Rotting deer, migrating roaches, and icy stalactites, oh my.

Last week my apartment filled with raw sewage after my upstairs neighbor thoughtlessly clogged the main drain pipe in our building with latex paint. In all my years of dwelling downstairs, it's definitely the worst thing an upstairs neighbor has ever done to me (even if it was unintentional). The inconvenience got me wondering what other atrocities—purposeful or otherwise—had been committed against the downstairs dwellers of the world. So we asked Cities readers to tell us if they could top my story. Five of you definitely rose to the occasion. 

From roaches to deer to indoor bowling, you can read the worst apartment horror stories below (the truly awful bits are bolded).  

We'll start with a chilling tale about roach migration from reader Josh Michtom

For a while when I was a kid, I lived with my mom in a pre-war brick building on Butler Place in Brooklyn. The apartment had hardwood floors and nice tin ceilings throughout, except the kitchen, which had a drop ceiling made from translucent plastic panels with light fixtures behind. Like most apartments in New York City, ours had a few roaches, but hardly anything to get worked up about - mostly, if you didn't leave food out or dishes moldering the sink, the six-legged squatters found more fruitful grazing elsewhere.

Our upstairs neighbor was a nice old lady who didn't get out much. My mom would sometimes make me go up there and offer to take out her trash or carry her laundry to and from the cleaners, for which she rewarded me, perplexingly, with new tube socks. But for a stretch, I didn't see or hear her, and she didn't answer when I knocked the door. My mom told me she had been in the hospital.

Once every couple of months, the exterminator would come through and do a preventive spraying in the usual spots - behind radiators, under the sink, and so on. Since roaches weren't a big issue, it was pretty common for the exterminator to skip a given apartment on a given visit - I guess he figured that if someone wasn't home, he'd get their place the next time and it wasn't a big deal. I assume that the hospital stay must have caused the exterminator to miss the old neighbor's place a few times, and it's probably a good bet that she left without having time to tidy up and returned in no condition to wash dishes.

Whatever the cause, I remember very clearly what happened when the exterminator left our apartment and went to hers. It was mid-afternoon and I was sitting in the kitchen, eating a sandwich. Suddenly, it began to get dark. The little kitchen window didn't provide much direct sunlight, but I could see that the sun was still shining up at the top of the building. Then I looked at the ceiling and saw a wave of blackness creeping across the translucent panels, blocking out the light, as my neighbor's roaches fled the exterminator like so many refugees escaping a war zone where chemical weapons were being used. It was terrifying, revolting, and fascinating all at once.

A report on clueless college kids from reader tastyphlegm:

I actually had some morons live upstairs from me in a 6 unit apartment building (3 stories, 2 units each floor, I was on the middle floor). About two weeks before college let out, their bathtub stopped draining. So instead of calling the building owner, they decided to unscrew the tub drain and let the water run out of the tub and into the ceiling above our bathroom and kitchen. I didn't realize it until I was taking a shower one morning and the ceiling above me came down on top of my head, along with putrid water and body funk from who knows how long. All the building manager said to me as he repaired the mess was, "Well, they just lost their security deposit". Wow.

A story about a dead deer (!) from reader Clinton Killingsworth

Apartment living in Florida: Upstairs drunk hunter neighbor shoots & butchers a deer, leaves it in an iced cooler on upper patio above my front door, passes out drunk inside. A few days later, the drain plug pops off of the forgotten cooler overnight, covering my patio & front door in water smelling like a slaughtered animal that's baked in the hot sun for days. Unbearable rotting flesh stench in my apartment for months despite bleach & multiple pressure washes. Upper apartment across from him housed a couple of stay-at-home hookers, whose clients usually left small kids unattended in minivans double-parked out front of our stinky place for 5-10 minutes at a time. In Winter Park, FL. Lovely times. (This happened more than once...)

