‘The smell is unbearable – I expected Sweden to work better than this’

'The smell is unbearable – I expected Sweden to work better than this'
A faulty ventilation system has left New Zealand-born Sarah Winsnes and her family with sore eyes and coughs. Photo: Private
A foul, lingering stench in their newly-built Stockholm apartment got so bad it forced a Kiwi woman to flee her home with her family. She told The Local it's been more than a year without a solution from the construction company.

“It's impossible to describe quite how bad it is; it's like a rubbish dump from the 1980s. You can't tolerate it, you don't want to cook, you have to rewash your clothes, I would say that it really affects you mentally,” Sarah Winsnes, a 40-year-old originally from New Zealand, told The Local.

She said the problem with the ventilation first began over a year ago, two years after she first bought the new-build apartment in Bromma. Winsnes and other neighbours noticed that the ventilation system would shut down, leading dirty air to build up and accumulate in the apartments on the higher floor, including what she described as “unbearable garbage smells”.

At first the problem was intermittent, with the ventilation apparently breaking down every month to two months. Winsnes said the building's housing association was in contact with Peab, the company which built the apartment block, which sent workers who restarted the ventilation, but the problem would happen again a few weeks later. Based on conversations with neighbours, Winsnes says that at least five apartments are affected by the problem in total.

“Recently it became so chronic that my husband and I decided we really had to start doing more, and we contacted Peab ourselves,” she said. “When I finally spoke to them, I was so frustrated that I was crying, begging them to fix it; I'm usually an upbeat person. I don't think they really understand the gravity of it.”

The Local contacted the Peab customer service operator who had been in touch with Winsnes, and he referred The Local to the company's press office, which asked questions to be sent via email but later said it was unable to respond before publication.


“It wears on your soul,” said Winsnes. “Honestly, I'm shocked because I always expected Sweden to work a bit better; everything seems so functional, so I'm surprised Peab have been so resistant to helping us properly. In all this time, they haven't sent anyone to find out what the real problem is.”

The family also suffered from sore eyes and coughs as a result of the odour, and spent the last weekend at a hotel to get away from the smell. They had previously taken measures such as sleeping with doors and windows open and scented candles burning, despite the safety risk.

Winsnes said a contracted ventilation handyman visited the building two weeks ago and initially said the motor in the ventilation would be replaced, but then was told this required a new part, which was at first set to arrive on Monday but then delayed.

In their latest communication, an email seen by The Local, Peab told Winsnes that the ventilation would be changed on Friday “if everything goes as planned”, but she said she was not confident in the company.

In the meantime, several of the neighbours had resorted to taping over the ventilation holes.

“It renders the smell tolerable as long as you stay away from kitchen,” she explained. 

Winsnes said she is not only upset by the issue and the smell itself, but also by the attitude of the people she had spoken to at Peab, who she said told her to contact her insurance company. “I have never experienced this level of cold disregard for people's wellbeing and mental health,” she said.

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