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Really nasty smell of pee! Where the hell is it coming from?

(16 Posts)
ReshapeWhileDamp Mon 30-May-11 12:54:57

This is an outside smell, not an indoor one. We recently moved to a 1920's semi, stuck with some other ones a little way out of a small village. The plumbing can be a bit eccentric, and we already know that the drains can block every so often, because the first week we were here, the neighbours came and twiddled with their own rods down our manhole cover. This smell doesn't seem to have anything to do with a blocked drain though - the view down there is clear and water's flowing nicely.

The last few weeks, there's been a very strong smell of human urine - at times, enough to drive you back inside - at the back of the house, round the patio. I thought it was coming from our drain but as I've said, we've checked and it's clear. There are two loos upstairs and one downstairs (at the back) so I suspected a cracked soil pipe.

BUT - the smell is strongest round the side of the back extension, up against the hedge that divides our garden/patio from the overgrown jungle next door. The man who lives there alone is elderly and getting a bit decrepit, and he has a Council carer who comes in and keeps an eye on him. We'd keep an eye too, but he never comes outside or leaves the house! We do pop over occasionally to check he's ok, when his smoke alarm goes off. (He burns food a lot.)

His downpipe from the guttering is broken and ends a couple of metres from the ground, but that can't be it, can it? Could he have a cracked soil pipe?? I even wondered if he was coming into the garden (but we never hear him) and having a regular pee at the back of his house. He's a bit decrepit, as I said. sad

Our other ND neighbours just told us that the other semi is Council-owned, which I didn't know, so this old man is a tenant. Should I ring them up and report this smell and see if they can check out the condition of their plumbing? Or even check up on the old guy, who's in their care? I know this makes me sound like a mean old cow, but it would be very hard for me to go round to his house and say 'So - everything ok? Been peeing in the back garden much recently?'. confused

I was going to offer to cut his gfront rass and look after his apple trees in his front garden (in winter, the path along to our house is slippery as hell from rotten apple pulp, because nobody picks up the apples) and it would be an opportunity to keep an eye on him. But I don't know what to do about the SMELL. (And of course, we haven't ruled out that it's our plumbing at fault - but there's no stink indoors, and the smell is worst when you lean into the dividing hedge.) He has no sense of smell - he told us when we went round a little while ago, concerned about his smoke alarm again, and he appeared at the door, wreathed in smoke from burnt toast, totally oblivious. He shouldn't be on his own in there, should he? sadconfused

ReshapeWhileDamp Mon 30-May-11 12:57:22

gfront rass is front grass! blush

Really, just wondered what else we should be checking, and who to contact in order to get this looked at.

blanchedevereaux Mon 30-May-11 14:20:14

What about calling environmental health?

ReshapeWhileDamp Mon 30-May-11 17:57:03

I could do, but thought maybe I should go to the house owner (i.e. council) first? Really, I ought to go next door and - what? Ask him if he has any problems with his toilet? He has no sense of smell so he won't know! But I think I should maybe warn him before someone from the council turns up. confused Thanks, I'll add Environmental Health to the people I should contact.

manchurian Mon 30-May-11 18:08:15

Given that he has no sense of smell I'd say go around and say that there is a smell in the garden of urine. As you say he probably isn't aware of it and by putting it like this you are bringing it to his attention without blaming him for it. Mention it could be his soil pipe etc. It seems odd though as if it was a soil pipe you would expect a sewage smell and not just urine.

Also - are you sure it's human urine? Do either you or him (or past owners) have a dog? Sometimes large amounts of dog urine in soil can get into the air in hot and wet weather - could it be this? It normally builds up in soil that doesn't have proper drainage.

ReshapeWhileDamp Mon 30-May-11 19:01:49

I wondered if it was animal pee - neither he or we own pets but there're cats around. But I know cat pee, and this is person pee!

ReshapeWhileDamp Tue 31-May-11 11:07:13

Ok. Update of a sort. We all trooped round there this morning to say hello, and to ask tactfully if he knew of a prob with his drains or loo. He was very definite about there not being a problem, and invited us round to look at the back of the house to see if we could spot or smell anything. We did.

There is an area of belled-out soil directly beneath his ground floor (and upstairs) windows which looks to me as if he frequently empties out something liquid. There was some vegetable debris (chopping board debris??) or it might even have been vomit (didn't smell though) in this hollowed out area and also on the windowsill. The nettles and long grass around this area were blackened and had died back. To me, this says that yes, he IS either weeing, or emptying a night potty out of the window. sad I could smell the Smell, though it's not as strong today. Makes me wonder if he does this frequently but not every day? (Assuming that's what he's doing. It would be very easy to assume he is, but must NOT do that.)

