A meditation on rent-controlled apartments

I had a really hard time balancing in standing bow pose today. Not like it’s ever an easy feat, but today was hard. Partially because I’m still ill, yes. But mainly because I had shit on my mind. Yesterday, as it turns out, was the end of an era, and I was too busy being ill to even realise it.

Yesterday my dad and his girlfriend (who shall heretofore be referred to as “DGF”) closed on the purchase of our Manhattan apartment, my childhood home. I know, you’re confused. How could it have been my childhood home if we didn’t already own it? Well, grasshopper, allow me to tell you a story. It is a story of times past, and of a people who are facing their extinction. Those people are rent-controlled tenants.

I’m not going to get too into it, because there are some technicalities about this shit that I’ll never understand. What I do know is that if you signed a lease on an NYC apartment before a certain date, your rent was guaranteed to only increase by a very small percentage every time everyone else’s rent went up. You could then pass down the lease for two generations. This has allowed a lucky minority of New Yorkers to stay in their “swanky” (or, “not falling down”) apartments that they’d never otherwise be able to afford. If it weren’t for rent control, all these people would be in Brooklyn or Queens by now (no offence to either borough… okay a little offence).

My dad’s parents moved into our apartment when my dad was six years old in 1958, their lease (avec rent control) was then passed on to my dad, who was supposed to pass it on to me. But that’s not going to happen.

To be fair, it was probably never going to happen. Over time, more and more restrictions on rent control have been introduced so that for me to successfully inherit the apartment from my dad, I would have had to live with him for at least six months and one day out of the year for at least two consecutive years immediately before my inheritance kicked in. Fat fucking chance. But hey, New Yorkers will do crazy shit to hang on to their rent control, and who can blame them? They’re resilient bastards. (On that note: I’d be interested in conducting a study on the percentage of rent-controlled tenants who are also Mets fans. The same amount of stubbornness and blind faith appear to apply in both cases. And yes, my family are Mets fans.)

My chances of getting the apartment became even slimmer a few years ago when our building was sold to some asshole developers who basically came in and wrecked the place (more on that later). They wanted my dad out of the building, but couldn’t move him because rent control laws are pretty protective. They also wanted DGF out of the building because she had a rent-stabilised (different from rent control, no idea how) apartment directly below ours. Nothing was going to be done to get them out, until my dad made a deal with the guys a few months ago that basically entailed DGF giving up her apartment so they could gain ownership of my dad’s. This was back in November.

So yesterday they closed on the apartment. My dad’s girlfriend has officially moved all her shit into our place, the deal’s done, there’s no going back. Why don’t I sound happy about that? Well, first off, my dad is apparently now planning to eventually sell it so he and DGF can move to Nashville… (I’d like to see him try, Mr. Self-Proclaimed-Mayor-of-the-Upper-West-Side.)

But it also means a hell of a lot of change. With DGF moving in, it means the salmon pink colour my dad painted our foyer (he was inspired by Bermuda) will have to go. It means a lot of the furniture that’s been around since I was a baby will get nixed. It means my bedroom will turn into the guest room and the hideous shade of magenta I painted the walls with my friends when I was sixteen will probably get done over with a boring tone of beige. My bed will go, my awesome couch that had storage under it for all my shoes will go, and eventually the apartment will stop being the place I grew up in. The last place in which my mum, dad and I were a family before my parents got divorced.

But then again, it hasn’t been that for a long time. When the aforementioned asshole developers came in, they wallpapered all the communal hallways, which had previously been a very unfortunate shade of green. They then replaced the decrepit elevator with a new one with wood panelling that gives the lovely impression of being inside a casket. They also went and painted over (?!?!) the marble in the lobby and made everything clean and crisp and fancy and everything a genuine pre-war NYC apartment building isn’t. The building is no longer “my” building.

One by one they kicked out all the other rent-controlled tenants, most of whom were crazy old Jews who never ceased to exclaim “Look how BIG you’ve gotten! I remember you when you were yay high and had the chubbiest little cheeks…” every time they saw me. Their apartments were redone and I started to see ads all over the Upper West Side showing a picture of my building saying it was “A luxury pre-war condo in the heart of the neighbourhood”.

My friend Abby and I joked about replacing the ads with new ones saying, “Need a place to house your ageing Jewish parents, but too lazy to travel to Boca to see them? 165’s the place for them!” But actually those ads wouldn’t make sense anymore. All the new families in the building are young – the sort of people who love our new gym in the basement. (It’s in the area that used to be a laundry room that I refused to go in because I was convinced it was haunted.) So really the apartment is just the final nail in a coffin that’s been under construction for a while.

Bikram says his yoga is a “moving meditation”, my teacher today talked about it being a “confrontational” type of yoga – and it is. Being in a hot room for 90 minutes, staring at yourself in the mirror and challenging yourself physically forces you to realise things about yourself that you maybe had been ignoring. Well, today my class was a moving meditation on rent-controlled apartments, and the fact that one is no longer in my family.

Maybe I shouldn’t have overthought it so much, but it fucked with my standing bow, and that pissed me off.


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