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Paying Rent

Scenes From an Open House for a $1,899/Month Little Italy Studio Apartment With a Bathtub in the Kitchen

Manhattan rents are at a "tipping point." Has it affected the market for studios with bathtubs in the kitchen?

A prospective tenant assesses a bathtub in the kitchen of a studio apartment.

A prospective tenant and assesses the bathtub in the middle of a small studio apartment kitchen during an open house on Tuesday (Hell Gate)

Rents across New York City are at historic highs—even higher than they were before the pandemic briefly deflated real estate costs. The median asking rent in Manhattan this month hit $4,400, a new record. One real estate analyst told CNBC that the sky-high rents were testing the limits of what landlords could charge tenants: "It looks like rents are probably close to the tipping point. We're seeing transactions slip because of affordability."

In this maxed-out market, would anyone be willing to pay $1,899/month for this Little Italy studio with a bathtub in the kitchen? 

At an open house for the apartment on Tuesday morning, Taylor Wendell Lozano and his mother Kimber were the first to arrive. Lozano is moving to the city from California to go to grad school at NYU. Orientation would begin on the 30th, so he had a little more than a week to find a place for himself and his girlfriend to live. He estimated they had seen 10 apartments in five days in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

"This is my first time in New York. I don't think we've had a single day where we haven't looked around for apartments," Taylor told Hell Gate. "We're at our wits' end." 

Kimber said that so far, New Yorkers had all been unfailingly kind and helpful, countering their expectations, but that the real estate market was baffling. "And the broker fees—we're just not accustomed to it," she said.

The Mott Street apartment did not come with a broker fee, but it did cost almost $1,900/month, and it was very small, and it did have a bathtub in the kitchen.

A friendly woman named CJ showed up to let us see the unit. CJ wore a bright red shirt and gladiator-style sandals with silver studs on them, and said she had been in real estate for 25 years. "You're not a broker, are you?" she asked, as we climbed up to the third floor. "Because sometimes brokers tag along and try to take the listing."

A prospective tenant (face obscured) contemplates the tiny hallway and tiny living space inside the $1,899/month studio apartment that has a bathtub in the kitchen. (Hell Gate)
A closer look at the bathtub. (Hell Gate)

CJ opened the door for us, and we gave ourselves a brief tour. On the far side of the apartment, there was a tiny hallway that ended with a radiator and a window. The main living space was a small square, and had a door that led to a tiny room with the sink and toilet in it. Then there was the kitchen, with a new-looking gas stove, a refrigerator, a counter with cabinets and a microwave, and the aforementioned bathtub, which had also been rigged up with a showerhead.

"The microwave does not come with the apartment," CJ announced. If anyone was interested in the apartment, she said, they could fill out a paper application; one month's rent plus a security deposit would be due at signing.

This microwave does not come with the studio apartment. (Hell Gate)

Back downstairs, Taylor and Kimber mulled it over. "I would say that's not an option at all, had it been the first day," Taylor said. "But now, on day five, six?"

Yes, the bathtub in the kitchen was a curveball, but Taylor said that they had seen worse.

"There's places we're looking at that don't have floor tile," he explained.

Taylor said he and his girlfriend were planning on being out of the apartment as much as possible. Still, the size (and the bathtub) were weighing on him.

"I have another person that's going to be here too. So a lot of it is like, not wanting to surprise her when she arrives," he said.

Taylor's first choice was a place in Brooklyn, an 800-square-foot, one-bedroom in a prewar building that was renting at $2,000/month. They had sent the application in four days ago, and were willing to pay the broker's fee, but so far, they haven't heard back. "Crickets chirping," Taylor said. They'd probably put an application down on the Little Italy studio, but it was more of a contingency, just in case. They were seeing more apartments later that day, and were hopeful something would work out. "I don't wanna leave town until we find a place," Kimber said.

Another prospective tenant who took a tour of the bathtub studio was Garrett, who teaches chemistry at a school in Astoria. "It's not even a shoebox, I'd say it's a matchbox," he told Hell Gate. 

Garrett said he lived on Long Island and was sick of driving an hour each way to work ("I can't do it anymore") so was looking for a place off the N/W subway lines in Manhattan. After seeing the studio, he was going to keep looking. "I probably should have chosen a different career, where I could actually afford something better," he said, before jumping into his car and driving away.

Around 40 minutes into the hour-long open house window, a man wearing a white Lacoste T-shirt and shorts with lobsters embroidered on them began having a conversation on his cellphone outside the apartment building. Given his energy, as well as the snippets of his phone conversation that we overheard, we asked if he was there for the open house, and if he owned the apartment.

"You don't have to worry about who I am, but I will call the police on you," the man said. When we pointed out we could talk to people on a public sidewalk, he replied, "You can, but if you continue to harass people, I will call the police." A few minutes later, we left.

At publication time of this blog post, the Little Italy studio apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen was still available for $1,899/month.

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