The One That Got Away

The One That Got Away: The bed bugs did it

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Lana moved to a top-floor, two-bedroom apartment in a pre-war complex in Astoria, Queens in August 2008. The price and sizenearly 1,200 square feet, with a true dining alcove, two foyers, five closets, a built-in bookshelf, arched doorways and Manhattan views for $2,065 a month—were ideal. As a freelancer, the space offered plenty of room to work, too.

“I had been living in this complex for about three years and had been on the waiting list to get this apartment because it had space for a home office, which was the perfect setup for a freelancer,” explains Lana.

But as soon as she moved in, the bites appeared.

“I figured I could have picked them up at the beach or in the park," she says. "I’d occasionally get bites in the fall, but again put them out of my mind, chalking them up to a wayward spider.”

Then one day in January she woke up and had a huge line of bites up her leg.  The telltale  breakfast, lunch and dinner line-up.

“I questioned my neighbors and the super and they all told me that the previous tenants moved out because of bed bugs,” she says.

It turned out that the apartment below her was infested. A mother who was very sick and her son, rumored to be a drug dealer, lived there and would not allow the landlord or exterminator into the apartment. Since it was rent-controlled, there was little chance they'd be moving anytime soon.

Still, Lana was determined to try a fix. Her landlord agreed to pay for things like a new mattress and rug, clothing and upholstery cleaning, and he brought in a professional pest squad. 

“It was total hell for the three months living through weekly bombings," she says. "I had to wrap my entire life up in plastic.”

Alas, after the final bombing, she was still getting bitten, so she finally vacated. Her landlord offered her another apartment in the complex just across the courtyard. It was a large one-bedroom at the back of the building with views of Manhattan in the distance, through the leafy trees in the backyard. At tree level, it was dark. But it was also quiet and bug-free. It wasn’t perfect, but with her former buggy neighbors still in residence, there was no guarantee that her dream apartment could ever be habitable again.

“I heard they ended up tearing up the walls to exterminate,” she says. "They did offer my place back to me after ‘certifying' it, but I didn’t want to take the chance.”  

Lana is still annoyed that the super, with whom she was on good terms, let her move into an apartment with a known problem.

“After 12 years of living in 500-square-foot shoe-box apartments, it had been my dream place--but for only six months," she says.

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The One That Got Away chronicles stories of love and loss in NYC real estate.

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