If I am to try to follow along with the surprisingly popular belief that good writers should only write about what they know and have personally experienced, I probably need to pen a few words about trying to rent an apartment in New York. It is, after all, the subject that has been dominating my life for the last month or so — work, food and social life have at times all come in second place to making sure I didn’t end up sleeping under the Brooklyn Bridge come September.
I was lucky with lodging during my first year in New York. Sure, there was the place with the ceiling fan that creaked and shook ominously when I turned it on and the manager who took a chainsaw to the dishwasher in the wall after we complained that it was leaking water, but there were also no major scams or snakes or sleazy people. Once I began a new work placement position in the summer, I moved straight into a friend’s place while she was finishing her internship in Miami. The arrangement was wonderful – a neat Brooklyn studio that was twice the size of my old room for the same price.
But things that fall right into your lap always come to an end eventually and I found myself struggling to find somewhere to live yet again in mid-August. (In other words, that time when it seems as though everyone who is under twenty-five and going to school in New York is looking for a place to live.) In an entirely unsurprising and unoriginal move, I set my sights on finding a room that would be an award-winning combination of pretty, spacious (and by that I mostly mean room to store three suitcases out of my sight), close to the train (and to shops, and to museums, and to green spaces), and, of course, economical. The combination of the first three conditions could be negotiated (I wouldn’t want you to call me picky, after all!), but economics were always a guiding principle. I am a student trying to accrue minimal debt, after all.
I am also someone who can display remarkable energy and commitment for projects that inspire me and equally remarkable laziness for projects that don’t. As such, I wanted to find a place to live with a minimal amount of effort — ideally, logging into some Facebook group and finding a young twenty-something writer who needed a roommate at some large apartment with a balcony and a doorman. Once I moved in, we would go to literary readings and shop for black cigarette pants together or something.
As it turns out, there is no abundance of young twenty-something writers who love shopping for black cigarette pants and have large, beautiful rooms to rent out. (Or if there are, they have escaped me.) The search turned into grunt work without the glamour and had me visiting up to four shoddy places a day for two weeks.
I stepped into more strangers’ homes than I think most people do in a lifetime. I’ve let my legs be licked by dogs because, well, you don’t want to appear like you don’t like the pet a few minutes upon meeting the person. I’ve heard people say that they don’t trust journalists (because writing isn’t a real job, duh!) and that foreign-sounding last names are weird. I’ve spent forty minutes chatting it up with people in an attempt to appear less anti-social than I actually am before hearing them say “and the broker just asks for a small two thousand dollar payment for their services.” There was also the extra layer of complication that comes with being from north of the border and lacking the many little things that people take for granted in their own countries. There is something strangely character-building about announcing that you have no credit history, no cosigners, no full-time job once the fall starts and no references who are in a position that is even slightly more favourable than your own. But hey, I really, really like this place. When can I move in?
The other truly discouraging thing about trying to rent a room in New York is just how many people there are vying for the same place. Almost every time I’d visit a room I could see myself living in, I would hear that the person who came before had less stuff, traveled more, didn’t have a constant stream of guests from other places, went to bed early, actually used a duster, and was, in every conceivable way, a much better fit than myself. There were also times when it felt like we clicked but I’d then hear that they found someone else five days later.
I wish I could write some big takeaway or dole out sage advice on renting in New York as a student (Sublet! Move around different neighbourhoods a lot! Filter Craigslist for red flags such as “income!”), but all I have are a few things that worked for me just this time. I found a room that was both nice and under budget with that strange combination of luck and dogged persistence — I am not at all sure I will not have an even harder time if I need to do this again. In an entirely unclimactic pause (I say pause because with subletting, it’s always just a pause) to the house hunting saga, I received a text about a room that I viewed a few days ago and hadn’t really set my hopes on at nine in the evening. So the room’s yours if you want it, it read. In an attempt to appear as blasé as possible, I waited a solid ten minutes before responding with an ok, cool while really jumping up and and down in a screech because I could go to some bookstores on the weekend instead of running around the city for once.
Small room with a large roof deck in a house full of other creative types in “young Brooklyn” it is, then.