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Diary of a New-to-New-York Renter: Part II

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Curbed intern Jeremiah Budin is trying out for the big leagues, also known as renting an apartment in New York for the first time. When we left young Jeremiah yesterday, he was on the train to Crown Heights on his way to meet Gabe, the realtor who was, in retrospect, very obviously scamming him.

"Gabe turned out to be a slight, pleasant Israeli man with a strong lisp. His story for why the apartment wouldn’t be ready until December was a little bit confusing—something about how the people living it now hadn’t moved out when they were supposed to, which struck us as odd since we had been under the impression that nobody was living in that building. We chalked it up to some sort of misunderstanding, a communication failure that had perhaps been the result of no native English speakers at good old Orange D Realty.

Weeks later, when we had finally realized the extent to which Gabe was willing to lie to us, we’d already put down first month’s rent and signed a lease on another unfinished apartment that he had somehow convinced us would be even better than the first place. Like some sort of hypnotist, he had walked us through the shell of the unit, lisping out a picture of the wonders that would be filling it within the next week—the countertopth, the cabinetth, the thpathious bedroomth. Ari provided us with a lease to sign, promising that the apartment would be completely finished by October 15 and that we could start moving our stuff in on the 22nd if we wanted, even though our lease didn’t start until November 1. It seemed as if Orange D was trying to make amends.

This, we thought, must be the end of the story. We had legal document. They couldn’t hurt us any more. Unfortunately, my roommate who was holding our copy of the lease left it at Yankee Stadium the night we signed it and that was the last time we ever saw Ari, who had apparently messed up by making a copy for us.

From that point on, Gabe was the only one we dealt with. When I called the Orange D office to try and get the keys on October 22, I was immediately connected with Gabe, who rebuffed me much as we had been rebuffed when we first tried to sign the lease. “Friday,” he told me. On Friday, he changed it to Sunday. “The place isn’t done yet, is it?” I ask him. “No, no, is all finished,” he said. “But the owners do not want you moving in four days early.” “The owners” turned out to be one of Gabe’s favorite stalling tactics—“the owners” hadn’t signed the lease yet, “the owners” had said that construction equipment was going to be removed, etc. Eventually, we came to suspect that Gabe and the owners were one in the same, which cast some of our previous conversations in a light that would have funny if it weren’t so infuriating.

Gabe: I should not even be talking on the phone to you. It is Saturday. I am Jewish.
Me: I’d like to talk to the owners in that case. What’s their number?
Gabe: They are also Jewish.

As of November 1, the day the lease started, the apartment was comically unfinished—floors un-sanded, wires sticking out of walls, construction equipment filling the bottom floor. Here are some pictures I took on October 31 around 8pm:

All of our attempts over the next week to figure out when we could actually move in were met with the word “tomorrow.” When we called back the next day, the answer would be the same. When will the floors be sanded, Gabe? “Tomorrow.” When will the construction equipment be removed? “Tomorrow, tomorrow.” Gabe, please, can you just give us a realistic day? “No, tomorrow it will be ready. For sure.”

As it stands now, more than a week after our lease ostensibly started, the unit is more or less finished, save a few light fixtures (which will be installed tomorrow). The main issues now are that we can’t get heat, hot water, or gas due to changes Gabe made to the building’s boiler or something that I don’t understand at all. Currently, there are around a dozen otherwise homeless tenants squatting in the building and taking the subway to friends’ apartments to shower.

Weirdly enough, the apartment has actually turned out to be very nice (on the surface, at least), and more weirdly, even as Gabe is lying, cheating, and stealing from us, he still seems to be genuinely invested, on a personal level, in our approval of it. It’s as if, to him, the apartment is the thing that is really deserving of his attentions—and the fact that people eventually have to inhabit is something of a nuisance. Even as we get more and more openly angry at him, he really does—somehow—want us to like the place, which was how I eventually found myself, four days after our supposed move-in date, standing in our still very unfinished kitchen with Gabe pointing at a light fixture.

“Do you like?” he asked me, eyes wide. “Is very nice. No?”

I was rendered momentarily speechless. How could he be talking about the light fixtures when he was standing on a paint-stained floor, two feet away from a hole in the way with a tangle of unspecified wires spilling out?

“Oh, yes,” he said, dismissively, when I voiced these concerns. “Tomorrow that will be done.”

I was reminded of The Adventures of Asterix, a comic book series that I was a fan of as a kid. Specifically, I was reminded of one character, Vitalstatistix, a Gaulish chieftain, who lives in constant fear that the sky will fall on his head tomorrow. “But luckily for us,” he is fond of saying, “tomorrow never comes.”
· Renters Week 2011 coverage [Curbed]