Sex and Other

Drugs and
Rock 'n' Roll

Media and

Society (and

Politics and Other


Casual Fridays

Rantings and

In and Out:
Sex Advice from our Staff Dominatrix

Employee of the



Who We Are

Write for Us!

Invest in Anti-

Play Our Theme Song
by Simon Inns
(MP3 format; 1.5 MB download)

Donate to the Cause!

Ten helpful hints for NYC residents


Let's Lynch the Landlord


by Ken Mondschein



Photo: My old apartment, shown actual size.

Those of you who have been paying attention may have noticed the absence of our regularly scheduled updates for the last two weeks. The reason why is this: I finally lost my virginity. No, seriously, (like that would ever happen—Ed.) Sunday evening of the July 4 weekend, Mistress Rowena and I returned from a delightful trip to Northampton, MA (the "Lesbian Capital of the Universe," according to the local tourist board) to find a notice taped to the door of my apartment building. It was written in large, friendly red and black capital letters. The exterminator again? On closer inspection, the red letters spelled VACATE. Since whatever they'd been using to kill the roaches only seemed to make them stronger, maybe they'd decided it was time to bring in the heavy artillery and were planning to fumigate the entire building. But, no, it turned out the Department of Buildings had put up the notice. The roaches would have to be demanding squatters' rights or lobbying for maintenance of rent control before the Department of Buildings would get involved. Further perusal of the notice revealed that it declared conditions in my building "imminently perilous to human life"—without even opening my refrigerator!—and ordered all the inhabitants to vacate or face arrest. Taking turns keeping a watch for cops, Mistress Rowena and I surreptitiously entered our own apartment, feeling like thieves, grabbed what we could, threw it in the car, and headed out to my mom's—and, by the way, for those of you who have never played the "given 15 minutes, which of my worldly possessions do I salvage?" game, I don't recommend it.

It turned out that all the time I'd been living in my apartment, the main beam that held up my floor had been cracked nearly in two, not to mention rotting and sagging worse than Ruth Gordon's titties in Harold and Maude: Twenty Years Later. This trivial little fact was only discovered when they began converting the butcher shop downstairs into a knishery and they ripped up the concrete floor with a jackhammer and tore out the ceiling to reveal that the nineteenth-century supports weren't what they used to be. Amazingly, this discovery came at the exact same moment the landlord wanted to apply to raise our rents—which he will now be able to do without going through the usual red tape, by virtue of having to put more than $20,000 in renovations into the place just to keep it from collapsing.

Anyway, long story short, with some savvy searching on Craigslist and some financial help from my family, we found a new, and far larger, place half a block away from ye olde abode, which has started to list alarmingly to one side. The old landlord gave me back my security plus a (very) little something for lost wages and train fare, we moved all my stuff down the block once the Department of Buildings determined the floor had been shored up sufficiently that it wouldn't collapse, and now all is fun and games deciding where to hang the plants and the manacles.

Living in New York, one puts up with a lot of stuff: Tiny, foul-smelling apartments which you have to pay exorbitant broker's fees in order to rent, monthly rents that dwarf most mortgage payments, and no heat and hot water in January are just a few of them. Landlords are often absentee assholes who just want your rent money. Thankfully, there are an awful lot of weapons you can use to even the odds. The following are Top Ten Tips for New York City renters, based off common knowledge and my own harsh experience:

1. They can't kick you out—even if you're there illegally or you're squatting in someone else's apartment. I had a friend who was in an illegal sublet in Queens, and the landlord told her one day that she had to find another place to live. I introduced her to my father, who happens to be a real estate lawyer. Not only did she get to stay in her apartment free until she found someplace new to live, but the landlord had to pay her back all the rent she had ever given him. Even if you couldn't pay the rent in the first place, if you have a good lawyer, or know the law yourself, there's a lot you can do. For instance, if your rent is $1,000, and you can only pay $600 because you're unemployed, then if you fork over what you have, no judge is going to kick you out. You'll have to pay the other $400 eventually but, in the meantime, you're not out on the street.

