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Open House

Would You Rent This Tiny Upper Manhattan Studio for $1,500 a Month

An apartment that's so small that getting out of bed would put you right in the kitchen is what's considered a steal these days.

Don’t be fooled—this apartment is smol. (Hell Gate)

Finding a place to live in New York City has never been harder. For our new series Open House, Hell Gate joins prospective tenants in visiting available units for a glimpse inside the struggle to find a home.  

It was brick on the Upper West Side on Saturday afternoon, so turnout was slow for the open house at the $1,500/month studio apartment on 100th Street. The handsome edifice of the building was masked by scaffolding. The broker, Ryan, was friendly enough, but brusque, and, as brokers tend to be, all business. Meeting a couple of Columbia students in the lobby of the century-old building now called the Midway, he admitted to them that the photos they had seen for the online listing were for a different apartment in the building, and that unit actually had a $1,600/month rent. The unit he would take them to see on the eighth floor was different, but the rent was the as-advertised $1,500. 

But that's still less than half the average rent for a Manhattan studio, and, tantalizingly, "only" just a couple hundred dollars higher than the maximum that someone who makes the median Manhattan income of $52,409 can pay to not be considered rent-burdened. This is what passes as a rare steal in 2024. What are New Yorkers willing to give up to live in a place that's only just barely above their means?

The answer seemed to be—space. It was at such a premium in the apartments in this building that the advertised unit had a kitchenette combination console of the type that's usually found in RVs or boats: a two-burner range crammed next to a sink, with a sneaky little mini fridge tucked underneath, that even has a cabinet-like freezer right next to it. The combo's Amazon listing boasts that it's "perfect for any office, bar, studio apartment, tiny home, rental room, RV, boat, condo, vacation home, or anywhere kitchen space is a premium."

Space was certainly still a premium in the apartment we saw, but the landlords had conceded to include a full-sized fridge and stove. That seemed to please Katie, a cheerful blonde Columbia student who was seeking a year-long lease. "It's pretty small," she admitted, but added brightly that "I haven't been able to find a lot else in this price range." The kitchenette combo pictured in the listing had made her trepidatious to see the spot—she was excited about the rent, but she thought she'd left mini fridges back in campus housing.

The bathroom. (Hell Gate)

The Renaissance Revival-style building was once called the Allenhurst. Where the buildings once had four sprawling apartments per floor, it’s since been chopped up into a mix of (tiny) apartments and SROs. On Saturday, Ryan explained that other tenants in the building had lofted their beds to maximize on living space, though it didn't strike me that that would help much. It was fucking small.

The unit was so teensy that getting out of bed would put you right in the kitchen. If you had a queen bed and were a restless sleeper, your arms could easily knock something amiss on the stove console. While I was pondering fire safety, Ryan rang up another prospective tenant, a man who looked to be in his 40s. Still shaking off the cold, he frowned into the space, which had, with four people, become pretty cramped. He kept silent while Ryan briskly walked through the unit's amenities, and the caveat that the pictures were for a unit downstairs that was more expensive. Stepping out of the now-crowded apartment, he pulled out his phone and began chattering darkly to someone in Spanish: I could make out the word "pequeño." 

On the phone Monday night, Ryan let me know that the unit had been rented, but the downstairs unit, with the sink-stove combo, was still available for $1,600/month.

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