While we raise an eyebrow at that old saw about how it’s accepted New York etiquette to ask absolutely everyone you encounter what they pay in rent—sometimes that’s still super inappropriate!—we know for a fact that no matter who you’re talking to or how much of a lull you’re at in a conversation, you can always, always, always, bond with people over apartment (and roommate) horror stories. People are as greedy as they are unhinged, and there’s something particular about New York real estate that encourages humanity’s worst qualities to run rampant. No one comes out unscathed. You know, I thought my tussle with a roommate who illegally extended a lease in my name and tried to steal my security deposit was an all-time cautionary tale (we haven’t spoken in three years), until a friend was slashed in the face by an intruder after his landlord refused to put basic locks on his ground-floor apartment in Bushwick. It’s real bad out there.
Which, um, is actually a testament to all the other good stuff that keeps us all from leaving, right? Sure. Anyway, in the spirit of commiseration (and schadenfreude), we polled acquaintances, colleagues, and the internet for the best of their worst. Hell is other people, and your landlord.
Co-founder, Mellow Pages Bushwick
My own apartment is like a shoddily insulated shed attached to the original building. The heat either works too well (ground floor problems) or there is no heat, and I can actually hear wind coming in under the storm door which leads out to the backyard. But my “favorite” part about my apartment is that directly outside the storm door there’s one step down and then a tiny drain with medium sized holes. For the first two years living there it was the only drain in the whole backyard. With three trees along the fence separating us from our neighbors, anytime rain came, it meant leaves, dirt, branches, cigarette butts, plastic bags, and anything else unmoored would come floating fast toward and then ultimately clogging the miniscule holes in the drain. And when that drain got clogged, it didn’t take long for the “one step down” recess below my leaky door to fill. I remember during Hurricane Irene, I was up every hour to clean out the drain. It was still muggy then so I think I wore my rain slicker and my boxers, no shoes. I slept in fits for fifty minute intervals curled on my bed between whatever I couldn’t pick up off the ground and pile on my dresser. By Hurricane Sandy, I had learned my lesson and built a series of small brick levees lined from my shed’s outer wall to the adjacent church’s leading downhill to a little drainage box made of more bricks and a window screen above that little drain that never could. It almost works.
Once I accidentally stood in front of a crack house before walking up the block to see an apartment I was trying to rent, and when I came out, three undercover cops zip-tied me, searched my backpack, and made fun of my Discman, because it was 2010.
Associate Editor, Northside Media Group Murray Hill
Right after college, I sublet a room from a guy who said he wasn’t allowed to sublet, but that he’d do me a favor and let me take the room. So I moved in, and the landlord showed up to do renovations there the first day I arrived. For the four months of my internship I was basically hiding out while he worked. I’d have to look around the corner to see if he was there and sneak in. I’d been paying the actual tenant directly, but at some point I got a bill sent to the apartment for the real amount, and it turned out the dude “doing me a favor” had been charging me twice the actual rent. A week before I moved out, there was a note on my door that said ‘I know you’re not the real tenant, but please call me.’ I ignored it and called the guy I was subletting from. It was the first time I’ve ever yelled on the phone! I told him the rent he’d charged me was illegal (which it was), and his response was, “My dad’s a lawyer.” I moved out a week later.
Account Manager Bed-Stuy
After not having heat or hot water for four months, I got evicted from my Bed-Stuy apartment when the landlord lost the building. When they finally did construction on Nostrand and Putnam, the city found out that my landlord was stealing natural gas, via a sketchy pipeline, from my neighbors for the past six years. The level of gas was apparently toxic, and the old lady downstairs got sent to the hospital.
Editorial Fellow, Northside Media Group Bushwick
When looking for an apartment, make sure you don’t live next door to an empty lot. Why not? Well, because all empty lots eventually become apartments, which means construction. For the past year, they’ve been building a new four-story apartment building next door and between the construction sounds and the loss of my two west-facing windows, it’s been torture. One night it was very windy and a door on the construction site kept on slamming loudly. I ended up climbing out one of my windows (before they boarded it up) and onto the construction site. There’s a pitbull that also lives on this construction site so I called out for him before going down a dark stairway and locking the offending door. I wouldn’t have made it back into my apartment if not for a couple of layers of brick wall they’d already built.
I’ve lived in my apartment for almost two years and have never met or directly spoken to my landlord. Instead, I deal with two mostly useless, easily confused secretaries my roommates and I refer to collectively as “Kristashley.” Shortly after moving in, I called Kristashley to ask about reinforcing our front door’s Dear Diary-style lock.
“We don’t cover that,” she snarled. “And by the way, we’ve gotten a lot of complaints about you girls smoking pot and playing loud dance music.”
That was definitely not us.
I relayed the story to my roommate and she asked, “Do you think she means Fleetwood Mac? And do you think she could actually help us find pot? I don’t know anyone in Greenpoint.”
I had a cokehead closet case roommate for a month and a half who always talked about how the neighborhood junkie wanted to come up to use the bathroom and give him a BJ. Fortunately, he never invited him up.
