The New York Times: "The Hunt" - An Apartment With Laundry on the Premises
by Joyce Cohen (published April 14, 2010)
THOUGH Samantha Slater was glad to be starting graduate school in New York, she was concerned about living on a student’s budget.
After a weekend spent hunting for an Upper West Side rental, she felt frustrated and overwhelmed. The tiny studios she saw were “so disgusting and dark and expensive, I just wanted to cry,” she said. “You could get something acceptable for $1,400, but not for $1,350.”
She was unhappy about raising her budget, but she did, deciding that she “would rather give up other things,” like going out to dinner, “to live in a place I want to go home to.”
Ms. Slater, 27, grew up in Plainview on Long Island. After graduating from Brandeis University, she went to work in Washington. “I was reluctant to go to New York because I didn’t want to be that stereotype of the New Yorker who never leaves,” she said.
She worked on Capitol Hill as a press secretary for Representative Joe Donnelly of Indiana, paying $960 a month to share an apartment in the Van Ness area with two roommates. But Ms. Slater hoped to live in New York at some point. “I have this internal conflict every day where I ask myself where I am supposed to be,” she said.
The conflict eased when she was accepted into the master’s program in public administration at Baruch College in Manhattan. Classes started in January. In December she considered her housing options. She could live with her brother, Adam, in Forest Hills, Queens, where he and his girlfriend pay $1,550 a month for a two-bedroom, but that seemed far away.
Because Ms. Slater keeps kosher but doesn’t adhere to other religious rules, she knew it would be difficult to find a suitable roommate situation — she would need roommates willing to strike the odd balance of “keeping a kosher kitchen but still turning on the lights” on the Sabbath, she said.
So she decided to live on her own, preferably on the Upper West Side, where many friends resided. Murray Hill, though closer to class, “is like little Long Island, and I didn’t want to be running into people from high school every day,” she said. She didn’t mind a subway commute, “as long as I am on a train sitting and reading a book.”
After a friend told her to budget $100 a month for sending laundry out, she determined that this was an unnecessary expense, most conveniently avoided in a building with a laundry room.
Beyond that, “I knew there were all these weird things about New York apartments,” Ms. Slater said, “but I didn’t know what they were.”
After seeing some depressing studios, one with a refrigerator in the living room, she encountered a cozy studio in a large building on Central Park West. A laundry room was near the nicely redone lobby. The place was sunny, with a view of Central Park. But at $1,500 a month, it was pricey.
For the same rent, a large studio at the West Pierre, a prewar building on far West 72nd Street was even nicer. Ms. Slater was ready to apply, but by morning the place was taken. Discouraged and busy with work, she decided to stay with her brother after all, at least for a while.
But then the agent for the Central Park West apartment contacted her. The price had dropped to $1,400 a month. So Ms. Slater signed on. Her boyfriend, Gabe Roth, who picked up the keys, noticed that the stove wasn’t working and the heat could not be turned off.
Mr. Roth, 27, a Nashville native who now works in the press department of the New York Department of State, moved to New York from Washington over the summer, renting a one-bedroom on West 88th Street for $1,750. When he saw Ms. Slater’s new place, he felt guilty that he had not checked it out before she signed the lease.
“I knew there was better stuff out there,” he said.
Ms. Slater moved in late December. “When the moving truck arrived from Washington,” she said, “the guy walked in with my stuff and asked, ‘Where is the rest of the place?’ ”
To escape the 90-degree heat indoors, she had to open the apartment’s only window, which was on a fire escape. Her parents made her buy a window gate — an unanticipated $500 expense.
She discovered mice after opening a box of crackers and noticing nibble holes. “I wasn’t comfortable there, but I was dealing with it,” she said. One way was by often staying at Mr. Roth’s apartment.
Then, one winter afternoon, they returned to find a fire truck outside the building and a firefighter climbing through her window.
Steam poured from the apartment; hot water pooled on the floor. A radiator pipe had burst.
All Ms. Slater could think about was retrieving the photographs that had belonged to her recently deceased grandmother. “It was like one of those exercises: What are the three things you would save?” she said. She was able to gather the photos in a plastic bag.
Except for her shoes, most of her belongings were salvageable. Unfortunately, she didn’t have renter’s insurance. “I hadn’t gotten to it yet,” she said.
She temporarily lived at Mr. Roth’s place and discovered that lugging clothes even a few blocks to a laundromat was her least favorite activity. She was able to terminate her lease, so she renewed the hunt, this time signing up for RDNY.com, a listing service for apartment rentals. (The cost is currently $119 and $169, depending on you rmaximimum budget.)
Ms. Slater now knew to check for heat that she could switch off and for evidence of mice beneath the sink — things that hadn’t occurred to her previously.
She found a ground-floor place on West 80th Street for $1,500. A laundromat was across the street. The kitchen was big, but the living area claustrophobic.
A bit south, in a brownstone at West 71st Street, was a nice one-bedroom for $1,475, although the bedroom had just space enough for a bed. The block was near the subway station where “you had to fight your way through the crowds,” she said, and the building lacked laundry facilities.
She finally fell for a $1,450 studio, a sublet at the Broadmoor, a large prewar doorman building on West 102nd Street. It had two closets, and space enough for both a bed and a couch. Oddly, the renovated kitchen had a dishwasher but not an oven. Ms. Slater presumed that was because “usually everyone does takeout.” She remedied the situation with a small countertop oven.
Filling out a lengthy application with her mother as guarantor was tedious, but she was easily approved by the co-op board. Relieved, she moved in last month. Now she has a place she is glad to call home. And access to a large basement laundry room. “It’s great to be able to do laundry when I want and how I want,” Ms. Slater said.
She still hasn’t bought renter’s insurance, but it is on her to-do list. It crosses her mind every day.