When apartment living becomes a matter of life and death

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Suburbanites often don't understand our fixation with living in this city, which means putting up with all sorts of aggravations—the constant honking outside our windows, the stench of open garbage collecting at corners, the trains that mostly work but sometimes don't (and how!), the cost of it all. But vertical living is probably one of the biggest things that confounds them the most. Landlords who gouge or neglect; co-op boards that decree and demand; neighbors all around us, each with their own distinct personalities and eccentricities—too loud, too nosy, opinionated, unfriendly. To the critics we say: You don't get it. It's vertical living that gives the city its singular vitality. Living atop one another is a constant reminder of our humanity.

Which makes the tragic events of recent days—a gas-related explosion in a Borough Park apartment building on Saturday that killed one woman and has left another one missing, and 49 people without homes; and the harrowing elevator accident in Williamsburg the day before that took the life of a 37-year-old man—even more painful. (Our heartfelt condolences to those affected by both tragedies.)

While investigators sift through the evidence to make sense of what exactly happened, we're reminded once more that living in NYC means living right next to—or above and below—our neighbors' worries, sorrows and, yes, horrors. It means, for starters, trusting that our landlords do right by us and check our building's infrastructure to make sure all is working as it should be, and fast. There are sadly plenty of tales of lax landlords: Take those who refused to deal with one tenant's mold issues until local TV channel WPIX interceded on her behalf; or the landlords of one Washington Heights building who were discovered last year to have failed to maintain safe fire escapes. (DNAInfo compiled a list last spring of the worse offenders.)

We understand none of these repairs are cheap, and that delays do happen, but let's be real—that's the cost of doing rental business, isn't it? (To be clear, though press reports have pointed out that the Williamsburg building in question has allegedly had four elevator violations since 2013, authorities have not pinpointed to any malfunction as the definitive cause, as of this writing; some news outlets are reporting that the elevator may have been overloaded by passengers.)

These tragedies are also a reminder that as neighbors, what we do affects others with whom we share these walls and floors. (Conflicting reports has the FDNY purportedly saying that the gas explosion may have allegedly been triggered by someone attempting to disconnect a stove, while some outlets are alleging a possible suicide as the cause.)

From the relatively more manageable (though still egregious) concerns about noise and smells and bedbugs, to worrying about whom neighbors are letting into the building by Airbnb-subletting to overloaded electrical outlets, stovetops left burning and faucets half-on and, yes, gas leaks, we are, for better or worse,  not just responsible for ourselves, but for how the way we live in our apartments affects those around us.  


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