Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On Doors and Renting an Apartment in NYC

The three most expensive cities to live in are Boston, New York City and San Francisco. All three have extensive rent controls, which means some people are paying rents way below market and will never move. At the same time, developers fear building to meet demand, because of the controls and onerous other regulations. The greatest impact is on new people moving into these cities.

NYT's Joyce Cohen reports on one such situation:

DORM living was both expensive and crowded, so Julia Collier, along with her friend and roommate Karen Olsoy, decided they would rather have a place of their own.

The two, now seniors at New York University, are both from the Seattle suburbs. They lived together their sophomore year, along with two other roommates, in two connected dorm rooms. They calculated that the cost, for all four, was $4,600 a month, or $2,300 per room.

“We were kind of piled on top of each other and realized we could be living on our own outside of the university system,” Ms. Collier said.

She began looking. An agent showed her two places, a small one-bedroom for $2,200 a month on Carmine Street and a small studio for $2,275 a month on Grove Street.

And then, suddenly, the one-bedroom was taken. “I was so terrified by the speed of the New York apartment market,” Ms. Collier said, that she feared “there was only one apartment left in the city and I had to take it.” She grabbed the studio.

Ms. Olsoy’s father signed as guarantor. Both women’s parents split the broker fee of 15 percent of a year’s rent, or just over $4,000, horrified at “the giant fee just to have someone help you find an apartment,” Ms. Collier said.

The studio was large enough for two full-size beds and some bookcases. At the time, the apartment represented “the most perfect location in the world to us,” Ms. Olsoy said. Across the street was the building filmed for the introduction to the TV show “Friends.” In fact, their apartment might have been occupied by Ugly Naked Guy.

“It was pretty exciting,” Ms. Collier said. “My parents are convinced that ‘Friends’ is why I was set on moving to New York in the first place.” But in reality, “Ugly Naked Guy’s apartment was not as nice as they made it seem on the show.”

In the studio, they were forced to adhere to the same sleep-wake schedule. One-room living “puts you completely on the other person’s clock,” said Ms. Collier, the later riser.

“In the next apartment over,” Ms. Olsoy recalled, “if they were fighting, we could hear every word they were saying. If they weren’t fighting, we could hear a bass sound if their TV was on. The TV was the worst part.”

As new young market-rate renters, they felt out of place. Most of their neighbors, building residents for decades, paid low regulated rents.

“One of the older gentlemen made a comment that, ‘I don’t want to even guess what you are paying for rent and I won’t tell you what I am paying,’ because he moved in in 1964,” Ms. Collier said.

Suffering from cabin fever, they sublet their studio over the summer and waited tables in Nantucket. At summer’s end, Ms. Olsoy returned briefly to Seattle while Ms. Collier returned to New York to hunt for another apartment.

“I felt like it was going to be so much easier the second time,” Ms. Collier said. “We knew what to expect. I was so wrong.”

This time, the requirement was a door for each to call her own. They planned a maximum of $2,500 a month for a two-bedroom and hoped to avoid a broker fee.

Friends lived in Yorkville, on the far Upper East Side, where they knew rents were lower than rents downtown. Ms. Collier found a small two-bedroom there for $2,400 a month.

But the landlord’s demands, involving several fees and notarized letters, struck her as excessive. Ms. Olsoy’s father, back in Seattle, was to be a guarantor, but the landlord wanted him to come to New York to sign the lease. Ms. Collier backed out.

Time was short. Ms. Collier remembered seeing a signboard in front of Miron Properties on East 10th Street, so she ran over, encountering Matthew Williams, an agent there.

Read the rest here.


  1. According to this article by Walter Block (NY Post via LRC), 2/3 of New York's apartments are rent-controlled in one way or another, leaving only 1/3 to bear the resulting market distortions.

    From reading the article about the college girls, it sounds like hell. But what's the bet that those two girls are Obama-loving Democrats?

  2. The New York apartment market gets more and more absurd. The price and quality of places way out in Bushwick, Brooklyn is absurd.

    I'd recommend EPJ readers moving around New York look at Sunnyside, Queens. I'm paying $1800 for a 2 BR + Living Room that are all huge. I used to be in a 1 BR + Home Office (converted into 3 BR) in the Financial District. I had the middle room and paid $1250 a month.