Managing Editor, Northside Media Group East Village
The first apartment that I lived in on my own was located directly above the home of an octogenarian woman who just so happened to have about 20 cats. The smell of cat urine permeated all the common areas of the building (well, not the roof, still though!), but luckily couldn’t be sensed from inside my apartment, unless I opened a window. So, you know, I just never did! It got stuffy, but stuffy is always preferable to cat piss. Always.
But it wasn’t the cat-lady that made this apartment so terrible. No, credit for making this apartment truly horrible went to my one-name neighbor Rossellino, who was the owner of two ferrets which he paraded around the neighborhood on leashes, guaranteeing a wide-berth for him and his rodents because ferrets are related to skunks and so they fuckingstink. Unfortunately, though, Rossellino did not keep the ferrets on leashes while in the building, which meant that I—not infrequently—would have to kick a hissing, biting weasel-y thing off my doorstep when I came home late at night. And still!
All of this would have been tolerable (sort of, I guess I used to have really low standards of tolerability), if Rossellino hadn’t broken the first rule of being a good neighbor in New York City, namely, never directly address what your fellow apartment dwellers are doing in the privacy of their own homes. And Rossellino broke this code in the worst possible way, by reaching across the air shaft to knock on my window late one night so that he could then ask me if I was “ok” because he’d heard “strange noises coming from my bedroom.” He asked me this while holding both his snarling ferrets in his arms. He was also shirtless.
He disappeared from the window pretty quickly once I started screaming at him, and he never bothered me again. But it was still pretty bad. Unrelated to that incident, I moved out not long after and so only saw Rossellino once more, years later. He was sans ferrets and appeared to be directing Danny Aiello in some kind of movie, but I didn’t really try to find out what that was all about. In short, I fucking hate ferrets.
REDDIT user icanhe Greenpoint
I lived in a 2-bedroom on India between Franklin & Manhattan (Greenpoint), the building was bought by a new owner 2 months before our lease was up. It took 5 months to get our security deposit back after we moved out, the new owner was going to take out $600 (of the $2800 he owed us) due to 5 nail-holes in the walls where pictures had been hung, saying they needed to be patched and the entire apartment would need repainting. After reading up on everything (as well as emailing, calling & texting the asshole owner every day for the 5 months), I found out he hadn’t kept the security deposits in a bank (which is required by law in buildings with 6 or more units); after I inquired about the banking information, he ended up giving the full amount back.
Co-founder, Northside Media Group Brooklyn Heights
My roommate once hung up a naked photo of his girlfriend, and then she moved in a month later—the photo stayed up.
Design Director, Northside Media Group Williamsburg
One dude used to store dirty tissues in the fridge, and another girl I lived with used to leave half-eaten sandwiches (using my bread… and peanut butter… and bananas) on the toilet a couple times a month. I guess I’ve been relatively lucky.
Account Manager, Northside Media Group Park Slope
The former owner of my building passed away in January 2012 before I moved in and a realtor named Lynn became the overseer of the estate, and was supposed to sell the property. It took a solid two years. In the meantime, my old roommate was convinced that she found bedbugs in her room and demanded that Lynn take care of the problem, which she didn’t. So my roommate took matters into her own hands and plastered the building (with Post-It notes, mind you) about the issue, saying that we had bedbugs and management wasn’t doing anything, and people should get in touch with Lynn to demand she take action. And they did.
Lynn hired the original owner’s nephew to take care of it, and he hired a no-name company in New Jersey (the email address was something like ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’) to come and “exterminate” the bed bugs. They sprayed something awful, left all the windows open, and called it a day. I had nowhere to go the apartment was smelled of something toxic, and though it was winter and our heat was mysteriously shut off (thanks, Lynn) I had to sleep in our apartment in the cold, worrying about bed bugs that were clearly not gone. My roommate had a boyfriend who lived in Fort Greene…so only one of us had the pleasure of enduring those nights while we waited to see if the exterminator had done the job or not.
They had not. So my roommate called Lynn again once she discovered she had more bites and demanded that they bring in a real exterminator. They didn’t, they brought in the same faux-exterminator, but they at least did all the units and used a different chemical that wasn’t so horrible smelling, and we didn’t get any more bites.
A few months later, both my roommate and I get a “three-days-notice” to move out, claiming that we hadn’t paid rent for over eight months, essentially as revenge for all the demands we made about the bed bugs. We both produced rent check stubs for the months in question and nothing ever came of the eviction. The bedbugs went away, my roommate moved out, they’ve finally sold the building. The new owner isn’t ideal, but I won’t pass too harsh a judgement until I see how they pass their first critter test (which, hopefully, they never have to take).
REDDIT user DSP Germ
We discovered a mouse was living in our oven only after turning it on.
Advertising and Sponsorship Coordinator, Northside Media Group Williamsburg
My old roommate got fired the week he moved in, and had to pay rent with the security deposit. Eventually he got a job at a restaurant in the Meatpacking District, and within the month, Sandy hit, destroyed the place, and he was out of a job again. After three months of not paying rent, I kicked him out. We corresponded for a while, but of course he never paid me back. I throw out his mail every time it comes. Not long after, my other roommate moved in her boyfriend, who was about 40, and left syringes in the bathroom all the time.