Tenant: 23 year-old naïve, recent graduate from a Pennsylvania suburb
Landlord: Cranky building-owner with residences all over Manhattan
Apartment: 200 sq ft. studio with no heat and no 2nd method of egress in case of fire
The City: The New York City Housing Department
In Manhattan, landlords are the villains and the tenants are the damsels in distress. Anywhere else in America you can feed, board, and clothe a family of 3 for $1500 a month. On the Upper East Side, $1500 will get you a 200 square foot illegal apartment with no heat. The story I am about to recount is part public service announcement, part tale of a recent graduate making the big move to Manhattan.
The tenant had dreamed of moving to Manhattan for some time. After watching episodes of Gossip Girl, she settled on the Upper East Side. She looked on Craigslist for the perfect apartment and decided a charming studio on a tree-lined street suited her needs. At $1500 a month she probably would not be able to eat, but she was willing to make sacrifices to live in the City of Dreams.
She signed a lease through a reputable broker and agency, paid a deposit, and moved into her little apartment. Everything was perfect until one day she found out said apartment was not a legal dwelling.
Confused and scared she contacted the management company. “How can this not be legal? I signed a lease! I am paying rent!” she exclaimed. The apartment company responded, “Don’t listen to the silly city officials! Of course it is legal. Keep paying us rent!” She had a sneaky suspicion that all was not as it seemed. As it turned out, the tenant’s suspicions were right. The landlord was playing Jekyll and Hyde. By day they smiled in tenant’s face, by night they left threatening voice messages on tenants phone to not expose their evil acts.
Undeterred, tenant went down to the Manhattan housing department (known here forward as “The City”) to learn the fate of her little home. They regrettably informed her that yes, it was an illegal apartment. She sadly turned to go home assuming that she would have to pack her bags and move back to the suburb she came from. As she was leaving, the city said, “Have no fear, we are here to help!”
Who would have thought the city of New York would be tenant’ts hero? The city told tenant that the Landlord was in the wrong, and tenant did not have to pay rent. So tenant lived rent- free happily ever after (well at least until they find some way to extract her from said domicile)
Before moving into any apartment, check the building’s certificate of occupancy. Although living rent-free sounds like a dream, the drama that comes with it (and possibly being vacated by the city at a moments notice) is not worth the money saved.