He is very doddery. Didn't recognise my DH (though apparently he'd told DH at their last meeting that he might not recognise him again), and forgot twice why we'd come round (the smell) during the 10 mins we were there. We offered to cut his front grass and sort out his apple trees, and he said we could if we wanted, but he wasn't bothered. I don't think he realises that it'll make our own access to our house a lot easier. So we said we thought we'd check with him about the plumbing before calling the local council housing association, and I hope he doesn't feel intimidated. But given his memory problems - he didn't remember why we were there a few minutes after we'd told him - I doubt he'll remember this conversation when a council person comes round. sad I rang them, and they're going to sort something out, and also send a 'neighbourhood team' person round to check up on our neighbour, since I expressed concerns about him.

Feel very confused about it all. We have to get rid of the Smell - it means we can't open windows or doors onto the back garden at the moment. I was planning a birthday party that I don't want to have if we can't sort this out (sorry, that sounds very brattish and selfish!) because I wouldn't want to subject friends to the Smell. But as it now looks like it might be a personal problem with the old guy, I feel really bad about interfering and getting the council round to assess him. But if he is emptying pee out of the window, someone has to ask him not to, don't they??

whitechocolatebuttons Tue 31-May-11 11:18:41

You've done the right thing in getting in touch with the HA. It would undoubtably be a breach of tenancy but it also sounds like he could use some interference help from social services and you may have just got the ball rolling. Does he have family/care/visitors?

ReshapeWhileDamp Tue 31-May-11 23:13:30

He has an elderly sister (he must be in his late 70's himself, maybe older) who drops in from time to time to see how he is. ANd a carer (according to neighbours) who presumably gets him his food, because we never, ever, see him outside the house. sad

SherlockMoans Tue 31-May-11 23:22:18

Before I read your update I was going to say - I have an elderly man living opposite me - I know he has a stair lift to enable him to get up to the bathroom but ive observed him pouring a liquid which I assume to be wee onto his garden. I assume when you are in your 90s its easier to pee into a pot and empty it outside! If it is human wee then its an environmental health issue so hopefully you will get some help.

My only other suggestion would be rats but that is a much more acidic smell.

PigletJohn Wed 01-Jun-11 14:47:11

if it's not mice, it's probably him emptying a bottle out of the window. I had to use a bottle after breaking my legs, and if you can't walk steadily it is quite difficult to carry it to the bathroom to empty it down the loo (but I was not on my own).

If he is an elderly gentleman it might also be his clothes or furniture.

You might consider "watering the garden" and giving this patch a good hosing-down. If it is dug over it will absorb better. I reckon your helping with the garden idea is best. It is helpful and good-neighbourly rather than interfering, and will probably help with this problem as well as others that may arise if he is frail and old.

conculainey Wed 01-Jun-11 16:44:49

Another very common scource of a "pee" smell is when water mixes with chimney soot either via rain or a leak so try to check if the smell is coming from a fireplace or a bricked up fireplace and check around chimney/old fireplace vents if there are any, soot and water produce a strong ammonia type smell not unlike what the op has described.

northerngirl41 Wed 01-Jun-11 19:26:01

Could it be foxes or badgers? I know that sounds really weird but they do give off incredibly strong smells, especially in certain seasons...

GentleOtter Wed 01-Jun-11 19:29:04

Are you near a river or stream?

ReshapeWhileDamp Fri 03-Jun-11 10:37:33

Thanks, some good ideas here. We'll go through them, but I'm pretty sure it's human pee. I just had to close the bathroom window because it was rolling in. Went out onto the balcony (we've got a flat roof over the back extension) to see if I could look at the suspect patch of ground from above, and I can - but the stench set me reeling back! This is, I'm quite sure, not a mice or rats problem. It smells exactly like a corner that's been used for peeing over a prolonged period of time. You know, like an alleyway in a town that's near pubs. (Or is that just Reading? grin)

No evidence of badgers or foxes - both are quite noisy and we'd have heard and smelt them. Fox pee is quite a distinctive odor IMO, and I can usually spot it. Elderly guy doesn't use coal fires though some of the houses round here do. Yes, we are very near (500m or so) to the Thames, but it's still a way off. Gardens are elevated off the flood plain a bit.

I am blush to admit this, because it wasn't at all nice of me, but when we went over the other day to talk to him, as he led us round the back, I took the opportunity to bend forward and sniff quickly. blush He didn't notice and I wouldn't have done that if I'd thought he'd notice, but as I say, he's very doddery. I know, that was horrible of me. He does not, himself, smell of pee. Which is good, right? His house didn't seem to smell much as he opened the door, either. DH said that the time before when he went round after a smoke alarm had been going off for a while, there was a burnt food smell, and it was a bit stale, but nothing worse.

I'm not sure how long to give the Council to respond before chasing it. I called on tuesday and they sounded very on-the-ball. Would it have been better to go straight to environmental health? Thing is, I think this man needs care from the council that he's not getting.

ReshapeWhileDamp Fri 03-Jun-11 10:38:25

Odor?? ODOUR! I am not American! grin

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