There has been a leak in my bathroom ceiling since January. First, my superintendent duct taped it and called it a day. When the leak persisted a few months later chewing away and leaving behind its brown drool another man came over to caulk and spray paint it. It has dripped here and there since, but nothing strong enough to warrant a useless phone call to my landlord.
Then, at 3 in the morning three weeks ago, a flood the color of urine poured from my vent. The leak was so great that it crawled to my kitchen and living room ceilings. It stopped after 90 minutes, after three ruined towels and 10 destroyed books.
"The guy above you forgot to turn off his bathtub," my super said the next morning, as was his response to all three incidents. And then his other usual reply: "Someone will be in touch to fix it."
To my luck, the tenant living exactly one apartment over from mine was moving out. We have the same size apartments, except his is a studio. I called management to see if I could switch.
"I'm done dealing with this leak," I said, trying not to unleash my anger (I don't want to end up homeless).
They thought about it for a week, finally acknowledged that I was a respectful and punctual tenant, and then said I could move. The only catch: rent would be an extra $150 per month.
I currently live alone in a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side in "Yorkville." My rent isn't as expensive as the rest of the island even with the extra amount I'd still be paying less than half of the average monthly rent for New Yorkers: $3,459 (a 3 percent jump compared to last year, according to Citi Habitats). But it's still a lot of money for a freelance writer with college loans.
My brimming irritation boiled over.
After letting me semi-politely vent, Management replied calmly.
"This is a business Sarah, and this is Manhattan," he said. "We're not here to make you a home."
I'm used to this kind of do-or-die capriciousness. Since I'm not willing to move back into a borough, and because it's too expensive to move anywhere else in Manhattan, I bit the bullet and said, "Fine."
"Great," he said. "Be out by tomorrow night."
It's no surprise that space is sparse here. People rent back yards for $100 an hour (wedged between two walls in the East Village on Ludlow Street, the "Timeshare Backyard" is a verdant refuge of open land, stocked with all kinds of backyard essentials: charcoal grill, plastic coolers, lounge chairs and hula hoops ...) or visit crowded parks if they're nostalgic for greenery.
Similarly, if people want to make a home here, they need to live with others or be willing to pay for their own space. That said, the current craziness of New York rent is particularly high right now.
The last time rents shot up this much, they were tied to a strong economy, low unemployment and booming business on Wall Street. But Manhattan rental prices seem to be divorced from the larger economic picture at the moment.
There is evidence that rising rents are driving prospective renters into the sales market. "Now's the time to buy!" I hear a lot of people say. But for me, and many others, buying a home here is not an option.
While sky-high rents hit new heights in July, the vacancy rate widened for the second month in a row, meaning rents may have reached their tipping point (the vacancy rate reached 1.2 percent, up from 1.01 percent in June and up from 0.86 percent last July). With substantially more inventory on the market in what is usually a very busy rental month, I'm hoping that lower rents might be around the corner. But who knows
After writing out a hefty check to my landlord, I spent Thursday lugging my stuff ten feet away. Sometimes when I feel myself leaning toward the miserable cynicism Manhattan tends to worm out of people, I repeat something good in my head to remind myself why I love living here.
I thought: I love NY for its culture and people. I love it for its ruthlessness, albeit emotionally and financially expensive at times. I love it for its nooks and crannies of beauty and kindness. Mostly, I love NY because if I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.