Hell's Bitchen

9 good reasons to rent in a crappy tenement, like interesting neighbors and no holiday tipping

By Kelly Kreth  |
November 29, 2012 - 10:18AM

While I often lament the fact that I have no laundry room in my building, no elevator and no doorman, after my latest post about how unaffected my building was by the hurricane, I got to thinking about the other benefits of low-rent living. 

  1. Emergencies: Even if power does go out, I do not have to worry about being hindered by the loss of an elevator or being trapped on a high floor unable to get food or water and ultimately eaten by my dachshund. 
  2. Endurance: These old buildings seem to hold up far better to the elements than many of the newer developments that I have read about being shoddily made.
  3. Space: Tenement apartments—particularly railroads—tend to be bigger than many in luxury highrises, at least all the crappy tenement walk-up units I’ve had have been. I have always had larger-than-average units for way under market value in my 15 years of living in NYC.
  4. Exercise: While I don’t have a gym in the building, I do get ample exercise walking up and down my flight of stairs—you should see my ass—and I’ve acquired fairly muscular arms from hauling huge laundry bags and grocery sacks upstairs over the years.
  5. Access to the powers that be: It is often far easier to get things fixed by directly calling my landlord instead of having to navigate a huge building’s management team. Dealing directly with a small landlord has other perks too: It is easier to negotiate rent, make structural changes in my apartment and deal with nuisances caused by neighbors.
  6. Being market-rate in a rent-controlled building: I’m in a building with almost all rent-controlled tenants so my unit is pretty much the only one renovated with all stainless steel appliances, brand new hardwood floors, fresh paint and a huge bathroom. Many tenants have a bathtub in their kitchen, peeling linoleum and geriatric fridges. Paying the most rent has its benefits. My complaints are addressed far quicker than others’ -- or so I’ve heard. It would appear the owner wants to keep his highest paying, and very neurotic, tenant happy. 
  7. Pets: I have a particularly loud dachshund and it tends to be easier to live in a pet-friendly small walk-up with dirty stairwells and cracks in the walls then it would be to be in a building where management might have a conniption if one’s pet barfed in the elevator.
  8. Interesting neighbors: Another perk of tenement living is having great stories to tell. While I’m sure there are stories far and wide in every building in NYC, in my view there is something particularly charming about the New York characters living in a 100-year old tenement, many of which who have lived here for 40 years and have watched the neighborhood change from being overrun with drugs and prostitution to it becoming a tonier, highly desired one. I like to observe and chronicle. I’m great at parties, regaling those around me living in new luxury developments with names that try too hard like The Edge or Mercedes House, with stories about the far rawer things that happen in my building, like tenants who put out offerings to saints outside their apartments, or those who blast Biggie at 3 a.m.
  9. Tipping (or lack of): With the holidays upon us, I really feel for those friends of mine that live in a highly serviced luxury building.  Friends have to leave tips for elevator men, doormen, porters, that easily adds up to hundreds of dollars. I do not tip my super. He is not a super in the sense that he is called upon if something needs fixing. We go to the landlord directly for that. The only thing he does is put the garbage out, but considering he doesn't recycle he gets no tip.There is no one here to tip unless you count the tips I will leave my Super: Don’t prop the front door open with rocks or steal my deliveries!

See all Hell's Bitchen. 

Also by Kelly Kreth:

Hell's Bitchen: I vow never to move again

Hell's Bitchen: Meet my super, Aquavelva

15 things I've learned from 'Million Dollar Listing NY' so far

The 20 deadly sins NYC rental agents should never commit (but do)

Escape from the UES: Goodbye douchebaggery, hello Hell's Kitchen

Dear Neighbor: I am your worst nightmare

Living next to a bridge & tunnel club: KY Jelly wrestling, all-night noise, no regrets




Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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