Home > Animals, Anxiety, Bitching, Disgusting, Harlem, New York > The Time I Lived in the Worst Apartment in New York

The Time I Lived in the Worst Apartment in New York

November 23, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments


Let’s just say that as a naive little Ohio girl moving to the big city, I got royally screwed when it came to real estate.

Brokers spotted my starry eyes from miles away, and wasted no time ushering me towards the worst properties in Manhattan. Now, was the apartment I lived in the worst in all of NYC? I highly doubt it, but it certainly wasn’t good.

Mice were a constant problem in our Harlem apartment, no matter how clean we kept the kitchen. There was a cat-sized rat that lived in the basement, and peeped its head out whenever you came to throw away fresh garbage. While doing my laundry in a tiny room with three washers but only one working dryer, I’d hear the rat rustling through all the bags. I once saw it face off against a cat, and the cat lost.

Bedbugs appeared almost immediately, most likely from one of the other apartments in the building. We spent months battling them since none of us could afford to hire an exterminator, and the management company was deaf to our complaints, even when I brought them a Ziploc bag full of dead bedbugs that I had collected.

My dad sent me a bedbug extermination kit that he had found on the internet, which contained chemicals both terrifying and foul. There were sprays for floors and the walls, sprays for furniture, sprays for items you may one day wish to touch again, and a desiccant powder in a gallon jug. Many of sprays you had to mix yourself in bottles, then apply on a daily basis. The powder came with a tiny bellows that you would use to coat most of your living area. The power was insidious, getting into every nook and cranny, including those on your body. Even while wearing thick rubber gloves and a mask, the powder caused skin to peel off my fingers in strips, and gave me a terrible cough for weeks. I have the sneaking suspicion that I am now sterile from that damn powder. We repeated this extermination routine twice a week for months, which included throwing away most of our worldly possessions, doing laundry obsessively, and dismantling, cleaning, then reassembling our beds on a regular basis.

We eventually defeated the scourge, but it left us all with psychological scars. I would frequently wake up in the middle of the night, convinced I was being bitten. I’d search my entire room at three in the morning with a flashlight, panicky and short of breath.

Cockroaches were of course present, as they always are in any New York apartment. We set out traps and poison gel, which actually seemed to control the problem pretty well. The mice continued to elude us, stealing the bait for the traps, but never being caught. I finally found some modest success with glue traps (inhumane, but effective), but for every mouse we trapped, there were 20 more waiting in the wings. I was the de facto mouse killer/disposer of the apartment, which means that there’s a lot of mouse blood on my hands.

We were never able to get anything fixed in the apartment. Our super lived in the basement, but refused to do any work without a substantial bribe, which we couldn’t afford. He was the stereotypical slumlord super, always decked out in a stained wife beater, a cigar clenched between his teeth while a gold chain nestled amongst his copious chest hair. The only time he was tolerable was when he was high, was fortunately was often. He had two huge rottweilers that barked day and night, and after a day of drinking, the whole building would hear him loudly screaming at and beating his live-in girlfriend.

We soon became fairly good at fixing our own issues in the apartment. The toilet ran at all times with brown water, but we could sometimes get it to stop for a while by futzing inside the tank. The shower also ran 24/7, but we eventually grew desensitized to the sound. The bathroom ceiling was covered in a layer of black, dangerous-looking mold that we sprayed every so often with Tilex. Every time we attempted this, however, we would nearly pass out since there was little to no ventilation in the bathroom. The tiny window opened up into an alley with only two feet of clearance between buildings. Natural light in the apartment was a rare occurrence, and since light bulbs frequently burnt out in out-of-reach places, light of any sort soon became a distant memory. I’ve showered by flashlight and candle light more times than I care to mention.

The microwave worked, but its display didn’t, so you never knew how much time remained during the cooking process. The oven worked, but had no numbers left on the dial, so you just turned it a bit and hoped it would eventually reach 350 degrees. Every time you turned on the oven, you would soon hear frantic squeaks as mice fled the slowly warming broiler drawer. The fridge was, surprisingly, quite nice and never gave us problems. It even had an ice maker!

The heat was oppressive in both winter and summer. We had no A/C except for one lonely unit in the living room that cost us a crazy amount to run. In the winter, the pipes and radiators would put out so much heat that we’d open the windows and hope nobody tried to rob us from the fire escape.

The management company was a horrorshow that had a reputation for buying buildings with lots of rent-stabilized tenants, then harassing them until they moved out. They would then “renovate” the units (as far as I can tell, they just put in a nicer fridge) and rent them at market rates. I didn’t know it when I rented the apartment, but the company was notorious as being one of the worst in NYC, and is currently the defendant in several law suits brought by current and former tenants.

But for all its faults, the building WAS cheap, had laundry (even if it rarely worked), an elevator (ditto), was right next to a park (that occasionally harbored fugitives and drug dealers), and was located reasonably near an express subway stop. There are plenty of nice, lovely properties in Harlem, but this wasn’t one of them. And yet I lived there for three years.


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  1. July 23, 2012 at 9:34 am

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