Rental Rookie

Rental Rookie: I lay eyes on my apartment for the first time

By Michelle Castillo  | June 16, 2010 - 7:06AM
my living room window.jpg

A picture is worth a thousand words. But if it’s a picture of a New York City apartment, you’re going to need a million more phrases to properly assess what the place really looks like.

Two weeks after renting my first NYC apartment without leaving Los Angeles, I grabbed the keys from my “live-in” super who, as it turned out, resided a couple blocks away from the building I was about to call home.

Anxious to the see my new place, I tried not worry whether the rickety walk-up steps—guarded by thin, warped metal railings—would collapse before I got there.

At the second floor--my floor--I turned the key in the lock of 2N and threw open the door, prepared to see sunlight streaming into big, spacious rooms and glinting off freshly buffed wooden floors and shiny new appliances –all  things that I had seen in the photographs my real estate agent had sent me.

Apparently, the words “as advertised” are open to interpretation.

What I had perceived as sunlight in the photos was actually the glow of fluorescent overhead lights that had to be on constantly (ratcheting up the electric bill)  if you didn’t want to stumble in the dark.

Deep fresh scratches across the floor spoke of another tenant’s recent exit. The two cell-sized bedrooms barely could fit a desk and a twin bed. And the “oversized walk-in closet” turned out to be the end of a long hallway separated by a door…devoid of shelves or bars to hang belongings from.

I cracked open a window to let in some fresh air.  The windows lacked screens, so I also let in the flies and some centipede-like bugs with pinchers, and a smattering of pigeon feathers.  Judging from the pigeon-poop-embalmed ledge, a goodly number of avian squatters were calling my new home theirs.

(As I later learned, the uneven windows required odd-sized screens that no average hardware store carried. The same went for the blinds I tried to buy to protect me from the prying gaze of my neighbors stationed less than four feet away in the building next to me. Standard-sized window shades were too long, too short, too wide or too narrow.)

My bedroom was the only room with natural light, but it faced the street and perched directly above a bodega that, it turned out, was the locus of a nightly all-night-long happy hour on my block. Apparently, in addition to its utter lack of bragging rights, my starter NYC apartment was not going to be a quiet one either.

Still, I was in possession of a one-year lease and a determination to become a New Yorker.  And what was a New Yorker without a hard-luck apartment story?

Next:  Turning my railroad into a home.

Michelle Castillo moved to Manhattan last fall to attend Columbia University's Journalism School and currently works as a freelance writer covering entertainment for the and Rental Rookie is a twice-monthly column chronicling her first year as a renter in NYC.

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