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Why A Couple Gave Up Their Rent-Stabilized Apartment

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In this installment of the Renters' Diaries, a couple gives up a rent-stabilized apartment in search of sunshine and outdoor space. Here's how they did it.

When we moved to New York in 2009, my partner and I were both grad school students living on a tight budget and paying for rent with our student loans. Our first apartment was large, rent-stabilized, and nice enough that every time the lease renewal came up, we talked about moving, even looked at an apartment or two, but ultimately couldn't pull the trigger. We'd come to love Crown Heights, and our location—two blocks from the subway, 15 minutes from Prospect Park, a bodega on the corner—was ideal. But after five years, the not-that-bad parts of the apartment became the can't-stand-this-anymore parts. The bathroom ceiling kept leaking, the mice kept coming back, and the ground floor never got quieter or brighter. Though we were still on a budget, we were now both fully employed, non-students, and we wanted a more grown-up apartment. So we did the unthinkable, and gave up our rent-stabilized apartment in search of something better.

Read more Renter Reports:
A Growing Family Leaves Woodside For Boerum Hill's Benefits
One Couple's Epic Hunt For A $2,000/Month Brooklyn 'Unicorn'
West Village Renter Gets In Bidding War For 'Grown-Up' Pad

[The old apartment, in its finest hour.]

Our main search parameters were simple. We needed to get off the first floor, we didn't want to move farther from the park, and ideally, we wanted to stay in Crown Heights. In a perfect world, we also wanted private outdoor space, but we knew that was unlikely, so we didn't count on it. Our current rent was $1,335, but we knew we'd never find something at that price point (and to think, when we moved into that apartment, we saw places that were $1,000/month). We could afford to pay $2,000/month; our second rent, i.e. student loans, prevented us from going any higher. We only needed a one-bedroom, but we looked at any two-bedrooms that fit our budget.

Since you have to give 90 days notice on rent-stabilized leases, we had a long time to search for an apartment. I started looking at listings almost immediately, even though I knew we couldn't actually move for a few months. I scanned Craigslist, StreetEasy, RentHop, and Zumper regularly, keeping tabs on what was available where.

[Thanks, but no thanks.]

The first few apartments we saw were laughable. Crown Heights is filled with old buildings, and so many of them have not been updated in years. One apartment, ideally located on Union Street near Franklin Avenue (closer to the park!) and on the third floor, had its stove in front of a window (↑), and the bedroom would have fit a full size bed and nothing else. Hard pass.

Many places were not as they were advertised in their listings. A newly renovated building on Bergen Street had a couple units available, and a $1,950/month two-bedroom looked spectacular in the listing. We were dubious going in because if an apartment looks too good to be true, it usually is, and I was right. The spacious, well-laid out apartment shown on StreetEasy was rented, and instead, we were shown a two-bedroom that had absolutely no business being a two-bedroom. Everything was brand new the bathroom had a skylight, and there was "unofficial" roof access (↑), but the lack of living room—the space was shared with the kitchen, and you couldn't even fit a couch in it—made it not worth the $1,775/month rent.

There were a few places that almost swayed us. The first was a one-bedroom in a completely renovated building above Eastern Parkway near Rogers Avenue. It was bright and sunny, had laundry in the basement, but again, it felt cramped (↑). Perhaps our spacious apartment spoiled us, but for $2,000/month, we wanted to actually be able to put both our couch and TV in the living room.

Another almost-taker was a one-bedroom on the third floor at 794 St. John's Place (↑). We got great vibes from the exterior, and the apartment had a new kitchen with a dishwasher. Plus, there was a common rooftop deck. But it was significantly smaller than our apartment, and ultimately, we couldn't justify the huge space cut for $700 more each month.

By this point, we were just two weeks out from needing to leave, so the pressure was on. On top of that, our management decided that they should give our personal cell phone numbers to the brokerage that they hired to rent our apartment after we moved, so we were getting texts from a dozen My Space brokers every day. We wanted this process to be over.

Ultimately, it was Craigslist that led us to our final apartment. The listing was not promising. The kitchen looked very dated, and the rooms looked small, but my partner discovered that his colleague—the same colleague that had a private balcony and raved about his apartment—lived in the building, so we rearranged our schedules to check it out.

We felt great going into the viewing, and when the broker hit six in the elevator, we probably would have signed the lease right then and there. Inside, the apartment was spectacular (↑). Okay, that's probably too strong of a word, but it well laid out, with a foyer and office, and it got so much light. It made our ground floor place feel like a cave. Not to mention that it had a balcony, and it was rent-stabilized (thanks, 421a tax abatement!) at $1,850 per month. We applied immediately.

We moved in mid-July, but three weeks later, near disaster struck; a bad rain storm caused our sixth floor unit to flood. But it wound up working out for the best. Our landlord, Alma Realty, gave us a hefty rent abatement, and we were moved to a unit with the same layout on the ninth floor with Manhattan views. It is wonderful. We can watch the sunset from our balcony and the office is a perfect guest room. Overall, it's slightly smaller than our old apartment, but the layout is much more functional, and did we mention there is a balcony? Amazingly, we found everything we wanted, and we have Craigslist to thank.
· How a Couple Found a $1,200/Month 1BR in Crown Heights [Curbed]
· All Renter Reports [Curbed]