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Roommates from hell: New Yorkers recall their worst experience sharing an apartment

One woman kept bags of 'laundry’ around a shared living room.

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I have never really had a roommate in New York City—except for an ex-husband and a dachshund, if they count. But I have lots of friends who have had roommates, and their stories really scare me. The luxury of having a bigger space or a smaller rent bill just doesn’t seem worth the potential for gaining a “roommate from hell.”

If you’re heading to NYC for school or your first job, you might not have a choice; a roommate might be the only way to make the city affordable. So with that in mind, here are some horror stories—not intended to frighten you as much as help you to suss out the bad seeds from the get-go.

Also be sure to read Brick Underground’s guide to questions you should ask a potential roommate. And consider yourself warned.

Smell ya later

“I had a roommate in Washington Heights who was stinking up the apartment so badly that another roommate insisted we had to have multiple windows open 24/7 with fans in them in, some blowing outward, others blowing inward, in order to create a wind tunnel effect—in January. Walking out of my room was like stepping onto an arctic tundra, although it did mitigate the smell. 

“While searching his room for the source of the smell, I picked up one of his socks and smelled it [and discovered the problem]. When confronted with what could only be a fungal problem, he refused to go to the doctor for treatment, insisting that his athletic trainer told him Vicks VapoRub was sufficient, although when I demanded to speak to his trainer, he confessed that that he was no longer living. Also, he refused to use laundry detergent, preferring only vinegar.

“The sad thing is, I have to seriously think about whether he was actually the worst roommate I had in that apartment. There were two other contenders: One who turned out to be a white supremacist, and another who borrowed my drill and used it to destroy a building security system and dismantle the roof. 

“I have not lived with roommates since for obvious reasons.” —Jay

 Vegans need not apply

“I had one roommate who left a 100-gallon fish tank in an apartment and instead of taking care of the fish after he moved out, the other roommate let her cat eat the fish from it.” —Anonymous

Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite

“I was living in Hell’s Kitchen in a four-bedroom, three-bath duplex. I had been living there for about a year before we found Thomas on Craigslist. It took us about six months to realize he hadn’t unpacked his boxes, because he was very private and kept the door to his room shut. I guess after about another three months he started bringing things that wouldn’t fit into his room into the apartment and leaving them in the downstairs living room. Eventually we’d ask about them and he’d tell us he found them walking home. We explained that things like a mattresses from the street had to go because of possible bed bugs. Pretty soon we realized he was a full-fledged hoarder. However, after the warning he managed to keep all the stuff he hoarded in his own room.

“Oddly, I ended up moving out about five years later and handed the lease over to him. I have no idea how the place looks now that he’s in charge of it.” —Gary

Punk’d

“I was living in an Upper West Side four-bedroom, three-bath apartment. We found a roommate on Craigslist who initially seemed fine. He became the worst roommate ever when he had schizophrenic episode and the police found him on the roof of the building (we had the ground floor and basement) with a knife, saying that his friends and MTV were in on him being on an episode of Punk’d. The police ended up coming, but let him stay in the apartment that night and told us to lock our doors.” —Jenny

Squatter’s rights

“A friend of mine mentioned someone she knew was looking for roommate in Manhattan for about six months. She was moving to be closer to work, or so she claimed. 

“I had a two-bedroom unit in Hells Kitchen on the 31st floor with the views of the Intrepid. I thought it would nice to have company and someone to split the rent. I was working and traveling back and forth from NY to Florida to my other property so for a few months this would be doable. I met G. and she seemed like the right person—honest, hard-working and a go-getter. The next weekend she moved in with 12 boxes, four bins and a bunch of bags.

“Turns out she was horrible to live with. She never kept up with her share of the rent and she always left the house a mess. She shopped all the time and always had male visitors staying over despite the house rules! She also ran the AC all day!

When she informed me she needed more time to stay, I hesitantly agreed and before I knew it 14 months had gone by, and I was over it. I needed her out! Turns out she had only had a series of temp jobs and had just gotten fired. 

“I ended up having to take her to court. The court case stretched over the course of a year. Turns out she knew what she was doing. I worked for a Supreme Court Criminal Justice in the Bronx and was familiar with the court proceedings but not housing. Turns out the law says if someone is in your home beyond 30 days they have rights. So she kept buying time and yet I was stuck paying for everything.

“Thankfully she finally pulled out of the unit this past May. The judge decided it was time for her to move on. She knew the sheriff was coming in 10 days and she waited till the last minute to be escorted out of my unit.

“Now all my guests stay for 25 days or less.” —Melissa

A hot mess

“I lived in Astoria-Ditmars—my good friend owned the apartment—and met my nightmarish roommate though business networking. She was looking to come to NYC because she was being transferred by her job.

“At first she was a pretty good roommate and tended to her two adorable dogs. She’d clean up after them. However, eventually she kept them locked in cages all day until she returned in the evening—sometimes as late as 10 p.m. She didn’t believe in walking them because they couldn’t walk down the stairs. I desperately wanted to call animal control on her!

“I realized she was just a mess. She had gone through about nine jobs in less than a year—needless to say she was consistently late with her rent, and seldom had money for the utilities. If that wasn’t bad enough, she also kept bags and bags of ‘laundry’ around our shared living room.

“She had moved in with a full living room set so I got rid of mine to make way for hers, only to find out I couldn’t sit on her couches because she would flip out.

“She wore tons of makeup and was always scantily clad. She also had terrible personal hygiene. She would shower just once a week and at times she smelled so badly she used body spray to cover the odor. When she finally did shower I had to clean off about five layers of grime and makeup from the tub and remove a disgusting amount of hair from the drain.

Finally the apartment owner was able to force her out because she had stopped paying rent. One weekend when I was staying at a friend’s, I came home and her stuff was all in boxes. She claimed she was moving some stuff to storage, and then she was just gone. I guess the pressure of owing rent pushed her to leave. She claimed she had moved back to where she was from, but I still saw her around Astoria.” —Anonymous

The worst of the worst

And while all these tales certainly are awful, they still pale in comparison to the very worst roommate story ever told last year in New York Magazine, involving weapons, a jail sentence and ultimately, two deaths.

And that’s why you should choose your roommates wisely.