I have moved 26 times in my life. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. I moved out of my parent’s house when I was 19 to attend university in Montreal, returned to Toronto when I was 25 for a year, then moved out again when I was 26 and headed to New York.
The most I ever moved in one year was my first year living in New York. I moved seven times. That’s not a typo. I moved to New York in 2000 with (as some of you know), $1000 USD, two duffel bags and my green card. I arrived just in time to celebrate NYE Y2K. Remember that? When everyone thought there was going to be chaos with the computer systems around the world, because of the calendar change to the new Millennium. There was even a nasty rumor that someone was going to bomb Times Square. When my friends and family found out I was going to celebrate NYE in Times Square they were incredibly worried. Turns out nothing happened and it was one of the most enjoyable NYE celebrations I can remember.
One of my friends was kind enough to let me stay with her in Soho and within two weeks I got a job. I thought if I worked my butt off hard enough for a couple of months, I could save enough to get an apartment. I quickly had a rude awakening.
My experience with apartment searching and rent was from Montreal. You find an awesome place, you put down one month security and pay the first month’s rent. It doesn’t happen that way in New York. Besides doing an intense background check, if you’re working with a broker you need to pay first month’s rent, last month’s rent, one month security deposit and the equivalent of one month’s rent to be paid to the broker. Even if you’re looking at a studio apartment for $2,000, you need $8,000 up front to get into that apartment. I did not have that kind of money.
The only option you have then is to sublet and subletting in New York is not easy. Rarely did I find a full year sublet, it was either for a couple of weeks, to a couple of months, to a sublet just for the Summer.
Three months had passed staying with my friend in Soho and you can imagine, she thought I was never going to leave. When I started searching for apartments and learned what it was going to take to find a place, I lost all hope. Even when I looked at all the sublets, I didn’t think I would find anything.
Then the endless moves began.
I moved from Soho to West 8th Street for three weeks, from West 8th Street to Hell’s Kitchen for one week, from Hell’s Kitchen to Harlem for one week, from Harlem to the East Village for the Summer, from the East Village to the Theater District for a month, from the Theater District to Spanish Harlem for another month, and finally from Spanish Harlem to the East Village for a year, well almost…
While I was living in Spanish Harlem, might I add with two dear friends that were aware of how many times I had moved in NYC and wanted to help me out, another friend of mine that I used to work with called me up and said he found a place in the East Village that had a year left on its sublease. I thought I would never hear those words, a sublease for a year, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.
Best part about this sublease is that it required no security deposit and the rent was only $1,200 a month, which meant only $600 for me. Really, this was the deal of a lifetime.
Moving day arrived, it was October 1st, 2000, I packed up my duffel bags and whatever else I acquired along the way and headed to the East Village. I remember arriving to an empty apartment, because my roommate had yet to arrive, and I sat on the floor in the living room and cried tears of joy.
A month had gone by and we received a letter from the landlord, addressed to the owner of the apartment. It stated that the owner, more like the tenant of our apartment, had not paid rent in a year. Really, a year. You know what else? We discovered that the actual rent of the apartment was only $512. I made a mental note of the amount and asked my roommate to get in touch with the owner to pay all the rent that was due.
Then another month had gone by and we received a “notification to cure”. When I read the fine print of this document it said that the sublease originally drafted for this apartment ended in July 2000. So here we are thinking that this sublease had one more year left on the contract and it didn’t. I was fuming! After all the moving chaos and stress of that year, to think that I finally had a year to relax and live my life, and then that happens.
We decided to do nothing, because we knew this was not the end of it.
Then a couple of weeks later just before the holidays I came home to a “notification of eviction”. Well, that was the last draw. I quickly started doing research about what kind of rights we had in that type of situation. Thankfully, from when we received that first notice of the rent not being paid for a year, I started collecting everything. Every receipt of the rent we paid I saved, all of the other bills such as electricity I saved, all the issues we had with our bathroom I took pictures of and saved. By now I had a nice file with all those documents.
In January of 2001 I opened up an Escrow account and we started paying the rent there and only the $512. As we kept getting notices of eviction, I just ignored them and continued collecting all those things. After doing a couple of weeks of research, I discovered that we did have some rights in terms of all the bills we were paying and I knew that if the landlord’s lawyers took us to court, I could represent myself and my roommate and that’s exactly what happened.
We went to court in June 2001. You should have seen me in court, dressed in the nicest suit I had, minimal makeup, hair pulled back and my very thick file of documents and photos. The landlord’s lawyer took one look at me and said, “I think you missed your calling in life.” I took that as a compliment.
Considering that the owner/tenant of our apartment was profiting off of the apartment and from what the renters laws in New York said, I thought we would be able to win some of that money back times three, but that didn’t happen. What the judge awarded us was, from January until June we did not have to pay rent and for the last three months on the lease (July, August and September), we only had to pay the $512. Done! I was very pleased with that.
At the time when we went to court, I had lost my job and filed for unemployment. The rent I had put in Escrow, my roommate and I split. I took the Summer off and had the most enjoyable time wandering around NYC and going to the beach as much as possible, it was amazing!
When all else fails, persevere. If it’s truly worth the fight, you must fight with all your heart and soul. I can’t tell you how many times both friends and family told me to quit and just go home to Toronto. I did not want to be defeated. You can’t imagine how I felt when we received that notice of eviction, my heart sank and I burst into tears. However, I gathered myself together and thought my time in NYC was not over yet.
“Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: it is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.” ~Thomas Carlyle
The best part of all of this is, when it was time to move out in September 2001, I was so tired of all the moving that I decided to move to Brooklyn for a year. Three weeks later, I met my future husband, life is truly amazing.