As someone who has rented in New York City for decades, I have always felt that an apartment will tell you when it is time to move, a phenomenon I recently discussed on the NYC-lifestyle podcast Gossipnista.
But even though I have moved seven times in NYC, I have never just upped and left on a whim. Moving in NYC is so expensive, time-consuming, and takes a ton of energy. Who would want to deal with the headache of breaking a lease or paying yet another broker’s fee without a really good reason?
So how do you know when it is really time to move? Some signs are very clear: Your rent is going up, you need a shorter commute, or more space for a new partner. Other signs are not so mundane: paranormal activity, hoarders, and Peeping Toms are just a few of the creepier ones I’ve experienced (ok, so the universe sends me some pretty wacky signals to leave a place).
Here are some signs you need to leave an apartment, from the commonplace to the truly bizarre.
The rent is too damn high
Probably the most common reason people in NYC will move is the because of a rent increase at lease renewal time. Landlords of market-rate apartments can raise the rent as high as they think tenants will pay.
I have been relatively lucky in this regard. Most of my NYC apartments so far have been rent stabilized or with small mom-and-pop landlords who were easy to negotiate with, so I have never had to move out because the rent going up, but I did break my lease when I lost my job just after 9/11. When I was offered a place in my friend’s building for half of what I was paying, leaving was a no-brainer.
These days I’m hearing from lots of friends who are telling me they’re in shock over how much their rent is going up. Anyone who moved to NYC during the height of the pandemic likely signed a lease with a low rent, concessions, or incentives can expect to see what market-rate rents actually look like at renewal time. Many will likely leave to downgrade to something they can afford now.
The place is too damn small
I have been fairly lucky when it comes to apartment size. The only time I moved to gain a larger space was when I was getting married.
Because of the pandemic, lots of friends were trapped inside more than usual and felt the need to ditch and move to bigger pastures recently. The pandemic has many New Yorkers working from home, schooling from home, and wanting to pull their hair out at home. People are craving separate work areas and some outdoor space. When you feel the walls closing in on you—it’s time to go.
A new relationship, or the end of one
Sometimes you outgrow an apartment and sometimes it outgrows you. If you are having a child, a sixth-floor walkup is simply not possible when you have to schlep a stroller, baby, and accessories up and down several times a day. Or maybe you’re an empty nester who wants to downsize. Sometimes if a partner leaves or dies and the memories are just too much. That’s when getting a fresh start elsewhere is necessary.
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Unwanted guests and pests
Sometimes a sign from the universe will come in the form of something with more than two legs. Although struggling with vermin is par for the course in NYC, it is easier to run away than try to conquer nature.
I left my Park Slope apartment because not only was the restaurant below my apartment being gutted and displacing a massive number of mice and roaches, there was a hoarder who lived next door. She refused to let our building’s super into her unit to fumigate. I could see roaches crawl from under her door onto mine. When I woke up with a roach crawling on the wall next to my loft bed it was too much. I was out the following week.
In my most previous Hell’s Kitchen apartment, I had to get rid of bed bugs. Six months later when another neighbor several floors up got them, I knew it was time to run before they headed down to me yet again. I simply could not go through that again.
NYC buildings are required to have a smoking policy, and many have gone smoke-free as a result, but some buildings do little to enforce the policy. For others, the problem is cannabis. New Yorkers can possess up to three ounces of cannabis and smoking marijuana in your apartment is like smoking cigarettes—is a legal activity, unless a building says it is off limits. Judging from the complaints received by Brick Underground, it’s a very hot and unresolved topic—many say they’re not necessarily opposed to it—they just don’t want the smell wafting into their own unit.
On a related topic: Lots of New Yorkers like to use fire pits in their backyards or on their terraces, but they are illegal. For some, smoke from these fires can cause intense headaches and aggravated asthma. Not pleasant to live with at all.
It’s too damn noisy
When I lived in Yorkville, my apartment was across the street from a noisy bar popular with the bridge and tunnel crowd. Every weekend, party buses parked under my window and at least once a weekend the cops would be called because of a fight in the middle of the avenue.
In my next apartment, I lived above another bar and while this one was much smaller, it was worse: Bar patrons would stand and chat while smoking under my window. It wasn’t enough for me to move, but it was a huge irritant.
For a friend of mine, noise was the last straw. He had a downstairs neighbor with a dog that barked incessantly. All building management did was issue some warnings about the noise, and the neighbors came to blows and the cops were called—this happened several times. My friend ended up breaking his lease and moving.
Other friends have moved because of constant construction noise, squeaky elevators, noisy bars and restaurants, and crying babies (not their own).
I left my great Upper East Side apartment several years ago because there was a Peeping Tom in the building across from mine. When he called me on Christmas morning at 6:30 a.m. to tell me he was watching me I shut my shades and went back to bed, thinking it a prank. When I went out later to walk my dog and he called my cell phone describing what I was wearing, I knew it was time to leave. Within a few weeks I packed and moved crosstown.
That wasn’t the only problem with that building. I had been dealing with drug-addicted squatter who got into an empty apartment and refused to leave for weeks. He even tried to enter my apartment. The cops were not very useful and thankfully my landlord him money to leave just as I was about to move out. Anything that threatens your safety = good sign to move.
Fungi is no fun
Recently a neighbor in my building had a mold problem in her apartment. Her two cats died, which she attributed to the mold. She finally moved and seems much happier. Another friend left the city to rent a house that turned out to be infested with black mold. She had to get rid of most of her stuff, dry clean or wash everything very carefully. Needless to say—she moved out. Anything that threatens your health = good sign to move.
Not a happy ending
I once lived in a building that the New York Post called “Hooker Haven.” There was a large four-bedroom apartment across the hall from me that had lots of visitors. Strange men would ring my doorbell at odd hours. One night, while I was explaining to one “gentleman” that I was in #2B, not #2G and pointing him across the hall, my puppy ran into the other apartment. I got a look inside the place and it was apparent the ladies inside were running a business.
They were eventually forced out but I opted to leave anyway because I was getting divorced and didn’t want to live in that building alone.
Give up the ghost
With so many old buildings, NYC apartments have a lot of history (in fact Manhattan has a quarter of the oldest large rental buildings in the U.S.). There are likely to be many stories about your own apartment that you’ll never know. That can be part of the allure of living in a major city and can also be one of its deterrents.
When things go bump in the night and seem to have otherworldly origins, who ya gonna call? Your real estate agent, if you are smart. If weekly saging isn’t enough to dispel negative energy, it’s probably the apartment’s way to telling you to begone!
I found out that years ago, someone died in the apartment I am currently living, but I never had any spooky visitors. But my housekeeper once moved out of her Queens apartment because of a ghost. She and her young daughter saw it and the landlord admitted others tenants saw it too and left. It’s a good reason to go. NYC apartments are just too small to share with a ghost.
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