There’s No Place Like This Rent-Stabilized Home

There’s No Place Like This Rent-Stabilized Home


Julia Wertz

As if New Year’s Eve isn’t wonderful enough, it’s also the night I’m getting kicked out of my apartment. I’ve had a magical year, a year of living in a gorgeous two-bedroom apartment overlooking Prospect Park, in Brooklyn, for the same price as my previous place in East Harlem, which I shared with a lovely roommate and his disrespectful cat, Bobbi.

A red-haired child named Dahlia put the deal together. I was babysitting her and complaining about Bobbi constantly trying to break my laptop, and she advised me, as she so often did, to move out. Then, leaning back in her chair with some hot chocolate on her top lip, she explained that her father’s friend was moving upstate for work, but wanted to keep her rent-stabilized place in Park Slope because she’d been there “forever.” It turns out that, to a 9-year-old and every other New Yorker, forever means 26 years. Dahlia took my phone and organized a meeting with Jenn, the friend, and I moved into heaven last November.

I lorded it over everyone, inviting friends to look at the Statue of Liberty from my spare bedroom, doing this whole bit where I pretend to lock them in and tell them to scream all they want, because I won’t be disturbed in my other rooms, far away. I’m mortified to tell you that, sometimes, on the bus near my building, I take my house keys out of my purse and hold them in my hand. In other neighborhoods, women do the same thing so that when they walk home, they can thread the keys through their fist to use as a defense against an attacker. I do it so that other bus passengers will see and think, “Oooh, she must live right here, at the stop on the park.”

Which I do, for now. I can stroll four or five steps, safe and smug, from the park right to my golden double doors. Then I turn the key and slip into the green-tiled lobby before gliding into the elevator that smells like fresh coffee in the morning, and dignified perfume in the evening, and up I go through the building to my sanctuary, my stroke of luck, my home. Dec. 31 is when the magic stops.

I knew the risk before I took it. I talked it through with my therapist, who told me about another one of her clients: a very elderly lady who had sublet for decades from an even more elderly lady, one who had actually died, and somehow it had all worked out. Whenever I felt anxious, I pictured myself 50 years from now, a brazen old broad, still scamming.

It wasn’t to be. The lawyer’s letter arrived in September, explaining that the landlord knew I was subletting, and that it was illegal, and I had to “cleanse the situation.” I was the fly in the ointment, the trouble in Paradise, that first impossible rabbit that caused all the hassle in Australia.

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