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The Total Nightmare of Living With a Hoarder in a Tiny NYC Flat

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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. Up now: Curbed's brilliant recapper of Million Dollar Listing New York, Angela Bunt, recalls her first apartment in the city. Full disclosure: Because she's a contractor, she's not eligible to win the staycation.

Throughout my four years of living in New York City apartments, I have experienced mouse infestations, crackpot landlords, bathrooms so small that in order to pee or poop you have to swing your legs over the tub to sit on the toilet, cockroaches, and countless windows facing a brick wall and/or an air shaft and/or trash bins. But of all those experiences, none can quite compare to the horror I endured as a tenant in my first-ever NYC residence.

I arrived at the Upper East Side duplex bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on a lovely fall day in 2010. The apartment seemed cute on my initial trip to go sign the lease, and I was very taken by the spiral staircase that led from the first floor living space to my downstairs bedroom. I use the term bedroom loosely, because I soon realized it was less of a "bedroom" and more of an "unfinished basement that had mold growing in it."

My roommate wasn't home so I sweatily weaved all the boxes downstairs by myself (unaware that there was a basement entrance door that I could've been using the entire time). I was sweaty and exhausted, but mostly I was excited. This was an adventure! I began opening the boxes that my mother had neatly labeled for me, and moved upstairs to put away a small amount of toiletries. That's when I discovered the first signs of trouble.

I entered the bathroom. As I slid open the rusty medicine cabinet items tumbled into the sink. The shelves were packed to the brim with old toothpaste tubes and empty bottles of Vick's VapoRub, melted Luden's cough drops (the good cherry kind), and Tupperware filled with cotton swabs. "Hmm... well, maybe she hasn't gotten around to clearing space for me yet. I'll just leave my toothbrush in my room for now."

Then I looked in the shower.

Every shelf of the shower caddy was stacked with mostly empty shampoo and conditioner bottles, endless body scrubs, loofahs as far as the eye could see, and dull, rusty razors. A bottle of dog shampoo sat on the third shelf. "Dog?" I asked myself. "I thought the girl that I replaced was the one who owned a dog?" Listerine with green liquid encrusting the cap was calcifying underneath the sink, and containers of Wet 'N' Wild nail polish sat proudly next to Q-tips stained yellow from the passage of time—rather than actual wax.

With every closet and cabinet I peeked into, the situation became worse. Mounds and mounds of her crap were everywhere. And if you know anything about living in New York, you know that storage space is a precious commodity and must be utilized to the fullest extent.

I opened up a cupboard that had been designated my food storage area and was stung in the face by a putrid scent. I didn't realize non-perishables had the ability go to bad until that moment. Rice-A-Roni had gone from a San Francisco treat to a New York City nightmare. Ramen noodles reeked of old mildewed cardboard. Pickles had made the transition back to cucumbers, then to pickles again, until they grew legs, said "f*ck it," and just walked out of the apartment because they thought the city had lost its edge. Even the Necco Wafers had become rotten, which is pretty messed up considering Necco Waifers were developed in order for Civil War soldiers to have a snack that would never go bad.

Then it struck me: my roommate was a hoarder.

As the weeks went on, the problems progressed. I'd politely ask if she could clean out a shelf of the fridge for me, but she never would. I'd ask if we really needed a huge crate of old wires and chargers underneath the TV, and she'd tell me that she wasn't sure which charger went with what so we had to keep them all. I'd ask her if she could clear out some closet space for me to hang my coats, then she'd say, "But then where will I put all of my coats?" When I'd suggest that she perhaps throw some away, and that she wasn't really going to wear a moth-eaten faux fur jacket in July, her eyes filled with tears. The subject was dropped.

As the year progressed, my anger began to grow inside me like a hot steaming ball of whatever leftovers had been sitting in the fridge for the past six months. On the rare occasion that she would leave for the night, I'd delight in opening cabinets and throwing things away, knowing that she would never ever notice that they were gone. Old Tupperware stained by red sauce, dish towels with whole colonies of bacteria growing on them, and my personal favorite—a cat mug that once made a loud "meowwww" noise when you drank from it. But it was broken, so it now only let out a pathetic screech as you brought it to your lips.

I felt the cat's pain.

The hoarding situation came to a head one night after I had purchased a new TV for the apartment. It was to replace the old one that had been there likely since The Beatles made their U.S. debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in the early '60s. It was one of those TVs that still operated with a dial and sat inside a fake wooden frame, with the straw thatching on the side where the speaker was. The old TV had proverbially shit the bed (not to be confused with her cat Lexington, who quite often literally shit the bed. I think she saved those remnants, too). So I thought I was the big hero when I replaced it. Until I saw the look of sheer terror in her eyes. "You... threw it away? You can't just take my things and throw them onto the street!" (Ummm, in New York City, that's exactly where you throw them.)

I'd had enough. I'd also had a few margaritas: "Yes, I threw it away. It was broken. Just like everything else in this apartment. I've said this to you before and I'll say it again: It's not fair that I have no room for any of my things when I am paying equal rent. You have to get rid of some stuff!"

I don't know if any of you watch TLC's "Hoarders," but rule number one of hoarding is to never pressure a hoarder to throw their things away. Apparently they don't take to it very kindly. Her tears quickly turned to manic anger as she exclaimed, "I can't! I can't! I'll have to put it all in storage! I can't afford a storage unit!"

After a year of this behavior, my well of sympathy had run dry. We began screaming at each other, and the whole thing culminated in me grabbing the end table in the living room, the top surface of which had long become detached from its legs, and slamming it—broken—into the ground: "It's broken, OKAY?! It's f*cking broken! Time to throw it away!"

I sauntered down the spiral staircase to my basement dungeon as she yelled after me: "You're a crazy b*tch! I'm calling the cops!" (Ohhh, the irony.) "Call them," I told her. "I'm sure a New York City police officer has nothing better to do than deal with two roommates fighting over a broken table."

I entered my cement cave, packed an overnight bag, and headed to my friend's clutter-free studio in Hell's Kitchen for the night. Just in case she did decide to call the fuzz.
· Brooklynite Finds Year's Worth of Bad Roommates on Craigslist [Curbed]
· When Rats Invade: Surviving an Infested West Village Rental [Curbed]
· Renters Endure a Comically Bad Super To Live in a Better 'Hood [Curbed]
· New New Yorkers Find Their First Apartment Is Fully Occupied [Curbed]
· All Renters Week 2015 coverage [Curbed]