaster. We have cleaned the unit, including the carpet and painted the walls. The place still smells bad when we show the unit to a prospective resident. Because of the lingering smell, this unit is unrentable. What do you suggest?


Dear Jessica:

Rancid smells, nicotine, animal and organic odors are very hard to remove even after painting the walls and cleaning the carpets. Chances are if the resident was a long-time hoarder, carpet replacement will be inevitable. Remove the carpets, pad and tack strips.

The tack strips are wood and can absorb and release the smell of smoke, urine, etc. Thoroughly clean the floors with soapy water mixed with bleach. After cleaning the floors, it is not a bad idea to paint or use a primer to coat the flooring.

One of the best ways to remove the odors from the walls is using old fashioned elbow grease! Before painting, wash the walls with soapy water using a brush or rag. Adding TSP (a powdered cleaning solution available at most hardware stores) or using a degreasing agent will help in the cleaning. If you have flat ceilings, wash them, too. If you have “acoustical” or “popcorn” type ceiling, that’s a problem. By its nature, acoustical ceiling material is difficult to clean. Encapsulating the acoustical ceiling with spray paint may solve the problem. You will need a primer coat and a minimum of two coats of paint. If the smell is still present, give it another coat of paint and let the unit air as much as possible.

Don’t forget to wash the windows and window frames as they can retain nicotine odors. Replace any HVAC filters and vacuum dust from furnaces and A/C units.

Dear Maintenance Men:

How do I determine if it is time to replace a roof or just have some maintenance or minor repairs done?


Dear Ed:

Determining if a roof actually needs replacement or should be repaired is sometimes more of an art than a science. An old roof in good condition that has roof leaks may be as simple to solve as an inspection of the roof flashing system. The roof flashing is where the roof meets a different material or changes course. For example roof flashing is found around the chimney, in valleys, where the roof transitions to a vertical wall or around vent pipes. Any roof transition area is a potential roof leak.

Keeping the roof flashings in good order is the first line of defense. However, should your roof be experiencing leaks in several different areas, missing granules (bald spots) and pooling, it might be an indication of a roof past its prime and ready for replacement.

When requesting a bid from a roofing contractor, always ask for a cost to repair the existing roof and a cost to replace the roof. When having multiple bids, always use the same scope of work for each roofer. A deviation in scope will make it harder to determine the correct course of action.

WE NEED Maintenance Questions!!! If you would like to see your maintenance question in the “Dear Maintenance Men” column, please send in your questions to:

If you need maintenance work or consultation for your building or project, please feel free to contact us. We are available throughout Southern California. For an appointment please call Buffalo Maintenance, Inc., at 714-956-8371. Frank Alvarez is a licensed contractor and the Operations Director and co-owner of Buffalo Maintenance, Inc. He has been involved with apartment maintenance and construction for over 20 years. He is also a lecturer and educational instructor for the Apartment Association. Frank can also be reached at For more info please go to: Jerry L’Ecuyer is a real estate broker and has been involved with apartments as a professional since 1988.