Friday, February 2, 2018

I Am a Rent-Stabilized Tenant

East Village resident Susan Schiffman has been photographing the apartments of rent-stabilized tenants living in the East Village for her Instagram account, I Am a Rent Stabilized Tenant. She will share some of the photos here for this ongoing EVG feature.

Photos and text by Susan Schiffman

Tenant: Alison, since 1981

Why did you move to the East Village?

I moved to the East Village because I was turning 21 and my flying rights as the child of an airline pilot were about to run out. I was living in Berkeley, Calif. I had to make a decision. I was born and raised primarily on the East Coast. When I was 18 or 19 I moved to California because my parents and sister were living there. I went with some schoolmates and lived there for about two-and-a-half years. It drove me crazy. I love California. The Bay Area is beautiful, but there are no seasons. I really like it when everything dies and comes back to life.

I was living across the street from a University of California at Berkeley garden and nothing ever died. It was green all the time. People said, “Yeah, it’s winter, it’s raining, you can tell.” Yeah, OK, but it’s still super green. That made me nutty. I was involved here with someone who lived on First Street between First Avenue and Second Avenue. I moved here on my 21st birthday in 1981. At the time, if you were the child of a pilot, you could fly for just the tax. It cost like $8 to fly from California to New York. You would fly standby but you would end up in first class a lot.

How did you find your apartment?

I was staying in Brooklyn where I lived with another friend from school who grew up with the guy I was fooling around with on First Street. He got a call one day, and I answered the phone. It was the woman who was living in this apartment. She said “I heard Sam is looking for a place to live.” I said, “no, he’s not, but I am.” And she said, “well, come on over.”

I had been looking around. You would go into a vacant apartment with a pack of people and there would be this huge scrum about who was going to fill out the paperwork and hand over a check. I came here and talked to her and she said “OK, it’s yours.” You just have to come up with key money. It was something like $500. She wasn’t the landlord. She was the tenant of this apartment. She said we’ll meet with the landlord. We met with him, here in the apartment. We sat at a table, while he dictated the lease. She was a calligrapher. She hand wrote the lease. It was beautiful! I still have a copy of it somewhere. It was crazy. It was a one-page lease. He said things like, “there’s no dancing on the roof in high heels, because you’ll break the roof. No men.” He was old-fashioned.

He was born and raised in the building. His name was Lucio. I signed the lease. I moved in in April. The guy on First Street committed suicide a few months later because he was a paranoid schizophrenic. It was really sad. I did not look for another apartment. It did not occur to me to look for another apartment, ever, until a few years later. Things started changing in the neighborhood.

It became apparent to me and the other current unrenovated apartment dweller in the building, that we should get leases — real leases. There are only two unrenovated apartments in the building now. Because the leases we had, the handwritten leases, were not exactly official. We tried to organize the building to get everyone to be involved. Nobody wanted to go to court to get leases. They were all longterm tenants ... and didn’t want to rock the boat with Lucio. I can appreciate that. We took him to court and got leases. My rent did not go up between 1981 and 1986. Lucio never raised the rent.

In 1986, everyone in the building got rent-stabilized leases. A number of years later, Lucio died. He sold the building right before he died to landlord #2. He came in and started pushing people out. He did everything by the book. He did it legally. The guy who lived next door was a musician who was on the road six months out of the year. By law you have to be in your apartment six months of the year, six months and a day and you’re out.

He twinned that apartment. He made a single apartment into two apartments. That was the first twinned apartment in the building. He put in skylights. He put in a bell and buzzer. Pretty much for 15-20 years I threw the key off the roof. There’s a leak in the roof that has always been there. The roof has been re-tarred a number of times but the leak has always been there.

At some point the roof started sagging ominously and the hole got bigger. I had buckets specifically for the rain. With the help of GOLES [Good Old Lower East Side, a tenants organization] I finally I got the Department of Buildings in here. They made the landlord fix it. The whole apartment is sagging toward the middle of the building. My bed is up on bricks so it’s level. The building is super slanty. Somebody was staying here who wanted to stretch some canvasses and she said she couldn’t find one right angle.

What do you love about your apartment?

I love that it gets so much light. It used to get more before they built the new building for the Theater for the New City. It was the first tall building in the neighborhood and I saw it go up from my window. I like this apartment because it’s my home and I grew up here.

