Rental Rookie

Rental Rookie: When your ratty building is just one of a million, plumbing is a luxury

By Michelle Castillo  | October 6, 2010 - 7:03AM

Back in Los Angeles, hot water was always the big problem when it came to plumbing. So waterwise, I was more concerned about that than anything else when I looked for an apartment in New York. What I should have considered was that I was getting a pre-war apartment where the plumbing was several times older than I was.

True, people like to talk about how sturdy prewar buildings are. But in a poorly maintained building like mine, it meant years of buildup clogging the pipes, triggering a series of plumbing heart attacks.

Leaks in our kitchen sink were stayed by duct tape and a bucket until numerous messages prompted our super to appear a week later. A clogged toilet that didn’t respond to simple plunging was remedied by pouring in a bottle of some dishwashing detergent, letting it sit for a couple hours and then plunging. (I had been told you can’t use Draino in a toilet because it will create a heat reaction with the porcelain so hot that it will crack it. I had heard good things about Draino Pipe & Septic Care, but it was hard to find.)

Then, two months into our lease, we suffered a plumbing fiasco so dire we almost moved out.

Our tub began draining so slowly that we stood in a six inches of water while we showered. The staircase right below our bathroom was constantly wet from our dripping pipes. I was worried about someone slipping on the wooden steps, but admittedly not as concerned as I was about stepping into the shower, having the moldy wet floor under the tub give way and finding myself naked on the first floor.

We called our super about once a week, but kept getting his voicemail. Finally, after half the building complained about the wet staircase, he sent the maintenance man that he outsourced his work to, who told us to stop taking baths because the tub was overflowing onto the bottom floor. (We never took baths anyway.)

We pleaded with the maintenance man to do something, and he said that the flooding was probably because we didn’t shut our window while showering, which made no sense at all. He said if we shut it, he would check in after a week (again!) We felt bad because he wasn’t the person responsible, so we didn’t persist.

Finally it got to the point where the tub refused to drain at all so we had to stop showering for two days. During that time we redoubled our efforts, calling the super once an hour on the hour. Finally, he came himself, saw how bad it was, and immediately called a plumber, who snaked years worth of other peoples’ hair out of the pipes. Plus, the building had to deal with the damage to the floor below the tub – which took them another five months.

Yes, I blame the super for not dealing with this sooner. But as I soon discovered, I had no one to blame but myself when I locked myself out.

Next time: How to break in to your own apartment.


Michelle Castillo moved to Manhattan last fall to attend Columbia University's Journalism School. She has covered arts and entertainment for The Los Angeles Times,, Hollywood Reporter, and, and she currently writes about geek culture for's Techland. Rental Rookie is a twice-monthly column chronicling her first year as a renter in NYC.

See all Rental Rookie columns here. 



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