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Water in Apartment Building


The wonderful guys at Breaktime said that there are some New Yorkers on this board who might be able to tell me what to do.

Several months ago the water (h & c) in my apartment was appearing rusty and it began smelling like dirt or soil.  I didn't say anything then because the owners sent a notice that they were replacing the boiler and the water tower so I thought that they knew what was wrong and the change was supposed to fix it.

Well, they are still in the process of replacing the boiler (there is a temporary one that they're using now) but the new water tower was replaced a month ago and the water is clear now, but the smell is worse.

I mentioned it to the super and he said that there were a LOT of complaints and they had had all of the agencies out to test the water and there is nothing wrong (hazardous) but it is absurd that there is nothing to be done. It might be safe but it is undrinkable.  I'm not sure that I believe him but he does live in the building and uses the water too. 

I spoke to the lady upstairs and she said that everyone has noticed it but no one seems to be doing anything.  I did finally contact DOH but I've yet to hear back.   If it's the pipes I KNOW that they won't want to replace what is probably thousands of yards in hundreds of apartments.


Susan in NYC


  • rlaggrenrlaggren Member Posts: 159
    Where are you located?

    Your water utility should be able to give you an analysis of the water they supply. That matters because sometimes there are chemicals or minerals in water that by themselves don't bother anybody, but when coming in contact with certain tank or piping materials produce unwelcome results. This may or may not be an issue, but you do want to nail down the analysis - you need a firm place to start from. Also the written test result(s) saying the water is such & such safe.

    A free reality check is to drop in to the next building down the street in each direction and discuss their water - maybe even taste it. See how you stand relative to the users on the water main.

    In all likelihood everybody is vanilla, the water from the main is good and nobody is going to get poisoned and nobody knows anything (nobody here but us chickens...). It sounds like the tank was generating crud for a while and perhaps given a few month or so, the pipes will clean themselves. Or perhaps there is something in the new tank, a coating, an anode, or just something evil left in the tank by accident, or a new run of pipe, that is causing the problem; perhaps there is filter in the system somewhere that is crudded up and needs to be changed a couple times to clear the system. Perhaps there was a water purifier or softener that was removed when the new tank went in. Do the other users on your block need any special water processing? And just what else is incomplete besides the boiler? Could be other parts of the system are not online yet. Another possibility is the temp boiler may not have a check on the make up line and there is come kind of back flow there; but this is unlikely because it is a big liability issue for everybody w/in shooting distance and installers tend to be real careful about that stuff.

    Now you decide what to do next From your post, I take it you rent. That means you cannot compel information from the landlord directly; it also means that there is likely nothing you yourself can do directly. At this point it becomes a political problem and you need to decide how bad it is and how much trouble you want to try to make and how much it's worth to you.

    Of the lot, it sounds like the pipes got crud in them and  they will either clear themselves over time or the system may need a biocide added to the water for a few days to kill whatever is making the "earthy" smell.

    IOW. There's lots of possibilities and only lots of information will help figure it out. If the water tastes truly vile, you might get a response from the city health and/or plumbing inspector. Take a quart into their office and offer a taste.

    disclaimer - I'm a plumber, not a heating pro.
  • cyclercycler Member Posts: 4
    edited February 2011
    who to contact?

    I am in Manhattan and, yes, I rent.  How do I know who to contact?  I went to the site for the city services and there was nothing there about where (or who) the water is supplied from. 

    The thing is, the smell was there before they changed the tank so I think that it is in the pipes and as you said it is probably not harmful but it is undrinkable and if I boil it the smell is still there.

    Unfortunately, we are on the corner and there are no buildings next to us.  But I know that everyone in the building has noticed it.

    Do you know off-hand where I might walk-in to bring a bottle of the water for them to test?  I'd really appreciate the information.  Or is there a private service that will test a bottle at a low cost?

    Edited to add - I just went to the NYC DEP site and I see nothing about contacting them except for the one that I used last week.  And the latest water quality report was in 2009.

  • Jean-David BeyerJean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,663
    who to contact?

    You might try these guys.  They are mainly concerned with rent control and adequate heat and hot water, but do not restrict themselves to that. The second link here can help getting issues solved.
  • cyclercycler Member Posts: 4
    met council

    I didn't think of the met council because they've never really provided any useful assistance to me in the past, but my friend runs to them whenever he has any complaints about his building. 

    I will call them - who know - even if they're unable to do anything they might know who else to talk to.

  • rlaggrenrlaggren Member Posts: 159
    Well, I'm just a small town boy from Chicago

    So I can't help you w/the  names and numbers for NYC. You do have a bit more of a challenge but I think if you follow you nose...

    But. The _first_ place to start is w/the landlord or agent - from the standpoint of courtesy, practicality and politics that's the _only_ way to start. Stay level, calm, polite and persistent. It's nice to actually talk, but even so, you follow up with written confirmation of everything said and done, naming names, dates, etc and stating "this is what I got from our conversation...". Once you know where you stand for sure (and have written evidence on account of writing to him saying " and based on our talk on (date) I understand that (where you're at); and I will proceed on that basis if I don't hear from you by a week from (date)." This is because there are rules about this stuff and also because the first thing _anybody_ is going to say is "did you try talking to..." yah-de-yah; if you can't say you did due diligence, you got no credibility and won't get any further with anybody. What you experience can vary from "that's horrible, I'm coming right over" to a busted ear drum as the phone slams; how you respond is your call. But when you're for real, you gotta step through the hoops.

    disclaimer - I'm a plumber, not a heating pro.
  • cyclercycler Member Posts: 4

    I did talk to the super since he is there every day (and he lives in the building) and it was he who told me that there had been many complaints and that the different agencies had already checked the water.  So management has been informed many times (by many different people in the building) and has done nothing except to say that it is because of the new water tower which is untrue because the smell was there months before they changed it.  If anything, it ought to be improved by now since it has been several months since it has been changed and whatever was still in the pipes ought to be gone.

    I just want to know that I've done everything possible and if I am told that it's the way the water is I want to be told that from someone who has nothing invested in it. 


  • Jean-David BeyerJean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,663
    Rent stike?

    See if you can get the water analyzed. If it is bad enough, you should be able to get results from the board of health.

    Otherwise, organize all the tenants and go on a rent strike until the problem is resolved. Of course you would run the risk of eviction.
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