Property Grunt

Monday, October 23, 2006

Noise, Wiseguys and psycho neighbors: What New Yorkers do for their homes.

In Teri Karush Roger’s latest article, displays the levels of tolerance people have when living in New York. Issues range from noise to homicidal tenants to people who work for “the family”.

Among the stories presented I feel the three below are classic examples of what some New Yorkers go through for housing. The first story is about Pam Fica who had to deal with a psychotic landlord in a share she was living in.

People are more likely to vote with their feet when the solution begins to seem more bothersome than the problem, especially when the problem is the landlord.
Pam Fica learned this the hard way during a two-year tenancy in a town house near Washington Square in Greenwich Village.
Ms. Fica, now 29 and an agent at DJK Residential, thought she had found the perfect share in September 2004: $840 per month for a room in a sprawling four-bedroom apartment at the top of a five-story town house owned by a woman who lived downstairs — and ran the establishment more like a halfway house.
“She had a whiteboard in her apartment where she would write our names and try to jot down our comings and goings,” Ms. Fica said. The landlady, who had lived in the building since the 1940’s, also interrogated nonwhite visitors and disapproved of long-haired tenants, who might clog the plumbing, she said. (Ms. Fica wore her hair up during her initial interview with the landlady and passed inspection by accident.)
Then, there were the mandatory “team meetings” organized every few weeks in the younger women’s living room. The object was to “tear apart every problem, but she would focus on things like dirty dishes in the sink, that we had too many plants and too much furniture, causing damage to the ceiling below our apartment. And whenever we would bring up any problems with the lack of heat”—at times the temperature dropped to 50 degrees in the winter —“or the freezer, she would say, ‘That’s not my problem.’ Anytime you would challenge her on something, she would say, ‘I’m not going to renew your lease.’ ”
Ms. Fica said she shivered it out for two years because of the prime location, good roommates, cheap rent and her own low-maintenance personality.
“I think I lost sight of what normal was,” she said. “My friends started really getting concerned. ‘You don’t even realize how unusual this is,’ they said. ‘You’re being abused.’ The more I thought about it, the more I realized they had a point.

One could argue that Ms. Fica was being stupid and materialistic. But I disagree. Washington Square in Greenwich Village is a prime location especially if you are young. Why do you think NYU moved down there? Rents now in that area are upwards to about $1800-$2000 range and those are the cheap apartments. Ms. Fica was willing to deal with the insanity of this woman for the location and rent. And now that she has moved she has a normal lifestyle she has to use free beer to get her friends to come uptown.

I knew one girl from college who lived with a senior citizen for several years because of the prime location and the cheap rent. For those of you dreaming to live in Manhattan this is an extremely expensive and competitive environment when it comes to housing. So unless you have a trust fund, make at least 100k a year or mommy and daddy are willing to support you then you are going to be encountering similar situations in order to live in a prime location and keep it within you budget. I mean look what happened after Ms. Nica.

(When Ms. Fica left, she and her roommates were responsible for bringing a new candidate/victim for their landlady to vet. Their advertisement on Craigslist asked, “What is your tolerance for a crazy landlady: high, medium or low?” With affordable New York City rentals an endangered species, the ad received hundreds of responses.)

This is one of my favorites.

Ms. Sarasohn of the Corcoran Group described a couple who bought a $6.5 million duplex in an Upper East Side town house. The wife’s misgivings about not having a doorman were partly soothed when she learned that her adjoining neighbor was said to be a high-ranking member of the Mafia, whose presence on the block (and black car parked out front) were thought to ensure the area’s safety.
Her clients lived there for two years, Ms. Sarasohn said, but the wife “gradually started to really not like not having a doorman because she traveled a lot and needed luggage help, and she didn’t like it when the elevator broke, and it needed work. But the straw that finally broke for them was when they were hosting an Oscar party in the beautiful wood-paneled library and the flat-screen TV wasn’t working.”
The next day, Ms. Sarasohn said, a repairman said the TV was working fine; the only possible problem could be a wiretap on the adjoining neighbor’s lines. The reality of the situation began to sink in, and her clients decided to move that night. They eventually bought a prewar co-op in a doorman building.

Only in New York City would having an associate who works for “the family” be considered a benefit. Unfortunately, having an associate in "the family” as aneighbor only works in certain living situations. It definitely does not work if they are your next door neighbor in your building. The lack of a doorman and a wiretap messing up your tivo is the least of your problems. Remember, when “the family” decides to lay off somone they are going to give out more than a pink slip and in the family they do not give out golden parachutes, they are more likely to give out golden cement shoes. So the last place you want to be is in the crossfire if you neighbor is "called in for a meeting".

Ideally, having a “family associate” as a neighbor works if they live far away from you so not to attract unwanted attention like gunshots but are near enough to deter anyone from committing burglaries or causing any disturbances of the peace like playing loud music. Which is probably why a more suburban setting is ideal since they have their own houses. But do not mistake them as the neighborhood watch. They have their own duties to attend to.

If you live in New York long enough your going to have a story about dealing with a psycho as this poor couple demonstrates.

Reluctant to be chased from their large $3,000-a-month apartment, the couple hung on for nearly three years. They tried to feel compassion for their obviously disturbed neighbor; they tried to persuade the landlord to hire a security guard for the lobby; they tried devising an alternate way to enter and leave the building. Whenever things got out of hand, they called the police, whose sympathetic response boiled down to, “We can’t do anything until she hurts someone

The last straw materialized in the form of a sharpened stick.
On a warm fall afternoon shortly after the couple’s son, Zachary, was born in September 2004, Mr. Kaplan was carrying the baby as he and his wife approached their building, and the disturbed woman saw them coming. “She had a sharpened, jagged stick in her hand,” Mr. Kaplan said, “and she would not move out of way. I said, ‘Excuse me.’ ” The woman replied with an epithet, and Mr. Kaplan responded in kind.
“She pulled this stick and held it up to my neck,” Mr. Kaplan said. “I was terrified. I knew what she was capable of, with a baby there on my chest. Somehow or another, I spun and got past her. She did not move the stick.”

Now I know that some of you will feel that the landlord fell short of their responsibilities in terms of protecting the tenants but you have to understand the landlord can only do so much especially if the units are rent stabilized. Unless the tenant is delinquent in rent or there is evidence that the tenant committed an egregious act against the building and its tenants only at that point will landlord have the green light to take action against the tenant in question.
And even if they decide to go ahead to evict the tenant, it is a long and costly process leading to my next point. You will notice the overall theme in this article is that the solution that was widely used was simply to retreat and find another place to live. Outsiders may deem this uncharacteristic of New Yorkers in contrast to their rough non-nonsense attitude. But when you live in this city long enough you learn that sometimes discretion in the face of valor is probably your best option. It might seem passive aggressive but this a city that can tear a person apart in a day. Sometimes it is best to retreat.

I have been in situations where I have considered to move and fortunately all it took was calls to 311 and a strong sense of patience on my part to rectify the situation. Eventually my patience will wear out and the rent I am paying will no longer justify my living here. Until then I better save up.