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Lewyn Addresses America

A little politics, a little urbanism- I also blog 100 percent on urbanism at and

In 2004, I taught a summer session at Cardozo Law School in NYC.  Below is an account I wrote of my housing adventures, which I dug up from a now-extinct blog: 

I visited 18 places, made 6 offers, and spent about two months on and off looking. My original plan was to find a doorman building for under $1000. Needless to say I got neither (though since I am staying for only a month I can afford more than I thought anyhow, and besides it is pretty close to 1000- basically 1000 plus utilities). Here’s the chronology:
Mid May: Make first visit; initially was planning to stay from June 1 to mid August.
Visited one place on Wall St (45 Wall) that I really liked, and a few hours later emailed my first offer. (I had been told that they were not sure whether they actually needed a roommate yet, as one roommate’s summer plans were unclear). That night my offer was rejected because the roommate in question decided to come to NYC in June instead of September, so they really did not need another one after all. The other places (in Ft Greene, Astoria and Weehawken) I was underwhelmed by- all lacked a/c (or there was a/c in a living room that was not close enough to cool the bedroom). Lesson learned (lesson #1): ask about a/c before you visit a place if you insist on that.
After that weekend, it occurs to me that I may not need a place in June after all because I would only be in NYC for 8 or 10 days in June (could stay with friends for most of it). So what I decide to do is limit myself to day trips or places that looked real good.
A bit later in May- Visit a place in West New York (near Weehawken, a inner ring suburb with low crime rate and beautiful view of Manhattan skyline) which turned out to be awful. I didn’t realize that going a few blocks inland is the difference between good and not so good areas. Lesson #2 learned: In Jersey stay near the water, because just as in NYC a few blocks can make a huge difference.
A bit later still in May-! Visit another place in Weehawken (doorman loft bldg, on south side of city towards Hoboken) that I adore. Unfortunately the roommate who is showing the place is not the roommate who is making the business arrangements; the latter is off in Alabama doing summer theatre. A couple of hours after my visit, I begin negotiations with an email, stating that I want the place but need to know whether it was available till the 15th (since the roommate showing the place did not know of this fact). I go home to wait for a reply, and call the Ala. roommate telling him to read my email. Two days later, I get an email from the latter saying he rented the apartment to someone who had looked at the place earlier (and who presumably had emailed him roughly simultaneously). (PS I do not criticize Ala. roommate; it sounds like he did exactly what I would have done in his place).
So I count this as rejected offer #2.
first couple of days in June- Now semester is seriously beginning. I visit a couple of places – one in Ditmas Park (a part of Brooklyn with beautiful single family Victorian homes and seriously decrepit apt bldgs) and one in Upper West Side. Ditmas Park place is tempting on paper- apt all to myself w/security guard in front, all for only 750 or something like that. Downsides: lessor wants it rented all the way till end of August (which reduces my fiscal benefit) and no a/c in apt. I walk through the neighborhood at night, get VERY mixed vibes especially as I approach nearest subway stop (Newkirk on B line I think). I decide to get up VERY early next morning, visit second nearest subway line (Foster on F line) and walk through. Foster area seems much nicer than Newkirk and as I approach apt am seriously thinking of taking it. Then I talk to someone walking her dog outside building, and pepper her with questions. She has almost nothing positive to say about the building or its management or the neighborhood- drug deals go on near Newkirk, some of the apartment house s near the one I was interested in are full of scuzzy people, and worst of all, the management is hostile to sublessees. I realize that this woman has saved me from a terrible fate and thank her. That night I visit a place on the Upper West Side- doorman building but not in great shape, and I would have to have a/c-less room and limited kitchen privileges, because a 1 BR has been cut up into one room with the kitchen and dining room (where my seventysomething Russian roomie would live) and I get the bedroom. I am glad to leave. Lesson learned: even in doorman buildings you cannot count on air conditioning. Lesson learned #2: roommates are better situations in some ways than pure sublease. Why? (1) landlord might hate sublessees, and use as excuse to throw out everyone and charge higher rent; (2) (and this isn’t really related to Ditmas Park thing) it generally occurred to me that if a pipe bursts you want someone who can fight for you with the landlord,! since the landlord is not going to be all that interested in doing much for a sublessee who will only be there for a month.
June 8-9: My original plan is to visit a place on the 8th (Tue.) in Riverdale that looks wonderful on paper, then take it if I see no negatives. But I learn at last minute that roommate has to work from 8 AM to 10 PM that day; she says let’s talk Wed. So I make other arrangements- see places in Soho (nice but only till 8-1, and sublessor’s attitude towards pets seemed quite grudging), Union City (nasty nasty nasty), and finally a place in Jersey City (the Newport complex) that I really like. Everything seemed wonderful- roommate very nice, Newport very nice. But Riverdale seemed so tempting – major Jewish area with at least one very interesting and unusual congregation I have read about, while Jersey City very non Jewish by NYC standards (though it still has a couple of congregations- probably fairly Jewish by Atlanta ! standards!) Plus, would be Newport roommate was going away f! or next couple of days so I figured if I waited 24 hours no one else would get Newport place. So what happens on Wed June 9? I spend all day waiting for a phone or email from the Riverdale lady. I never hear anything. I leave phone messages and still never hear anything. (I gather she doesn’t have phone or email access where she works, or maybe she suffered some unfortunate accident, Heaven forbid).