Of course, the door swings both ways, and if they really want you out, they have their ways. I have a friend who has a friend who was given a "problem" building by his Mafioso uncle-there was an apartment in there that was being used as a brothel, and, needless to say, they were ignoring their eviction notices. Luckily, my friend also had a bunch of other friends who were MPs in the Marines. It's amazing how a CS grenade will clear out an infestation of hookers and pimps.

2. They can't raise your rent all of a sudden. In order to go around New York City's rather strict rent control laws, there's a rather torturous appeals process that involves hearings and forms and all sorts of things. You get to put your two cents in, and it's a pain in the ass for all involved. However, the upshot is that you don't have to pay more.

Note, however, that very often the landlord will use slightly more persuasive tactics to get you out and try to charge the next sucker $1200 a month for your nice $600 rent-controlled apartment. In this case:

3. Don't let them intimidate you: The law is on your side. Very often, all you have to do is serve papers, or get them to the courtroom door and your once-stern landlord will be begging for mercy. This goes for semi-legal tricks, as well: A friend of mine was once subleasing an apartment when the landlord decided he wanted him out so he could jack up the rent, and sent some gorilla to the door to evict him. My friend, knowing he was well within his rights, told the guy to fuck off or he was calling the cops. No one ever bothered him again. (Note this doesn't work if you're Superfly and the landlord has tear gas.)

4. They have to fix what's wrong. No cabinet doors? No heat? Their idiot renovations weakened the floor? Complain loudly, complain often, and complain to the city agency that will fine his ass $5,000 until he fixes the problem.

5. If they don't fix it, don't pay for it. For instance, if you suddenly find yourself without a set of stairs going up to your apartment (as has been known to happen), stop paying rent immediately until the problem is fixed. A lawyer can hold the money in an escrow account so that you can't be accused of being a deadbeat. Hit them in the pocketbook, and it's in their financial interests to fix it.

6. Get renter's insurance. One of my fellow inmates in the building that was in danger of falling down had about $50,000 worth of recording gear and computer equipment in his pad. Not being stupid, he insured it. When we all had to vacate, he holed up in a five-star hotel-and the insurance company recouping the cost out of the landlord's ass.

7. Tip your super. He's the guy that fixes things, and if he knows he's going to get an extra ten-spot or a six-pack of Coors for fixing your cabinet doors or putting in a locking gate over the fire escape, it will be done. You want the super on your side no matter who comes to fuck with you, be it the police or the building's owner.

8. Talk to the people in your building. If you know your landlord's tricks, you'll be forewarned. Also, if you all work together, you can beat any problem. The ideal scenario is you making so much trouble for the guy that you all get a mortgage, buy the joint off your landlord, and turn it into a co-op.

9. Real estate agents are not to be trusted. This goes double for Israelis; as the former inhabitants of the West Bank could tell you, those Sabras just have a thing for real estate. Mistress Rowena was subleasing a place from an acquaintance who was out of the country when the local real-estate maven came bustling in a month or so before her lease was up, telling her that she had to move because the owner had a friend that she wanted to have the apartment. Suspicious, Mistress Rowena made a phone call. It turned out the flat owner had no such friend and was perfectly happy to renew her lease. Worse, when confronted, the real estate agent was utterly shameless about this. It was, after all, a slow economy.

Real estate agents generally take about fifteen percent of a year's rent, which can add up to thousands of dollars, to do a five-minute background check and show you the apartment. They are barely regulated by anyone and, in short, are a form of parasitic vermin that should be exterminated.

10. Do your part. Don't wreck your apartment. Don't punch holes in the wall, farm mildew, or start a major roach-breeding operation. Keep the place well-ventilated and well-cleaned. Pay your rent on time. In short, be a human being, even if the landlord behaves more like a snake.


For more helpful info, make sure to check out


Good lawyers, reasonable fees! Write to

Posted July 21, 2003 1:01 AM






Copyright 2001-2010
Powered by
Movable Type 3.33
Logo design by Molitorious