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New New Yorkers Find Their First Apartment Is Fully Occupied

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Curbed Horror Stories are firsthand reader reports about terrible New York City apartment experiences past and present. This week, in honor of Renters Week, we're having a rental horror story showdown across all Curbed sites, with the winner receiving a staycation. Have a terrible tale to share? It's not too late to submit. Up now: one renter recalls his (kind of) first apartment in the East Village.

Though my Zeyde will tell you I became a man on my Bar Mitzvah day, is there anything more capital-a Adult than securing a first apartment in the big city? There's excitement, drama, heartache, adrenaline, and in the end, the crushing responsibility of paying the biggest bill of your life…every month. It is then that you realize being an adult totally blows. Especially when that first experience turns out to be a horror story, or in New York City real estate terms, pretty much a regular Monday morning. After graduating from college in Boston, my girlfriend returned to New York to find us our first cohabitation ahead of my move to NYC. We had always been big East Village fans during our previous time spent in the city, and we honed in on the neighborhood like so many vegetarian post-college indie rock fans of the early 2000s.

She excitedly phoned me with the news that she had found—through a broker of course, so adios savings—a cozy one-bedroom rental on the third floor of a walk-up building on Avenue C. At this time, Avenue C still had a pretty bad rap, and I pretty much stuck to Avenue B and points west, but I was just happy that she had taken care of the hunt as I was finalizing my job search…even if the apartment was next to the notorious C-Squat. The rent was $1,250 per month. Not bad, but of course we needed my parents to be our guarantors. The New York City rental market never lets you completely snip the umbilical cord.

Cut to move-in day. We packed up her mom's and aunt's cars with all of our possessions and drove them in from Long Island very early one morning, her family accompanying us. Keep in mind I had never seen the apartment prior to this morning. We arrive at the standard semi-rundown tenement building with our young naïve excitement overflowing. We head upstairs with the keys, unlock the door and find…a completely occupied apartment. No people, but people's stuff everywhere. Furniture, clothes, a stocked kitchen—nothing in a box or out of place. We were basically breaking and entering.

It was very early in the morning, so we couldn't get our broker or landlord on the phone as we frantically dialed them from the sidewalk, our entire lives packed into cars idling on Avenue C, our furniture deliveries on the way. We nervously paced outside the building for an hour or so (though it felt like eternity) until we finally got our broker, who was just as confused as we were that the apartment still appeared to have someone living inside it. She vowed to get to the bottom of it ASAP. It was then that a thought struck me: I was so taken aback by the situation, I didn't even really compute just how friggin' small the apartment was. I headed back upstairs to take a look, worried that someone would jump out at me from the bathroom or something.

The apartment was basically a studio turned into a very tiny one-bedroom. The "bedroom" took up most of the living space, which meant—yep, I could easily tell by eyeballing—the couch we had ordered wouldn't even fit along the wall in the living room. Ruh-roh. Our broker got through to the landlord/management company, and they eventually got through to the tenant. Turns out, he was basically living at his boyfriend's apartment somewhere else in the city, and he didn't even know his lease was up since he wasn't getting his mail. Our apologetic landlord said he'd be out and we could move three days. For our trouble they would prorate the first month's rent. Swell!

Did I mention we were out on the sidewalk with all of our possessions and my girlfriend's family was rightfully questioning their daughter's choice of a mate? (And let's just say they weren't too thrilled about stashing their daughter on Avenue C to begin with.) With the couch still on my brain, I sensed opportunity. I got on the phone with the landlord's rep and proceeded to throw what remains the biggest fit of my life. HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO US AND IT'S UNACCEPTABLE AND WE SIGNED A LEASE AND NEED TO MOVE IN RIGHT NOW AND on and on until the person finally said "we'll see what we can do and we'll get right back to you." We took the time to delay/cancel the furniture deliveries.

Soon they got back to us (we had been out on Avenue C for three to four hours at this point) and said they had a few empty apartments in other buildings. We could look at those, move right in, and if the price was a little bit higher, they'd honor our $1,250 rent. We knew this would take some time, so we sent my girlfriend's family and the two cars with all our stuff back to Long Island. We headed to a mysterious land called the Lower East Side (I had thought the world ended at Houston Street) and found a slightly bigger one-bedroom on the fourth floor of a walk-up building on Delancey Street.

I was bummed to give up the East Village and move up another flight, but I knew a couch would fit at least, and we moved in the next day. They did indeed knock the $1,300 rent down to $1,250. While the apartment was always 10,000 degrees and smelled like rancid garbage from the Congee Village dumpsters across the street, and it eventually gave us bedbugs, we loved the LES. Those were certainly formative years in our burgeoning adulthood—so I guess this horror story ultimately has a happy ending.
· Got a Renter Horror Story? You Could Win a Staycation! [Curbed]
· All Renters Week 2015 coverage [Curbed]