Pandemic apartment dreams: What New Yorkers wish they could change about where they live

By Kelly Kreth  |
July 16, 2020 - 9:30AM

New Yorkers are spending more time than ever in their apartments and buildings. All that time invites a lot of scrutiny.

Austin Havens-Bowen for Brick Underground/Flickr

I often have the classic New York City dream where I am in my apartment and find an extra room I never knew existed. I wake up feeling a sense of loss and longing for something that doesn’t even exist. Now, in the pandemic, I daydream that I have a private, outdoor space where I can read and tan sans mask. Such wishful thinking has only left me pale and taking Vitamin D supplements.

I am not alone. The pandemic has forced New Yorkers to stay inside their apartments and buildings more than ever. All that time invites a lot of scrutiny, and many are finding there is a lot to be desired about where they live.

I spoke to many New Yorkers and found that what they once desired and shunned in pre-pandemic times has now been flipped in this “new normal.” That’s because shared building amenities are now off limits, high floors with great light and views require worrisome rides in elevators, and ground floor apartments—once something that many avoided—are now in vogue. Neighbors that seemed tolerable are now constant irritants, because you never know how careful anyone is these days.

Here’s what New Yorkers are dreaming they could change about where they live because of the pandemic.

Longing for some outdoor space

“I wish we had a rooftop that people could use. Our building sold it to the owner who has the penthouse years ago. I don't live in a very big building (16 floors with 70 units) so the roof wouldn't have been that big, but it would have been nice to have some outdoor access/space during this pandemic. If I had access now, I would have been up there sitting and reading and my kids could have had a place to run around. Just to be outside without a mask would have been wonderful. We are only two floors down so we could also have dinner up there. I notice some of the buildings around us have covered picnic tables on their roof. One building two blocks up just did their large roof over and they created a netted play space for kids and put up a very large screen and show movies up there every Thursday night in the summer. Instead, in our building only one person gets the whole roof to themselves.” —Andia, Upper East Side

“In a perfect (and fancy and rich) world, I wish I had private roof space that was sunny and spacious—basically a ‘yard.’ Barring the kind of income that could afford me that, I wish I at least had a sunny balcony. Just to be able to be outside or to keep a door open to fresh air and the feeling of indoor/outdoor life would make a world of difference to me." —Beth, Carnegie Hill

“A balcony is key during lockdown! Like the ones at the Cherokee, built in the 1910s to house working-class families with one or more TB-infected members. I’d give my left leg for a balcony right now. For one thing, I recall at the beginning of the lockdown viewing videos out of Spain, Italy, and elsewhere of neighbors standing on their balconies to safely socialize with neighbors. And remember the videos of neighbors playing music together from their balconies? Just so heartwarming, and such an ingenious way to come together at a difficult time to lift each other’s spirits. At 7 p.m. when we clap for our heroes, it would be so nice to be able to bang a pot on a balcony instead of just standing by a window.” —Lara, Yorkville

“I wish we had a rooftop garden with veggies and flowers. It would be nice to grow our own food and be cheered up by seeing beautiful flowers. The pandemic has made so many of us feel we’ve lost so much, so it would be uplifting to see something grow and flourish. We do have a little garden grown by one of my wonderful neighbors, but I live on the sixth floor and it's a—gasp—walkup. I only venture out as I need to." —Denise, Yorkville

“While we do have a fire escape where I put a camping mat, but it’s very uncomfortable. I can’t stretch my legs without hanging them off the sides unless I lay lengthwise but then my hips just barely fit between the steps and brick wall. I wish I had a better private outdoor space that is more expansive and safer. I wish that for my neighbors too because they have taken to grilling on the sidewalk about 10 feet from my window! Having neighbors not in love with shooting off fireworks would also help ease tensions during this pandemic.” —Jesse, Crown Heights

Longing for quiet neighbors

“My fantasy would be to change my neighbors. Not only have they had house parties every week since the quarantine began, but they leave their full trash bags outside their apartment, right in front of our door. [One neighbor] is an aspiring rapper. He practices in the bathroom every night at around 1 a.m., and we can hear it in bed. They also just put a basketball hoop in their apartment, and I can literally feel their kid dribbling the ball through the floor. I feel sorry for the people who live beneath them. Complaints have been filed with the management company, but there’s a fat chance of that leading to resolution. They don’t even respond.” —Daniel, Washington Heights

“As if being stuck inside, working from home, and fearing a devastating disease isn’t bad enough, my neighbors and building management have added insult to injury. I wish they could defer elective work by apartment owners right now. It causes significant noise and disrupts working from home for tenants.” —Anonymous, Upper East Side

“I am a podcaster who would normally do interviews with guests in their homes but have switched to remote interviews during the pandemic. I wish my apartment was quieter! I have reverted to recording episodes in my closet surrounded by blankets and coats in the summer heat to try and dampen the sirens and other general city noises. Don’t even get me started on the fireworks! So if I could change anything it would be double-insulated soundproofed windows. That would even help with the heat too!” —Niki, Lenox Hill

Coveting space, fresh air, natural light, and security

“Our building owns a large, vacant retail space on the street level. With everyone working from home I wish there was a way that we could safely use that space for the residents to use as offices.” —Tom, West Village

“I live with my husband as well as two roommates in a four-bedroom apartment and stayed in NYC during the entirety of the pandemic. If I could change anything about our current apartment, it would be having more windows with natural sunlight. During the peak of the pandemic we stayed home and didn’t go outside at all. Our home office (we are freelancers) and bedroom are in the basement level of the apartment with only two small windows close to the ceiling that bring in the smallest amount of light from the sidewalk. The first floor of our apartment is where the common areas are as well as our roommates’ bedrooms. Because there are buildings and a subway station across the street, only our kitchen window gets natural light for a few hours a day. Living through this we realized we missed sunlight and started taking Vitamin D supplements and even bought a light therapy lamp.” —Megan, Park Slope

“A security camera in my building's lobby is on the top of my wish list now to help cut down on the ‘epidemic’ of package thefts from our mailroom. It seems the pandemic has made our building more vulnerable since we receive many more packages now. Sometimes the tenants who have ordered online are not here when the packages are delivered, so they sit around for a while. Last week a man was caught trying to break in the front door.” —Wendy, Upper East Side

“I got a leak in my bathroom at the start of the pandemic. Obviously during the height of the lockdown, it was hard to get anyone willing to come inside the apartment to fix this. But now things seem to be opening more and still my management company says they say that they can’t find plumbers that want to do the work inside someone’s apartment. I find this hard to believe because people have been out of work for a longtime and probably need the income. I truly believe my landlord just doesn’t want to pay the new fees that plumbers are charging because they have to go into people’s apartments and have [new requirements] for social distancing.” —Debbie, Yorkville

“First, there is no ventilation in the hallways. That's scary. Especially because there is not one sign about mask wearing or social distancing in our building and even the super and porter rarely wear masks. Also, there is scaffolding [underneath which] people stand out front smoking weed and drinking. One guy who owns an apartment here lets a select few hang out in the lobby and even let a couple of homeless people sleep in our gym. No one wears masks. I would want a doorman, security and a better management company.” —Janine, Downtown Brooklyn

Looking for love

“Dating during the pandemic is challenging—online dates are just not the same—so a loving husband would be tops on my apartment wish list!” —Terry, Seaport

“While I have the companionship of my two, loving dogs, my living situation during this pandemic would be much improved if I had a Covid-free, hot guy in my apartment!” —Claudia, Chelsea



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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