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It seems like just yesterday I was searching for a new apartment, but actually it was February 2012 when I was eager to move from the Upper East Side to Hell’s Kitchen, mostly prompted by having a Peeping Tom across the avenue from me.
I wrote back then of my trials and tribulations of finding a suitable place. I wish I could say a lot has changed since then and that apartment hunting is far more fun.
A brief recap before I get into the details of my latest apartment search: I have been living in a Hell’s Kitchen convertible two bedroom—hence the birth of this Hell’s Bitchen column--and from the first month I moved in I have been sick.
Over the course of the last year I've had a chronic illness (Lyme Disease, which was not caused by the apartment at all but that I somehow now associate with living here); I've also had a bout with bed bugs. So this summer, when I heard there may be bugs on another floor of the building, I took it as a sign from the Universe it was time to move.
Just days later when the Super died of a heart attack and the whole building seemed to go into mourning, I took it as a further sign I was right about leaving.
Like I said last time, I firmly believe that in NYC the Universe will give you a sign when it is time to up and go. Aside from the Peeping Tom incident of 2012, other instances that prompted me to move were: The Great Hookers in the Building incident of 2005 and The Great Restaurant Gut Reno Below Me incident that lead to the Great Roach Attack of 2003.
So here is a bit about my recent search for a new place to call home, or as I like to call it: The good, the bad and the smelly.
1- a. No apartment search is complete until there is the stench of urine; sometimes it is feline and sometimes human. I saw an amazingly huge five room apartment on the Upper East Side with a kitchen so big I could have TWO full dining tables in it and then FOUR huge rooms. The only major problem is the whole thing smelled of cat pee--even with new paint, cleaning and shined floors.
Also, the unit had no closets so one room would have to be made into one, which isn’t so bad because that’s what I did last time. I wasn’t looking forward to that expense, but do love to have a whole room as a closet and dressing area and most low-end renters like myself do not have that luxury.
1-b. I went back the next day just in the hopes that perhaps the cat smell would have dissipated. No such luck; it was as pungent as ever.
While I was there with my broker another broker came in trying to act like we were all nuts for smelling cat pee. I am so glad my broker isn’t shady and so desperate to rent something she’d try to convince her client the smell was in her head. Plus, life is hard enough; I simply couldn’t be that woman—the one that always smelled of cat pee. It’s hard enough dating in this city. (P.S. From what I heard last week there is an application on it, cat urine stench and all.)
2. I saw a great real two-bedroom in Hell’s Kitchen with windows in every room and ample space, but it was so grimy one could not open the oven completely because of the crust. The cabinets had layers of gook on the inside and outside and were perma-yellow. No amount of scrubbing could de-gook them. The fridge had congealed stuff inside and out. It was slightly over my budget and the management would not give a gook reduction. Ew.
3. I saw another unit, this time in an amazing elevator building in heart of Midtown, but none of the three tiny closets had anywhere to actually hang clothes.
4. Online, I found a great looking huge one-bedroom with an office area in my price range and hood listed online with fabulous pictures, only to find out at the last minute on the phone (thank goodness I asked!) THERE IS A SHOWER STALL IN THE KITCHEN.
5. The following week I saw an apartment in the same building as number one above, this with four rooms because one room was made into a closet. And it didn’t smell like cat pee! You might think this was an immediate winner, but it was much narrower and the rooms divided in such a way there was no room that could fit a bed properly.
Such a sin! Tons of space—more than most apartments in NYC for way more money—but nowhere to put a bed unless you wanted to put it next to your refrigerator. We stayed about 30 minutes trying every possible scenario to create a normal bedroom and there just wasn’t one. My head still hurts just thinking about it.
6. During this period of house hunting my broker had mentioned he heard of a doorman alcove studio with huge closets, a dishwasher and laundry in the building. This seemed to be the Holy Grail of apartments, or at least an urban legend. Did I mentioned he said it is rent stabilized and actually $200 cheaper than my current place?
While I was not thrilled it was back on the Upper East Side, the Peeping Tom has long since moved and this is far enough from my old area to not have any bad memories. Too bad it had several applications on it already and my broker explained it might be very difficult for me to obtain it because of my freelancer status.
Still, I went to visit and although the tenant was still living there and it was smaller than I’d like, I had never hoped for such a treasure trove that included a dishwasher, elevator, laundry and a genuine doorman! I could pay to build a wall to make it a one-bedroom in order to have something to rest furniture against on either side and carve out separate sleeping, office and living spaces. I filled out an application; you never know, the Universe may smile upon me. Ha Ha Ha!
7. As a backup, my broker showed me a huge one-bedroom with THREE walk-in closets, doorman, elevator and laundry. It is $600 above my price range (I like to add even more torture to an already torturous process), but the broker thought he may be able to pull some strings. Again, I placed an application on it, but was pretty sure I’d end up in the cat pee apartment by next month.
During this time I also previewed anything that came on the market in my price range online. All my broker friends and broker clients were on alert and many said they didn’t think I’d ever find what I was looking for that was big enough, took dogs, would have a management understanding about my freelancer income and would not be a high walkup (I now have trouble walking up stairs.) Forget even thinking about a building with laundry and an elevator.
"The apartment on Ninth Avenue would be perfect for you except it has bed bugs" is something you never wanted texted to you from your broker who is out previewing apartments for you. This really happened. What is even a bigger kick in the pants is that this is the same building I saw last time I was searching that has an underwear-clad, wheel-chairbound hoarder in the hallway because he has stockpiled so much stuff he can't shut his front door. Last time I also recall the hallway smelled of (human!) urine.
My broker suggested I put my application in on the doorman alcove studio (#6 above) “as is” and offer to arrange to have the apartment painted and the floors polyurethaned myself. I was not keen on this idea at all. Moving is strenuous enough and being really sick makes it that much harder.
The whole point of moving is to make things easier for myself. I did not want to add arranging to put up not only a wall, but also figuring out how to have it painted, spackled and the floors done before I could move in. But alas, the broker insisted...and it worked! I signed my lease last week and am beginning the panic-inducing process of trying to have my stuff packed, shelves hung, and the apartment made "move-in condition" in the next two weeks.
I am literally moving on up to the East Side and, while I dislike being so far east, and transportation will be harder, I'm pretty excited about getting to live somewhere so fancy schmancy.
I will miss Hell’s Kitchen so much, and most of all I will miss my closet. I’m pretty sure I will never have something as big or as nice to house my garments. But I am hoping it’ll be worth it for the comfort it will bring me while I am sick. I just know I will be smiling from ear to ear to be able to do laundry in my own building and every time I get to take the elevator when lugging packages, I'll be a happy woman.
Kelly Kreth chronicles her misadventures in her Hell's Kitchen tenement-style walk-up in this bi-weekly BrickUnderground column, Hell’s Bitchen.
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