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Pay Garnished for an Empty Upper East Side Apartment

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Curbed Horror Stories are firsthand reader reports about terrible NYC apartment experiences past and present. This week, in honor of Renters Week, we're having a rental horror story showdown. We'll post one or two horror stories each day with a vote for the best on Thursday. The winner will advance to the national round of our network-wide contest. Horror stories to tips@curbed.com, if you please.

I moved to Manhattan, from Providence, in March of 2006 to start a new career. I immediately fell in love with the city, so vastly different than what I was accustomed to. To my astonishment though, the rents were a little higher than that you might find in a typical Rhode Island one bedroom. I managed to find a small, small, very small one bedroom on the Upper East Side for $1850 a month. After paying a hefty (and what I thought was the norm at the time) brokers fee, I loaded my U-Haul and headed south...

Fast forward 10 months later. I am doing well at the new job, living pretty much pay check to pay check to stay in Manhattan, but I'm content. One cold January afternoon as I'm sitting in the kitchen(ette), someone slides an envelope under my door. I open it to find a standard renewal notice, asking if I would like to extend my lease another year. My first reaction is of course, YES! But as I turn the page, I see the rent is going up to $2200. Eh, I think to myself, I can probably make that work... Nonetheless, I decide to take a look around and try to find something else a little less expensive. The notice says I have about two weeks to respond, so I start searching. Amazingly, I find another one bedroom ten blocks south for only $1700 (Sans broker fee). Time to start packing! I called the management company and said that I was choosing not to renew the lease. Their instructions were: "When you move out, leave the apartment door unlocked and closed, and leave your keys on the kitchen counter and the super will pick them up and lock the apartment." Seems simple enough, so I comply.

Fast forward 2 years later. Enjoying my new life in NYC. One strange day, I notice my paycheck is a little smaller than normal. Check the pay stub: Garnishment. Perplexed, I go to the payroll department. They give me the number of a law firm that is responsible for the garnishing of my wages. After many exhausting phones calls and dead ends, I finally reach a lawyer who says that because I didn't show up in court when summoned by the "landlord", the judge ruled that the owner of my previous apartment building could garnish my wages to collect unpaid rent. The previous land lord was under the impression that I was still living in the apartment that I vacated at lease end two years prior.

I could fill a novel with all the things that transpired after that phone call. The rent that I was in arrears for tuned up to about 52,000 dollars, plus legal fees, all in all they wanted more than 60k. After consulting with a great many attorneys and trying to get this resolved, I ultimately ended up declaring bankruptcy. So, while I have a major negative mark on my credit score, I was able to get out of the ridiculous charge. I would really have loved to see the look on the Marshall's face when they went to "evict" me from the apartment, when he opened the (unlocked) front door and saw the apartment was empty. Lawyers told me that if only some squatters would have moved in, my case would have been much easier to resolve.

Now I live in Park Slope, with my wife. My new landlord happily overlooked the issue. Lesson learned.
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