Only in New York

True story: I lived above a drug-addled squatter (with my imaginary husband, William)

By Kelly Kreth  |
March 10, 2016 - 4:09PM

No New York City dinner party would be complete without tales of real estate/city living horror stories. Our series, Only in New York, recounts these only-in-New-York experiences. This story first appeared on Brick Underground in 2013.

I was living in a fourth-floor walkup on York Avenue for about four years when one post-mani-pedicure wintry day, I entered the building wearing flip flops and gingerly holding my keys for fear my freshly done nails would smudge.  

I came upon what looked to be like a drug addict--he was disheveled, dirty and slumped over--sitting on the floor in front of the mailboxes.

He couldn’t get into the building because the main door was locked. He said he was staying on the third floor but forgot his keys, which I knew couldn’t be true because the third floor apartment had been empty for a week; the elderly woman who had lived there for 40 years just moved to Florida.

What to do?

Normally I’d refuse to open the door and go elsewhere until he left but it was 20 degrees outside and I had nearly bare feet. It was broad daylight, and I foolishly figured I’d take my chances.

I opened the door and he followed me in. As we hit the first landing, I could feel his hot, sour breath on my neck when he asked me if I lived alone. The hair on my arm stood up and not because of the freezing temps.

I told him that I live with my husband (a lie) and called upstairs to my imaginary husband: "William, can you come down here and grab this bag?"

Thankfully the dog (my real husband) started barking ferociously and I took this as my chance to outrun the crackhead up the stairs. Even in my flip flops, I figured I could get to the fourth floor and into my apartment before he could because he was a slurring swaying mess.

Just as I predicted, although he came barreling up the stairs after me, I made it safely into my apartment and called 911. I could hear him on the third floor trying to open the empty apartment door. I told 911 that a miscreant had followed me into the building and was trying to break into an empty apartment.

Twenty minutes passed and no sign of the cops, but I could hear the intruder inside the apartment below me. He got in!

The cops rang my bell a half hour later and I buzzed them in. I gave them my landlord’s number so they could verify the downstairs apartment was supposed to be unoccupied.

The cops banged on the door but the man had locked himself in and refused to come out. The landlord confirmed that the apartment was vacant but said they could not legally break down the door. Instead, they left me alone in the building above a maniac.

An hour later the landlord came with a team of cops of his own and they all banged on the door. This time the man—I soon learned his name was Troy—answered and said he was not leaving.

Turns out Troy was the wayward son of the old woman who had just vacated. Troy had just gotten out of jail and had told his mother he’d return her keys to the landlord as she was in a rush to fly off to Florida. Savvy in the ways of squatting, he took ownership of the rental unit illegally.

My landlord explained all of this to me and said he would have to take Troy to court to make him legally vacate now that he was squatting. This all seemed so bizarre to me and I was scared. Clearly Troy knew I called the cops and I suspected that didn’t ingratiate me to him.

The next day at 8 a.m., the bell on my front door started ringing. I was still half asleep but heard Troy screaming that he brought my paper up for me. Great! Now I had my own unhinged paper delivery service.

Once again the little dog thankfully sounded like a pit bull and I said that my husband would fetch the paper later. I was at a loss of what to do with my newfound circumstances.

I began carrying a knife in my purse when I walked up and downstairs during the day when going out for errands or to walk the dog. I was the only tenant who worked from home so it was just me and Troy in the building during the day. I’d tiptoe past “his” apartment and pray there’d be no run-in.

About a week later Troy brought home a lovely (sarcasm) lady who also took residence in the vacant apartment. They began moving belongings into the apartment and fighting loudly every night. I’d hear them talking about his court dates, jail buddies, drug fetching and other unsavory things. They’d sometimes come home drunk and high and sit on my stairs.  A weird chemical smell would emanate from the unit occasionally.

Troy came to my front door and rang the bell every now and then and I would always tell him I was busy and to go away. I kept my cell in my pocket all day long with 911 on speed dial.

A month passed this way.

My life on the Upper East Side went from Gossip Girl to an episode of Maury Povich and I didn’t like it. I would constantly call up my management company to complain and they’d only say they were working on it. Finally they stopped taking my calls.

One night there was blood all over the hallway and stairs and Troy’s girlfriend was screaming about how he had to go to the hospital to get stitches or he’d bleed to death, to which he responded, “But then the police will catch me.”

I couldn't make this stuff up.

I talked to the neighbors I hadn’t met for all the years I had lived there, joining in a common goal to keep safe from Troy. All the other tenants were couples so they didn’t feel quite as unsafe as I did living only with my tiny dog and imaginary husband. (Surely even in Troy’s drugged-out haze he’d realize there was no husband.)

The spring came and went and as the dog days of summer arrived, one day--about four months after he had arrived--a moving van pulled up front and Troy and his girlfriend left. The landlord and a few cops were there.

After their departure I asked the landlord what had transpired. He said he was in the middle of court proceedings to get Troy “evicted” but they were taking forever with constant delays and he wasn’t getting any rent on the unit at all so he offered Troy $5,000 to leave which he happily took.

That day the locks were changed and harmony was restored to my little York Ave walk-up. For a few months anyhow, until a homeless man took residence in the foyer the following winter and began peeing in front of our mailboxes. 



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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