It will work out, I just feel it. Everything happens for a reason.
At least that’s what I repeated to myself at the beginning of the summer when the greediest, most neurotic NYC landlord I’ve dealt with to date suddenly cancelled our lease signing and tossed our applications and hope into the trash. She dropped us like a hot plate the very second that higher-earning prospective tenants applied for the 3 bedroom unit we were just two days from securing for June 1st. This ideal pad had been tucked conveniently in the not-so-claustrophobic part of Midtown West, and had three actual bedrooms, with doors and everything! It also had large street-facing windows and a separate kitchen. Stainless steal appliances. A DISHWASHER.
After almost six years of New York City living, including two dorms and four apartments, I’m still terrified of NYC housing. I know not to trust any broker, management company, or wall thickness. I know that bed bugs don’t discriminate, and neither do foul smells. The lingering stench of weed, piss or garbage will find you in any neighborhood, not just Midtown. I know that Ikea bookshelves can count as walls, and that it is not impossible for a drunk boy dressed as an asparagus to knock down a bookshelf wall, simply by leaning with a bit too much gusto. That was the Halloween I dressed as a panda and recited Peter Pan at 4am. We never did see Asparagus Boy again…
I’m the go-to roommate when a situation calls for a grab-the-closest-coffee-mug-and-trap-that-cockroach hero. I’m also the resident flush-that-free-loader-down-the-toilet hero and, inexplicably, fantastically skilled with a plunger. I’m generally an easy-going tenant, too. So why have I already been kicked out of 3 apartments this summer?
I suffer from hopeless idealism: I really do think that everything will work out for the best. So when I was informed on a Friday that I’d have to be out of my Jersey City apartment by Monday, a full week before the lease was up June 30th (and of course, a week before I’d be allowed to move into my new July 1st digs), I only freaked out for like 8 to 15 minutes. I called my mom and whimpered. I called a friend in Philly with a car. I called a friend in Manhattan with floor space on which I could rest my weary head—on an air mattress—for a week. It all worked out, and surely, I figured, for the best.
As planned, I moved into my new room on July 1st. The space was a converted 3 bedroom in Midtown West, located more towards the claustrophobic part. It was a first floor duplex, meaning that downstairs in the basement was the second bedroom, and next to it, a muggy open area with tile floors: my room. It even came with a window—the slight salvation of any NYC shoebox. However, the window looked out into a 4 by 4 foot cave of NYC underground. Dirt, soil, cobwebs, trash, and little dead roots lived outside the window, and capping them was a dashing sewage grate. The only light it let in was from a construction zone street lamp, which took on a strobe light effect every time a group of people passed by.
It took about a week of living in the basement (ahem, still on that air mattress…) to discover that I am very much allergic to mold. The air in the room was consistently muggy and damp from the window, and the July humidity against the cold-water pipes behind the walls were causing mold to grow and spread throughout the room. There was a still-water build up near the window and ceiling that was breeding mosquitos. Tiny spiders and flying gnats ran amok. I scrubbed the place with bleach cleaner every day, because what did I know? I had a fan that did nothing but drown out my screeching phone alarm in the morning, making me both late for work and unusually clammy. My internship stipend couldn’t cover my whole rent, let alone a dehumidifier. I started to have trouble breathing so I went to the doctor, who prescribed me an inhaler. Hold up, I finally thought, why am I paying to live in a place that’s making me sick…
July was almost over. We were set to sign onto a year lease starting August 1st. I’d been subletting the month of July from the girl who formerly lived in the basement room, and who’d been the leaseholder. The weekend prior to signing, I figured it’d be a mature and responsible move to send the management company a brief email informing them of the mold and bugs in the basement, and maybe inquire if anything could be done about it. Can’t hurt to ask, I figured, the worst they could do is say Nope, can’t help you! “It will all work out,” I breathed, then coughed, and grabbed my inhaler.
Sent: Mon, Jul 29, 2013 at 11:48 AM
Subject: RE: Concerns, Apt 1FE
Thank you for your email. We understand your concerns. However, the Owner has decided not to rent this apartment to you and we will not be doing a lease with you.
Therefore, please vacate the apartment by the 31st of July, leaving it empty and return keys to the apartment no later than the 31st.
Thank you very much,
I’d been pretty certain that 6 years, 2 dorms, and 4 apartments were about enough to prepare me for, at the very least, the summer after graduation. But there I was, approaching August and getting kicked out of an apartment, again. I spent the rest of the afternoon playing phone tag and spewing equal parts legal terms and swear words. Around 6pm, I conceded defeat, and headed west across Manhattan to start packing.
I started to fill the first box around 7pm, and was immediately overcome with a giddiness I can only describe as Schoolgirl With Pink Sprinkle Cupcake. It was then that I realized just how miserable I’d been in that room. I was so happy now to be leaving it, I could have kissed harsh Barbara right on the mouth. Getting kicked out of there was a gift. I happily stayed awake packing until 4 in the morning, running on adrenaline alone, since I was scared to go upstairs at fear of my roommates’ possible wrath. After all, I wasn’t the only one who had to be out in less than 48 hours…
One of the truest statements I’ve heard about New York is that it gives and takes. After a frantic search that night which was also fueled by an odd giddy adrenaline, I’d found a place to sublet. It was a one room studio in a 4th floor walk-up in the Upper East Side. I could move in the next evening, and that’s just what I did.
My new roommate, J, was a rising junior at NYU and had the kindest demeanor I’ve witnessed in any human. She offered to take the sofa bed and gave me the queen-sized loft bed, clean sheets included. In a soft-spoken voice, J told me to help myself to anything in the apartment, even the food in the fridge. I was in heaven: no more twin air mattress with spiders crawling on it, no blood-thirsty mosquitos or landlords, no mold. I thanked her incessantly for accommodating me on such short notice. “Believe me,” she said, “I needed you as much as you needed me.” I found out her previous roommate had split suddenly, and on sour terms, leaving just a couple of days before the August rent was due. “She thinks I’m the devil,” J said with confusion and sadness. I laughed, and told her, “That’s really funny, because I’ve said to anyone who will listen, ‘My new roommate is an honest-to-god angel!'”
I learned how to dance the tango from a kind stranger in Central Park the other day, and it was incredibly rewarding and fun. That really has nothing to do with anything, except that it has to do with everything. I’d forgotten that, as much as New York likes to have her fun, like a good woman, she is generous, too. Perhaps she’s not trying to expel me from her gut like I had come to think in my moldy basement room in July. Maybe those simple inner mantras have some truth, and everything really does happen for a reason. I have a healthy, happy place to stay until J’s steady roommate, a friend from school, moves in on the 31st. Yes, I may have had a minor anxiety attack just this morning while worrying about finding NYC apartment number six by September 1st…but I mean, whatever. I’ve still got my trusty inhaler, not to mention a certain UES angel. “Just so you know,” J said to me today, “I’m not going to kick you out on the 31st.” I’m pretty positive that everything will work out—because, really, when has it not?
Delaney Gibbons is a Philadelphia native who moved to New York City in 2008. She graduated from The New School in May with degrees in illustration and creative writing. She currently interns at a publishing house doing graphic and web design. She would love for you to hire her full time and/or help her find a place to live by September 1st, but she’s not worried about it.