A winter horrorland tale from reader Ulysses Not yet home:

Nice 2 bedroom, hardwood floor apartment in south Evanston. My upstairs neighbor took advantage of the layout (long wall of each bedroom aligned with a long connecting hallway)to create a mini BOWLING ALLEY. For practice, at random times on weeknights. Graciously, she put pillows at the end of the run so as not to damage the walls, or make "too much noise" (wait? bowling doesn't make too much noise?). She also fought ferociously with her sometime boyfriend. "Fought" fought, not argument fought (although, that too). Overturned furniture, broken dishes, police, arrests, the whole deal, over tv shows mostly. She fought, AND WON probably half of the time.

I was out of town visiting family when she moved out at Christmas. She left the back door of her apartment open (not just unlocked, WIDE OPEN). It was that Christmas in Chicago in the 80's when it was TWENTY FIVE BELOW ZERO for a FEW DAYS. Her plumbing froze, and burst. It was so cold, that the heat loss from her apartment, froze the pipes in MY apartment. I came home on Jan 2nd to an ICE CAVE IN MY KITCHEN. A quiescently frozen TWO inches of water covered the floor. It was so cold that the water running down within the walls froze before it had time to run down completely which caused the water following to come out at the ceiling (or wherever the blockage occurred) and THEN RE-FREEZE. It was a spectacular disaster of stalactites, brown zebra patterned ice walls, and destroyed floors, stereo equipment and clothes. Plus it was dark, no electricity. The freeze zone, included the kitchen, the dining room, and part of the living room. Think of the scene in the movie "Aliens" when Sigourney Weaver was going back in the nesting chamber to save the little girl - only with arctic parkas - like THAT. From the edge of the dead zone back into the rest of the house, it was humid, wet, and funky as only newly re-moistened mouse droppings behind walls can be. I called my landlord. He rushed over. Took one look around and sat down and cried.

And finally, honorable mention goes to JimChaplin for his story about the Nazis downstairs:

[I] had a pair of White Power knuckleheads who moved into the first floor apartment of the two flat I was living in. The first day i introduced myself, they got very upset that they had moved into a building with a member of an inferior race. After putting swastikas all over my mail for two days, I called the owner of the building to complain, who told me the two WP boys were also trying to get out of their lease because of me but she didn't want to give back their deposit. I called the police also and after a week of [listening] to them yell "heil hitler" and the like all night, they finally left in the middle of the night. Unfortunately for me, they also decided to leave a flaming cross on the lawn on their way out. Which was a problem, because we didn't have a lawn. They put it on the steps leading up to the main floor, which were made out of wood. Thankfully the fire department got there before the wood row-houses that made up my block caught on fire.

Top image: You Touch Pix of EuToch/

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Illustration: two roommates share a couch with a Covid-19 virus.

    For Roommates Under Coronavirus Lockdown, There Are a Lot of New Rules

    Renters in apartments and houses share more than just germs with their roommates: Life under coronavirus lockdown means negotiating new social rules.

  2. Equity

    The Problem With a Coronavirus Rent Strike

    Because of coronavirus, millions of tenants won’t be able to write rent checks. But calls for a rent holiday often ignore the longer-term economic effects.

  3. photo: A lone tourist in Barcelona, one of several global cities that have seen a massive crash in Airbnb bookings.

    Can Airbnb Survive Coronavirus?

    The short-term rental market is reeling from the coronavirus-driven tourism collapse. Can the industry’s dominant player stage a comeback after lockdowns lift?

  4. A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask walks past a boarded up building in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Governors from coast to coast Friday told Americans not to leave home except for dire circumstances and ordered nonessential business to shut their doors.

    The Geography of Coronavirus

    What do we know so far about the types of places that are more susceptible to the spread of Covid-19? In the U.S., density is just the beginning of the story.

  5. photo: a For Rent sign in a window in San Francisco.

    Do Landlords Deserve a Coronavirus Bailout, Too?

    Some renters and homeowners are getting financial assistance during the economic disruption from the coronavirus pandemic. What about landlords?