RENT THAT WAS TOO GOOD TO LAST

by Joyce Cohen, The New York Times
Date Publish: Thursday August 30, 2018

A new landlord drives up the rent, so a Manhattanite decides to move to a place

THE HUNT

Rent That Was Too Good to Last

A new landlord drives up the rent, so a Manhattanite decides to move to a place that doubles her rent, but also nearly doubles her space.

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A $1,000-a-month rent increase was just the incentive Sarah Shaker needed to set off on a search for a new home. CreditCreditKatherine Marks for The New York Times

Sarah Shaker would have been happy to remain indefinitely in her little fourth-floor walk-up in the East Village. Given the location, her friends were incredulous when they learned how low her rent was — $1,475 a month.

That was the price when she found the studio through a friend of a friend six years ago, and it never increased.

Ms. Shaker thought she was paying a stabilized rent. But after the building was sold last year, she discovered that she had been paying a preferential rent — an amount lower than the legal regulated rent — and that upon lease renewal, her landlord could raise the rent to the maximum allowed.

Her neighbors were moving, and their vacant units were being gut renovated. When her new lease arrived last spring, the new owners had raised the rent by nearly $1,000 a month.

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Ms. Shaker, 33, was unwilling to spend that much to remain in her 300 or so quirky square feet. As much as she liked living there, no matter how hard she scrubbed, the ancient bathroom felt grimy. “You got in on the short side of the tub,” she said. “It was super weird. I had to fold the shower curtain in half.”

Her wall space was so limited that she didn’t have room for a regular sofa, which would have blocked the bathroom door. Instead, she had a love seat, along with a table and two chairs.

 

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“My apartment was fine for one girl by herself, but it made me sad that I really couldn’t host friends,” said Ms. Shaker, who is from south of Boston and who graduated from Wagner College on Staten Island.

Knowing that the $1,475 she had been paying “was a make-believe price,” she accepted that she would have to spend more, and set a budget of $3,000 a month. For that, she hoped to get something much bigger than her East Village apartment, with enough space to fit a group of friends. But even with her expanded budget, she knew she might not get a one-bedroom.

It was also important to her to find a place within walking distance of the PATH train, which she takes to commute to Jersey City, where she is the assistant vice president of social media at IT Cosmetics for L’Oréal USA.

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Ideally, she hoped for amenities like a doorman, an elevator and a laundry room, which she had when she first moved to New York and shared an East Village two-bedroom with two others.

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Now that she has an apartment big enough to fit a sofa and a love seat, Ms. Shaker can finally have friends over.CreditKatherine Marks for The New York Times

She contacted Kyle Carscaden, a licensed salesman at Spire Group, whom she knew through friends. “She had realistic expectations,” Mr. Carscaden said. “So much of my job is telling people ‘no.’ I didn’t feel Sarah needed a lot of education on her budget, which was helpful and unusual.”

They focused on the West Village, straying into Chelsea. “The location mattered because I care about my commute, but I also care about my life activities,” Ms. Shaker said. “I have my daily routine,” which includes workouts at her gym in Chelsea.

In Chelsea, Ms. Shaker saw a small studio with a tiny balcony for $2,850. “It gave me hope that there were things in my price range that existed, and it made me feel better about having to move,” she said.

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A studio in the West Village, on Christopher Street, was in a doorman building, but it was over her budget.CreditKatherine Marks for The New York Times

Other studios she saw were also too small — no bigger than her old apartment — even if they were nicely renovated.

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She was eager to see what she could get if she spent a little more, and liked a studio on Christopher Street for $3,350. The building was one of the West Village’s few rental buildings with a doorman. But “it felt early to jump on something out of my price range,” Ms. Shaker said.

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A studio in Chelsea was close to her gym, but it was much too small.CreditKatherine Marks for The New York Times

A Chelsea studio for $2,850 was conveniently near her gym, but it seemed smaller than any of the other apartments she had seen.

“It was so small that I had a moment of panic,” she said. “I didn’t cry on the street, but I thought, ‘Is this right for me?’”

She wondered whether she should return to the East Side, despite the longer commute.

Mr. Carscaden told her of a just-listed one-bedroom on Third Avenue near Union Square for $2,995. “Oh, wow, it was $5 under what I wanted to spend,” she said. “What a deal!”

And it was. The apartment, a junior one-bedroom with a partitioned sleeping area, was nearly 600 square feet and had high ceilings, a dishwasher and three large closets. The bathroom had a normal tub with a sliding shower door.

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