The One That Got Away

A bargain on the Upper West Side turns into a nightmare, thanks to one crazy landlord

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Doug was sharing a small two-bedroom in a fifth-floor walkup on the Upper West Side when his future mother-in-law connected him with a friend who wanted to sublet her 900-square-foot one-bedroom (with a terrace!) at 113 West 75th Street.

It was 1992, and she wanted a paltry $700 a month for a place that would have rented for $2,500 a month. Doug is a real estate broker. He knows. 

The apartment was a walk-up in a stoopless townhouse that had a large living room with huge windows overlooking a garden. The bedroom also had two large windows facing both north and east overlooking more gardens. High ceilings and perfect wood floors completed the picture.

It also had a great terrace "which overlooked a playground, and waking to [the sounds of] children playing and birds chirping was surreal and incredibly pleasant,” remembers Doug.  

The best part? No shady business. He was legally subletting the space from the original tenant, and she was making no profit from his sublease. Even though it was a rent-stabilized apartment, she had gotten permission from the landlord under a hardship exemption.

But with all things real estate, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is. The catch?

The landlord died, and his wife took over. She was trying to evict everyone in all of her buildings and jack up the rent. She did not like that she couldn't charge market rates.

“The landlord was a little more than slightly ‘touched’ and began making my life miserable to the point where I had to put the security chain on the door, as she would take it upon herself to enter at any and all times of the day and night,” explains Doug.

The wacky new landlord wrongly claimed that Doug was an illegal subtenant. Even though Doug told his mother-in-law and her friend, and the original tenant spoke to the landlord and sent her letters, nothing worked.

On one occasion, she pulled a move from "The Shining," opening the chained door and screaming, "I know you are in there!"   

“I told her to stop harassing me or I would call the police,” he recalls. “She was psycho scary though, so I never followed through.”

Now his regrets are numerous. He wishes he had called the cops and fought to stay in that apartment. And more so, he wishes he didn’t have to give up on the $700 rent.

After about two years living there he decided to move in with his girlfriend--now wife--into another sublet on West 68th Street. The new place had a bigger kitchen and bath than his sublet and also had beautiful wood work, baseboard moldings and shutters. But it had a much smaller bedroom and only two closets, so it was difficult for a young couple to share comfortably. The absolute plus was that the landlord was the nicest and most responsive one Doug had ever had. He allowed them to take over the lease when the sublet ended. 

“I have longed for a terrace, having never lived in another terraced apartment since that time,” Doug says wistfully. “And lastly, I long for the peace and tranquility that graced that space as the chirping birds and playing children awakened me in the mornings—it was the perfect way to start each day."

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

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