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 recounts five long years in a crumbling tenement.
I had just graduated graduate school, and my husband and I were quickly being ushered out of school's family housing. Listening to my older sister for neighborhood recommendations (we were looking for budget-friendly places, so we were okay with neighborhoods that were considered to be "on the cusp" of being safe), we rented a newly renovated place on the border of Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy. We viewed the apartment building several times before signing the lease, and we were aware that the building was just being rented out, so we'd be one of the few people in the building for the time being. Little did we know that meant we'd be the ONLY people in the building, and they failed to mention that the gas and hot water wouldn't be on for two months, which we didn't find out until the day we moved in! But we moved in, because where else were we going to go? and we didn't have the funds for another deposit. Two days after moving in, my husband was held up at gunpoint in the entryway. We started looking at options to hightail it out of there immediately.
We found a sketchy-looking studio with an illegal wall making it a "one bedroom" on the Upper West Side and moved in, taking out loans to finance our second move in less than three weeks. Breathing a little, we finally thought we could get back to normal life. Boy, were we wrong. Our fun was just getting started.
Let me preface by saying that we lived in this apartment for five years because we couldn't afford better. I work in construction, so I'm handy and know how to fix things. Good thing too because this 1880s tenement had more problems than cockroaches (is that even possible?). Our super's name was Manny. Super-Manny, as I affectionately called him, was a really nice person and a really terrible super. Here's a list of Manny's more famous repairs:
1. Water flowing down the main staircase from the fourth floor like the Hoover Dam had just opened. Manny to the rescue: he tells us to put plastic sheeting on our ceiling, where the water is already starting to run through the latex paint, and funnel it into the bathtub. He can't get the water shut off until Monday. It was Friday, and he's going to a friend's house for the weekend, but he'll leave the front door propped open so the water can flow out the door. Adios! We ended up having to call the fire department who came and turned water and electricity off to the building.
2. Fast forward 10 months. The ceiling in the bathroom caves in. We call Manny who says that he's got this; he can replace the ceiling over the weekend. Saturday rolls around and Manny is in our bathroom with a ladder, a hammer, no shirt and flip flops. He demolishes the ceiling, and the adjacent wall, leaving our bathroom open to our neighbors apartment. Around 5 p.m., he says he's leaving for three days. Um... what about the fact that we now share a communal toilet space with our neighbor? We could literally shake hands through wall studs while sitting on the toilet. He tells us to tack a blanket with some plastic sheeting up for a few days.
3. Rat traps can also be used in place of caulk.
4. Caulk can be used in place of door locks. It's sticky!
5. Straight Muriatic Acid can be substituted for floor cleaner, never mind that you just gassed out yourself and all the tenants in the building requiring the structure to be aired out for three days.
6. Narrow tenement hallways make excellent spaces to store broken appliances. We had to shimmy around a sink, a stove, and fridge for nearly six months before the fire department was called in on another issue and had trouble getting upstairs, deeming the hallway hazardous.
7. When the collective apartment mailbox falls out of the wall, just set it on the floor. Close enough.
8. Fridge broken? No problem, Manny has a spare in the basement....but you'll have to supply your own roach traps. The "replacement" fridge he put in our apartment had roaches on the inside!
9. Floor boards popping up? Here's a cinder block to weigh them down.
10. We went without consistent heat or hot water in the winter. 311 is great for some things, getting consistent heat and hot water is not one of them.
The straw that finally broke the camels back? When after five years of steady increases, our monthly rent tab exceeded $1,400 for this "beautiful well maintained 1 bedroom." We said "adios" to Manny and the apartment last year. But the memories will never leave us. Shivers run down the spine.