You have to watch what you say to New Yorkers. Tell us we can’t do something in our apartments and we’ll do it anyway when you’re not looking, like plugging too many things into one outlet (danger: electrical fire), hanging potholders directly above the stove in our way-too-tiny kitchens (danger: regular fire) and building temporary walls without the proper egress (another fire-related danger).
But in talking to our fellow New Yorkers we've discovered some other chances people take that they later wish they had not. Here are five things we'd like to politely urge you not to do in the comfort of your four walls:
1. Illegally subletting to someone you don't like
Subletting your rent-stabilized apartment is always a risk. If you’re caught, you could be evicted, so there is a lot to consider when you ‘re selecting a stranger to keep your secret.
Typically in this type of high-risk (and usually low-reward) situation the deal is mutually beneficial. The leaseholder makes a small chunk of change while the illegal subletter scores a nice apartment in a cool area for much less than market rate. The subletter wants a great deal so usually they keep their mouth shut—if they know what’s good for them.
Sounds great--except when it isn't.
“I never liked her to begin with," one sublettor told us, "but I needed someone in the place, and because I didn't like her I tried to justify it by saying ‘you don't have to like the person, this is business!’ Wrong decision. There were so many red flags and I ignored because I didn't want to be bothered with the process of finding someone.”
Against her instincts she went ahead with the sublet. She agreed to a six-month sub-lease. Her irresponsible tenant never paid rent on time or would cancel checks and avoid phone calls.
One night after an evening of drinking, the tenant passed out with food cooking on the stove and nearly burned the place down.
Luckily, the sublettor worked nearby, so when the doorman called her regarding the fire alarm and smoke smell she was on the scene immediately. The plume of smoke paired with the deafening alarm was enough to rouse neighbors and the building manager.
She explained to the super and doorman that her friend from out of town fell asleep with food on the stove... It was a believable enough story that the building management decided not to pursue the matter further.
2. Leaving the garden apartment back door open for pets
Garden apartments are a wonderful treat for most of the year. Barbecues, garden parties and the wonder of nature without having to trek to a crowded public parks. But with any delight there comes dismay.
Brooklyn resident Nadia Tarr lives in a studio garden apartment behind her vintage boutique on Court Street in Carroll Gardens.
Her landscaped backyard is a regular meeting-place for her cat, Whooly, and his other neighborhood friends. Tarr leaves her back door ajar for her cat to come and go while she is at work.
One big problem: The door is literally open for all sorts of unwanted pests like pigeons, mice and rats to run set up shop and spread disease.
One evening she heard Whooly munching on his food and thought it was odd because he never eats at night. It wasn’t the cat….it was an opossum, which had taken up permanent residence in her apartment.
After the initial shock, Tarr is now getting used to the opossum. Being an animal lover, she couldn’t bring herself to have it exterminated… She says, “Hello opossum,” in the morning or, “opossum, get outta here,” when he wanders in. She felt at one with nature and decided to let the opossum leave when he was ready.
(David Seerveld, a wildlife removal specialist, assured us that opossums are not aggressive and they “don’t really carry or transmit rabies. Their body temperature is too low to support the virus.”
He did mention that there are a large number of diseases associated with opossum droppings but a more common concern with all wild animals, especially opossums, are mites, fleas and ticks. )
3. Your own renovations
Putting up a shelf is one thing…maybe even installing dimmers in every room is something you can handle without a licensed electrician. But trying your hand at major renovations?
John Howard, a native New Yorker and former SoHo resident attempted some home improvements to give his old West Broadway studio a bit of artsy charm and got more than he bargained for.
“I tried to chisel out the plaster on the wall to get the ‘exposed brick’,” he explained. He took a sledgehammer to the sheetrock and ripped apart the walls.
The dust and flaking wall-parts covered the apartment and Mr. Howard.
“I thought I gave myself asbestos poisoning. I got so freaked. I brought a sample of the wall to get tested. Negative. But still one of the worst 48-hours of my life waiting for the results.”
If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is to wear the proper demolition gear, including facemask and gloves when attempting a self-renovation job. And if you can afford it, leave the dirty work to the professionals.
4. Installing your own in-window A/Cs
Jacquelyn and her husband live on the sixth floor of a busy street on the Upper West Side. Like most New Yorkers, they don’t have central air conditioning. And like most New Yorkers their A/C units live in a separate storage facility for eight-months out of the year.
In anticipation of the few sweltering months that melt the city, they install those window-mounted 200-pound A/C units themselves.
“We install our own window air conditioners every year and take them out.," says Jacquelyn. "Something about that doesn't seem right to me, but my husband swears it's ok...”
Um, Jacquelyn, we ‘re on your side.
This is definitely a risk that doesn’t need to be taken. Hire someone with plenty of experience and an ironclad insurance policy.
Apartment insurance broker Jeffrey Schneider of Gotham Brokerage says renter's or co-op/condo insurance would most likely cover you in the event of a lawsuit due to injury or damage from falling A/C units-- whether self or professionally installed. But the last time we checked insurance doesn't save lives.
5. Letting strangers climb onto your fire escape
Lend you a cup of sugar? Sure. Collect your mail for you while you’re out of town? No problem. Let you into my apartment so you can climb out on the fire-escape and into your apartment because you locked yourself out? Hmmm....
Kate D’Elia has lived with roommates for most of her NYC life so she is accustomed to different people coming and going.
And apparently, she is also used to letting “neighbors” climb out her bedroom window to access the fire escape. She never knows for sure if they live in the building -- hey look vaguely familiar. She just wants to be neighborly.
“I do it and I know a bunch of people that let strangers into their home when they are locked out, so they can use the window to climb the fire escape and get into their own apartment," says D'Elia.
Not long ago, there was a string of burglaries in Greenwich Village where the suspects gained access through the fire escapes, sometimes while residents slept.
Climbing a fire escape to essentially "break in" to your own apartment is a risky thing to do also. One misstep can send you plummeting to the sidewalk below.