Friday, January 11, 2019

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

Tenants: Alex, since 2001

How did you find your apartment?

I was living in Atlanta. I moved here in 2000. I spent the first year in Midtown. I was right in Times Square. My parents were living in Jersey. They were here first. The Midtown apartment was a sublet. I found the apartment through the gay roommate service. After that ended, I lived with my parents for six months to save money.

I grew up in Virginia. My dad has a second career as a Presbyterian minister. He was an associate pastor in his first church. It was on the Upper East Side. They had an amazing apartment. It was owned by the church. It was an old pre-war building. Then they moved to New Jersey and I moved to Atlanta. I don’t know why. I didn’t love it. I always wanted to live in New York City. I was just nervous about it. My parents lived in NYC in the 90s. I went to school in Connecticut. I would come down to visit. I always wanted to live here, I just had some detours.

I was working at an internet company in Soho. A co-worker sent and email that said, “I’m giving up my apartment on Avenue C if anyone is interested.” I answered the email and he showed me the apartment. I asked myself if I wanted to live that far East. And did I want to live that far from a train? Then I saw the apartment and thought, this is going to be it.

That was in June 2001. When I talked to the landlord he gave me an amount for the rent that was higher than the previous tenant. Then Sept. 11 happened. I had just moved into the apartment in June. I heard that people were leaving and that landlords were nervous. I called my landlord and he lowered the rent.

I have a preferential rent. Which means that the landlord is charging me significantly less than the legal rent-stabilized rent. I can only assume he is offering preferential rent because he would not be able to get the legal rent-stabilized rent for this apartment. I signed a paper that says “I acknowledge that I have a preferential rent and that this preferential rent can be revoked at the end of the lease term.”

[According to ProPublica, “the number of leases offering preferential rents is increasing: more than 250,000 of the city’s approximately 610,000 rent stabilized units in 2015 were offered at a preferential rent. Landlords are allowed to hike preferential rents to the legal maximum upon lease renewal.”]

The rent laws are up for renewal in June. One of the platforms is that if you have a preferential rent that it will become the new legal rent-stabilized rent. I am hoping that with the new democratic State Senate, my preferential rent will become the new legal rent.

I am nervous when it is time for lease renewal. A few years ago, there was a knock at the door. Someone from the management company introduced the person he was with as someone from the bank. And that they just want to walk around and look at the building. I was nervous about the visit and was concerned they would be selling the building. It is stressful always wondering if the rent will remain the same or increase to the legal rent. And if the building were to be sold how would that affect my rent?

What do you love about your apartment?

I love that the kitchen is separate and that there is a passthrough. The passthrough makes it feel open. I like the light.

The trade off of facing the street is the noise. There is a lot of noise with the construction. They are always digging up the intersection. I would definitely choose facing the street though because of the light that comes in. I like that it is on the 3rd floor and not too far of a climb.

The guy in the apartment below mine is a jewelry designer. We’re good neighbors. I opened the door recently and a woman across the hall opened her door and she turned out to be someone I knew from graduate school. She moved in with the guy across the hall who is her boyfriend.

I could not account for every apartment, so there are definitely people who I absolutely never see. There is a guy who lives here — he is a much older man who looks very gruff and never looks at or talks to anybody. I’m kind of an introvert but now I’ll say hello to him, “how are you?” and he’ll say “I’m fine how are you?” He talks back to me. He’s a little bit of a grump, which makes the interactions even more endearing.

I value the neighborhood and the apartment more now than when I first moved here. It still feels like a neighborhood.

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


Brian said...

Can understand the anxiety of the preferential rent situation, always wondering how much the landlord might raise come next lease signing. Will I need to move, can I find something else in the neighborhood, will I have to move out of the city? This is something regular market rent dwellers go through too. Another aspect of rent stabilized buildings is the sense of community and stable set of renters. There is a loss of community noelwadays in that NYC is a temporary stop. NYU dominating the village is part of the problem. Leaving in far east village helps a little.

Kurt said...

I am shocked a landlord would not charge the full rent stabilized amount. It doesn't matter what condition an apartment is in the rent stabilized rent would me multitudes lower than market rate. This renter is in an amazing situation.

Anonymous said...

@Kurt: Not everyone in life is looking for the last nickel.

Some people (even landlords!) value having stable, responsible tenants; they're not chasing "top dollar" from the "woo-woo" crowd who'll live somewhere for just a year or two without ever caring about the building, the other people living there, or the neighborhood. I think a lot of the woo-woo crowd just sees any rental as, essentially, some kind of extended airbnb.

Anonymous said...

look at this beautiful home! long may the tenant live there! thanks grieve and susan for another wonderful installment!