By Wed 9 PM I give up on Riverdale, call Newport person. But her cell is off, so I hear nothing.
So on Thursday morning (June 9) I email . . .
offer #3 to Newport person right before I go to airport for nephew’s bar mitzvah. I figure she hasn’t been in Jersey City since I visited her so how could anyone else have snapped up apt? She emails me back saying that though I am still her first choice she has made other appointments. And on Friday the 10th she emails me saying that a coworker wanted the room, and that (presumably! as a matter of office politics) she could not say no to him. (PS Again, I would have done the same in her place). Lesson learned: If you see a place you like, MAKE AN OFFER IMMEDIATELY (or at least within several hours). DO NOT WAIT A DAY. EVEN FOR ROOMMATE SITUATIONS, EVEN ON THE JERSEY SIDE, COMPETITION IS STIFF.
So then I spend five days in Atlanta (for a nephew’s bar mitzvah), come back the night of the 15th. I only have a couple of days to look because then I am going to Carbondale, Ill. to look for apts THERE for the fall. (Of course, I have no memorable stories about that experience- in a town of 20,000 there are simply not that many choices, especially for people with pets who don’t want ten times as much space as they need).
So all I really have to play with are June 16 (Wed) and 17 (Thurs.) Wed. night I visit a place in Battery Park City which I like. Brimming with confidence, I wave my checkbook at the roommates and make . . .
offer #4. The roommates respond that they have othe r people to talk to and will make no decisions till the weekend; they are in the proverbial catbird seat because it is such a desirable place. Lesson: Even if you make an offer it might not be accepted, because roommates may feel free to take some time to pick the person they like best.
On Thurs. I visit a place on the Upper West Side (OK but doesn’t go all the way through 8-15; also visiting was a waste of time because even though roommate who showed me apt thought pets were OK, he learns otherwise after talking with other roommate). (Also visit place in Long Island City, but they only wanted long term roommates; we had a slight communications breakdown) Then I visit a very nice place (the Pennmark in Midtown) and make
… offer #5. Next morning they accept. So as of June 18, I think all is well – starting around July 4 I have a place.
But it isn’t. The departing Pennmark roommate was closing on a condo, said it would be done! by early July so I would move in long before my Philly lease expired July 20. On June 30 I get email from Pennmark roommate saying there has been a snag; a document needed for closing was not available and the seller needs a couple of weeks to find it. But at this time he still had some hope of closing before the 20th. On July 4 I get email saying whole situation is kaplooey and that I should find other arrangements.
So by this time I am desperate- I only have 16 days before Phila. lease goes poof, and by going through (key source of potential deals) I notice most people not only don’t want a roommate ENDING August 15, many of them want someone STARTING August 15. So between July 4 and July 11 I sent out 125 emails (only 4 of which led to appointments, though 2 or 3 others would have had I not settled on a place). By contrast in May my email to appointment ratio was one out of ten, because a lot more people are willing to rent to someone for two and a half months than for one month. And I am looking at different places: while in May I wanted either doorman buildings or buildings in one or two super safe suburbs, now I just want anything in a relatively nice area. So on July 7-8 I see four places (one in Upper East Side, one in Upper West Side, one in Harlem, one in Stuyvestant Town in far East Village – first two are walkups, only Harlem is doorman building). Instead of making an offer, I ask whether they have additional appointments (subtle code for “are you ready to make a commitment if I am?”. Everyone has additional appointments.
On Friday the 9th I email UES roommate saying essentially “You are my first choice” …
which of course is offer #6. Since she has option of picking someone long term, I make point of saying that in mid August zillions of people will be graduating from law and business schools, so it is not like she has sacrificed her chances of finding long term roommate. I expect to get a rejection email on Sunday or Monday but instead first thing Monday morning she says yes by email, and suggests we speak about an appointment on Tuesday to pay rent checks etc.
We don’t get to speak on phone till Monday at 1, and she says she has to fly out of town at 8:30 (which means at airport at 6) (We had originally thought she would go out of town later in the week). I realize it is now or never for both of us. I run to the train station, take NJ Transit train to NYC (Amtrak would have been faster but it is SO expensive and I think I have plenty of time), do not get into NYC till 5:10. Cabs no good for me because it is rush hour, raining and I don’t have the cash anyhow. So I take subway, planning to go up west side subway line from railroad station (at 33rd and 8, very far west) then crosstown to apartment. But disaster strikes- my subway train turns out to be an express train and at 5:40 I am at 125 st and STILL on the west side. I take train back down to 86 st, take crosstown bus, and get off it ex! actly at 6. Am terrified that I have missed roommate, especially since I call her as soon as I get off bus and don’t get a response. I walk to apartment, thinking terribly gloomy thoughts. At 6:05 or so I get to apartment on 83rd st.
At this point, the story SHOULD say: she was at the door packing luggage in her cab to the airport, and I gave her the check (and she gave me the keys) right as she was about to climb into the cab to the airport. That would be a great story and a fittingly suspenseful end to the whole apartment drama.
But the real story is more boring: her flight was delayed till 11 PM or something, so we had a leisurely visit. I gave her a check, dropped off some clothes, and went home to Philadelphia to do some more packing.

I wound up living in the UES with this woman for the grand total of a month (from mid July to mid August). 

Of course, this story would probably be less thrilling today (in 2018) for a couple of reasons: first, the city is much safer so I would have been less picky about neighborhoods; second, I would have airbnb as a back up option.


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