I try to imagine living other places. I can’t really imagine it. I have a real push-pull with this neighborhood. Me and the other woman who lives here who got the leases with me, we’re the two oldest tenants in the building. I’m 57 and she’s around the same age. Everybody else in this building is in their 20s and 30s. They’re in and out in a year or two. I don’t know most of the tenants in this building. Landlord #2 tried to buy me out. He offered me $10,000. Then Landlord #3 offered to buy me out, also for $10,000. As far as I’m concerned, I have to walk away with $500,000, minimum. I know two people from Ninth Street who got $300,000 from Icon Realty.

My sister is always trying to get me to move up the river. She thinks I hate it here. I don’t hate it, but it’s hard to see everything you loved in the area disappear. I’m still miffed by the renovation at the Veselka, when they did away with the backroom. I loved the screen door in there.

If you're interested in inviting Susan in to photograph your apartment for an upcoming post, then you may contact her via this email.


Anonymous said...

beautiful place, and nice story!

FBare said...

I too have a resentment about Veselka. I miss the backroom. Great story,beautiful space.

Cosmo said...

I understand the push-pull relationship. Friends hear me complaining and suggest I move, bu they just don't get that the complaining is because the place I love is being destroyed. The apartment in this interview is obviously a home, something 1-2 years in a brand new building is not.

Anonymous said...

Poetic, beautiful and full of life.

Isolde said...

Any recommendations for an affordable tenant lawyer? Our landlord is trying to push us out of our East Village rent-stabilized apartment. We have contacted one lawyer but he charges $450/ hr. (!!!)

Anonymous said...

A, that backroom at Velselka, where many an insurection -- Ukrainian and otherwise -- were planned. That was the first step at taming the nabe. The second was when Velselka got rid of Ukrainian-language newspapers.

Anonymous said...

She sounds like a lovely woman. The clutter of this space would drive me nuts though.

Puma Perl said...

I had an apartment around the corner on 10th Street that looked exactly like this one. I also remember when TFC was build, it was formerly a Dept. of Sanitation building. Strangely, I think I knew the guy from 1st Street. Named Paul.

Anonymous said...

While the Ukrainian language papers looked cool, no one was buying them, so why keep them?

Mickey Paul said...

Great article. I met a woman today from 10th A/B who told me about this new series of articles. I showed her that she can look up the 1940 Federal census report to see who lived in her apartment and how much the rent was.

Anonymous said...

great story and beautiful place! also to the commenter above, if a lovely full bookshelf and mementos collected over an interesting life count as clutter, sign me up!:)

Scuba Diva said...

The Bay Area is beautiful, but there are no seasons.

There are two: the foggy season, and the rainy season.

FBare said:

I too have a resentment about Veselka. I miss the backroom.

Yeah; remember the bank of payphones? People would hang out there all day and use that as their office; then came the beginning of the end when Miriam Friedlander decreed that payphones shouldn't be able to receive incoming calls.

Also, though: Veselka had to share a water closet with Dinosaur Hill. Think of it: one tiny bathroom for a big, 24-hour restaurant (men and women) and the shopkeepers of a toy store. Where are they going to go when someone's locked in there and taking their time—Starbucks?

IzF said...

When I got evicted from my rent stabilized apt 5 years ago I used a GREAT attorney name Margaret Sandercock. She is fair and honest.

"I’m still miffed by the renovation at the Veselka, when they did away with the backroom. I loved the screen door in there." ME TOO..... (I also miss the Kiev.)

Anonymous said...

I’m a native New Yorker, born in St. Vincent’s, (now expensive condos I believe)
My parents found our (larger) Apt in West Village when my mom was in the laundry room in basement of the bldg & saw a body being wheeled out for the Mortuary. She got on the phone... we got a big 2BR with south west views of WTC, Palisades Park, & Statue of Liberty. It was pre-war, Bing & Bing Bldg. my father still lives there & my guess, it’s eorth a few million now! He had rent control forever it seemed, but when it switched to rent stabilised he did the math & figured out he had better buy it. Wise choice. The views alone are priceless. I also lived in East Village, a number of different places actually and I have many stories! The last Apt I was in in that nabe was on 2nd Ave btwn 12 & 13. Across from Mié (long gone) & Little Poland (hopefully still there?) and close to Chow Mein (that was the neon sign above it) Chinese. (Also gone as the owner was tragically killed on his bike delivering food)
We had to move out of that (1BR railroad flat with super thin walls, roaches, rats, mice & plenty of noise) when our rent was raised randomly from 1,750.00 (2006) to 2,300.00
Try as we might, there was nothing we could do about it. I don’t even live in America anymore as we were medically bankrupted in 2011. I can’t afford to come back! 🤪