Scary stories: New Yorkers reveal what really freaks them out about living here

By Kelly Kreth  |
October 31, 2018 - 9:00AM


There’s no doubt that NYC real estate can be scary. Rising rents, killer co-op board interviews, hoarders and bed bugs are many of the things New Yorkers fear, and if you live here long enough, you will probably experience one or two of these real estate nightmares yourself.

As a longtime New Yorker, I have been plagued with many of my own real estate horrors, including a Peeping Tombed bugs, living above a drug-addled squatter, and apartment renovations gone awry. But more recently something a bit more in the vein of “Twilight Zone” has been happening to me in my building’s basement laundry room: Socks that look like mine, but definitely aren’t, keep getting mixed up in my laundry while my own socks keep disappearing. Mystical message from the universe? Creepy person with a sock-swapping fetish? You decide. 

So in the spirit of the Halloween holiday, I asked my fellow New Yorkers to tell me the spookiest, weirdest or just plain scariest thing that has happened to them in their apartment or building. Their answers didn’t disappoint. 

Everything but the kitchen sink

“I bought my Canarsie, Brooklyn house in April 2018. During the walk-through, we realized that there was a pair of handcuffs in the garage. We joked and said that the previous owner definitely enjoyed his stay. 

But upon closing on the house, something more concerning happened. I experienced a crazy break-in during which my stoves were stolen and my refrigerator was pulled to the back of the house. (Apparently the thieves were planning to come back for it.) Turns out the seller wrapped a piece of plastic around the gas pipe to fix a leak. If the stoves hadn’t been stolen, we never would have known. We could have been poisoned by carbon monoxide. So the burglary turned out to be a blessing in disguise. After realizing what had happened we installed Nest cameras and shortly afterwards, we caught a group of girls trying to break into the house with sleeping bags and pillows. They were not too happy when they tripped the alarm for the house and had to run!” —Elesia F., Canarsie 

Firemen to the rescue 

“The scariest thing that has ever happened to me was when I was living in a townhouse on East 38th Street. A fire started in an apartment in the townhouse next door, on the other side of my wall. Thankfully I was not working that day, so I was able to call the fire department. Before I knew it, a group of big, good-looking firemen quickly assembled in my tiny studio apartment and created a huge mess. They had to cut through the wall and floor, but thankfully they were able to take care of the fire before it caused too much damage.” —Catherine, D., Midtown East

Making your way in the dark

“I was living in the Corinthian on East 38th Street with my then-eight-months-pregnant wife when the 2003 blackout occurred. I was home and quickly called my wife, who was at work. She had no power and obviously no air conditioner, so she had to get out of there and go somewhere cooler and safer. I had to walk 55 flights of stairs to get out of my building to reach her. While our apartment had lots of windows and remained relatively light, the hallways and stairwells were a different story. Every now and then you could see the glow of someone’s flashlight. At times you could hear random voices saying, ‘Hello, hello, hello…’ I couldn’t see the stairs, which were metal and cement, so I really didn’t want to bite it on them. I was just trying to go down as quickly and as carefully as possible. It was so creepy and weird. After what seemed like forever, I made it into our garage and was able to drive to get my wife and we headed off safely to our family in New Jersey.” —Robert K., Midtown East

They came from above

“When I was living on the 11th floor, the highest floor in a Stuyvesant Town building, a police helicopter almost flew down onto our roof. They were out looking for a drug dealer who was hiding on the roof. I freaked out because I had guests over and for some reason we thought that they were coming for us. I was on the verge of confessing to things I've never done. My friends and I have been laughing about that night for years.”  —Nadine H., Stuy Town

Attacked by a guard dog

“As a realtor, I preview a lot of places. One day, I was trying to preview a condo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and there was a giant dog chained to a door blocking my way. I got close and he jumped on top of me. I ended up underneath him and thought was life was going to be over…Turns out he just wanted to lick my entire face for a few minutes.” —Aramis A., Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Exploding car

“One day, after I had been chatting with clients on a street corner, I entered a Midtown building on 56th Street and immediately heard a loud noise and thought it was fireworks. I quickly figured out that this scenario didn’t make sense. Then an alarm started ringing and people began screaming. I went down in the elevator to the lobby and saw it was full of smoke. Firemen had arrived; they didn’t allow any of us to exit the building. Finally, we went out and saw that a car on the corner—where I had just been speaking with clients—had exploded. Had we stayed there any longer we could have been blown away by the explosion. [Editor’s note: An electrical transformer explosion was the culprit.] I couldn’t shake the shock for the next two days. We were very lucky.” —Kelly D., Midtown East

Stranger danger

“I entered my building from the back door and someone was right behind me, so I held the door for him. He walked behind me to the elevator, which was close to the lobby area. I had never seen this guy in my building, it was late and he was wearing hoodie that covered his face. So my gut feeling was not to get in the elevator with him. I quickly turned around and walked away from elevator. As soon as I turned the corner, I ran to the staircase and up the stairs to the second floor to my apartment. As I was running up, I heard the door to staircase open behind me: He was obviously following me. At that point I panicked and ran to my door as fast as I could. As I opened the door, I saw him come out of the stairs and head my direction. I said loudly, ‘Hi honey, I'm home!’ as I shot the door behind me (even though no one was home). Through the peephole, I saw the guy run back to the staircase. I called police and reported it.” —Lilia B., Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

A benevolent spirit from beyond 

“I had an aunt that lived with my family until she passed away at age 90. She raised me and my brother along with my parents and was like a second mother to me, as well as my mom's favorite sibling and best friend. When my spouse and I were ready to buy an apartment, my aunt very generously offered to give us money so we could make a down payment. We got the place and soon after, she passed away. About three months later, we were in the process of painting and renovating the apartment. We picked out a nice wallpaper for the dining room. 

"As a side note, my aunt loved flowers and plants, and had a green thumb. She loved violets; she had many in her room. Her favorite color was lavender, and she loved that smell. I always bought cards and scarfs and other gifts with those in mind. When she passed away, I accompanied my mother and my aunt's daughter to the funeral home to make arrangements and pick out a casket. We spotted a casket decorated with violets and instantly knew that was the one.

"My spouse and I talked about how fortunate we were to have had my aunt help us get the apartment. On the day I started putting up the wallpaper, I was on the ladder and smelled lavender-scented perfume. I called to my spouse to ask what he sprayed or put on. 

‘Nothing,’ he said. 

‘Do you think that was...?’ he asked. And we both nodded because it smelled exactly like the lavender perfume my aunt used to wear. As I climbed down the ladder, we noticed at the same time that the wallpaper we picked out was covered with violets.” —John J., Chelsea


The gift of a creepy doll

“I was living on 14th Street and 9th Avenue and around Halloween time this was mysteriously left outside of my apartment door. No explanation! It just appeared in the hallway like a Pee Wee version of ‘Annabelle.’” —Andrew C., Chelsea


Murder, she wrote

[Editor’s Note: While all of these stories illustrate that living in NYC can sometimes feel like murder, nothing beats Logan J.’s tale about an actual murder in his Upper East Side apartment.]

“I moved into an apartment where a woman was murdered. I got this place in 2003. There was a police seal on the door when we viewed the apartment. After I moved in, I cleaned the bathroom and discovered there was blood spatter on the underside of everything in the room. I really had no idea what to make of it. Still don’t, and still live here.” —Logan J., Upper East Side



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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