The Model Apartment

by

02/04/2002

120 Greenwich Street, new york, ny 10006

Neighborhood: Tribeca

We were from out of town. We had finished school, were about to get engaged, and were moving to New York at the end of the summer. They showed us a “model apartment.” They put the hard sell on us. They asked us for a deposit in the form of a money order (can’t cancel ‘em). Then they asked us to “put up with some minor inconveniences for a half a month” while they put the “finishing touches” on the building. This was four months before the move- in date.

We went back to Boston believing we had successfully found our first apartment. Then they called and pushed back the move in date a month. Then they sent us the actual lease to sign—two months later. We were in California, on our engagement trip, but they needed the lease ASAP or we might lose the apartment.

Of course the additional rider to the lease they asked us to sign did not say please endure minor inconveniences. It said that the “continued construction activities” may cause us to “not have immediate and/or full use and enjoyment of the apartment,” including the use of air conditioning, elevator service, the supposed gym/health club and 24 hour doorman, and that we would “knowingly, willingly and voluntarily” agree that such construction activities “shall not constitute a violation of…any rights…enjoyed by the Tenant,” because it was “understood that, but for” our agreement, “Owner would not have entered into this Lease with” us.

One week before the move in date on October 1, they took our two months rent in advance in the form of a money order (can’t cancel ‘em) and then showed us our actual apartment for the first time. “They’ll fix it up,” they said, “before you move in.”

We didn’t check the hot water. We didn’t check the heat. We didn’t check the gas. “Fix it up?” They must have meant the disgusting state of the floors, the sawdust covering the counters, the lack of shelves in the cabinets, the dried paint in all the wrong places?

After all, the “model apartment” we saw was beautiful.

Couldn’t have been that, since the apartment was in exactly the same when we moved in. Could they have meant the elevator service we finally received (albeit without a proper license)? The mailbox we finally got? The gym we finally had access to, whose costs were built into our “luxury rent?”

Couldn’t have been that, since we received them only several months later. But not getting our mail and taking the stairs up and down to the fourth floor were the “minor inconveniences” we had agreed to when we gave the deposit.

By “fix it up” maybe they meant we would have a doorman? Yes we did—to guard the construction, not us. Sometimes the ‘doorman’ would leave the building. Oh, but he was guarding the place, all right. He would padlock the front door shut with a chain and lock to which only he had a key. Sometimes he would put a wooden stake through the handles of the door while he went off to have a beer off premises. It was almost charming, if he was there to let us in—sort of a quaint, pre-20th century feel to getting into your own building. Sort of like us needing to put a hard hat on to get through our lobby.

The problem was when he wasn’t there. Like at 2 AM on a blistering night, and our doormen was passed out in a car across the street with the only key to his padlock. Or when the fire alarm went off because of a smoke from the boiler in the basement. At least the fire department was able to get in.

By “fix it up” they must have meant getting heat? Couldn’t have been, since we didn’t get heat until mid-December, long after the City statutes demand heat for its citizens. But we agreed to be cold in that lease we signed months after giving them the deposit, remember?

Maybe they meant they would fix the gas? Couldn’t have been, since we didn’t get gas for the stove until the end of January. But we agreed to not be able to cook in that additional rider, remember? Maybe they meant we’d get hot water? Maybe. We actually had hot water on most days—except, of course, for the mornings when it seemed we most needed a hot shower. Like our first day of work. Like when it was 15 degrees outside.

And even though they never returned our phone calls, they did try to communicate with us. Like we were on a deserted island. The only mail we received from them were new riders to sign stating that we agree never to sue if they knock off some money from a month’s rent. We were confused, at first: Why give us a new rider when we had already explicitly agreed to be cold and hungry in the original lease? Why offer us a few bucks now when we already had agreed to be unable to have people visit us for months? Hey, we already agreed to put the tremendous strain on our engagement, this was a good test for our relationship! It might have even helped, since it was impossible to have my in-laws over for Thanksgiving.

There were some other correspondences. Like undated memos stuffed under our door announcing that heat or gas or the elevator would “soon” be in service. (“Soon” means something different in New York than I was used to). Or the sudden, unexplained appearance of a space heater inside our apartment. Ah, yes, must have been to avoid liability under the city statutes. I guess it says somewhere in the statutes that if you feel heat in a small corner of your apartment at any given time, you’re heated. And then there was the gracious hot-plate they provided. How did they know Ramen Noodles was my favorite food? Getting a hot-plate wasn’t even in our Lease!

I know, we should have moved, right? Try and break the lease and just move out, like some people did. Like our neighbors, the lawyers. Or the doctors down the hall. We would have sucked up the re-packing and moving everything ourselves since we couldn’t afford movers again. And after a couple of yoga classes we probably could have psychologically gotten through almost immediately re-locating and moving again while trying to plan a wedding and manage our new jobs. We would have, that is, if we could have afforded to pay another realtor fee and put down another first and last months deposit. We would have, if we had a place to go in New York or the surrounding area. Our family’s house upstate really offered too far of a commute. In the end, we put our faith in that all-important Lease, a document with more teeth than the US Constitution, a document in which the City of New York allows us to waive every right imaginable.

All we wanted to do was move here.

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