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How to Get a 20-Year Lease on a Rent-Stabilized Soho Loft

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We're launching a new feature, Lifestyles of the Rent-Stabilized, in which residents of the city's rent-stabilized apartments tell us how they lucked into their homes. First up, one anonymous renter's tale of 30 years in a 3BR Soho loft. Have a story to share (anonymity guaranteed!)? Send it to tips@curbed.com.

When I moved to NYC back in 1980 I knew I had to find a place?and fast. A friend's couch couldn't be my bed forever. But on the day after my plane landed my two future roommates just laughed in my face when I said we had to start looking for a home. Their plan for that summer Monday: pipeloads of really good pot and a long stroll through Central Park. Sitting at the edge of the vast dustbowl that was then the Great Lawn, I combed through rental listings in the Village Voice and found something tantalizing: "3 Bedroom Soho Loft, Low Fixture Fee."

Within an hour we were on the top floor of a cast iron beauty above Broadway, huge windows looking west and light pouring in. The loft had been divided into three good sized bedrooms, one newly built bath and a big studio space in the middle of it all with a basic kitchen along one wall. Best of all, the rent was cheap. Perfect for three college grads looking to get started in the big city. But we had some competition: when we arrived another house hunter was already there.
The guy offering the lease made it clear that the place would go to whoever put the full $15K fixture fee in his hands first. My cash was locked in transit, but one of my roommates worked at an uptown restaurant owned by a big sports star and, luckily, the manager was crazy about her.

Within an hour we were clutching a paper bag stuffed full with cash. We jumped on the downtown 6 train, praying we'd be first to hand over the fixture fee and sign a 20-year lease. We won the race and the deal was done. Within a week the three of us had moved into our roomy loft. Parties abounded and life was good. But within a year everything changed?a new owner bought the building and pretended that none of the 15 loft dwellers lived there. And so began 20+ years of rental horror.

Over the next two decades there were multiple rent strikes, no heat for years on end, elevators locked out and lawsuits galore. Needed repairs went undone. But the tenants banded together and fought the good fight. The heat was restored and elevator service was repaired. The horrors slowly abated. Finally, about five years ago, we got the rent stabilized leases we were entitled to under the law. The legal costs weren't cheap, but after equalizing it out over the past 30 years, the price is still affordably low: almost $1,425/month, compared to the 1980 rent of $825/month. Now the horror is down below, on Broadway, where our crusty old neighborhood has become the mother of all malls.
· All Renters Week 2011 coverage [Curbed]