226 W 150th st.
45 W 139th St
40 Pinehurst Ave.
Photo By: Mathew Henry
New York City is no stranger to the silver screen or our television sets. The Big Apple has been featured in movies, Broadway musicals, songs, music videos and television since 1901 when the film,
What Happened on Twenty-Third Street, first debuted. The glittering lights and promise of big dreams have driven people from all over the world to call NYC their home. The only thing is...all of those apartments that we see on TV...WHY ARE THEY SO MUCH BETTER THAN OURS? They say the camera adds ten pounds. Well it looks like it adds about 10,000 sq. ft. when it comes to NYC rentals. So, what's real? What's not? What can you actually expect and what will have to stay in those dreams built on a TV set?
Is there a more iconic apartment than that of Monica Geller on the hit TV show Friends? Monica lives in the West Village in a two bedroom, one bath, five floor walk-up with an outdoor terrace and a living room/kitchen the size of an average studio. A two bed, one bath just down the street from the Geller's apartment is currently listed at $7,500/month. Even taking into account the rise in prices since 1994, how did Monica afford this apartment on a chef's salary?
Monica inherited her apartment from her grandmother and is illegally subletting it. The reason the rent is so affordable is because of rent control! Good ole, rent control! It's like a magical leprechaun riding a unicorn on a snowy day in June. So as the TV taught us...very easy to find.
Rent Stabilization! Unfortunately, in NYC you're not going to find a rent controlled apartment unless you, or somebody in your family, has been occupying that unit since July 1st, 1971. However, in-lieu of rent control, we do have something called “rent stabilization.” While rent stabilization won't guarantee that your rent never goes up, it does set a maximum rate for annual rent increases and, as with rent control, entitles tenants to receive required services from their landlords and have their leases renewed. Not a leprechaun on a unicorn, but not a bad deal either. Also, in case you were wondering, and I know you were, yes- you too can paint your entire apartment purple as long as you prime the walls back to a color the landlord can paint over.
The very Friends-esque show that debuted in 2005 featured another, soon-to-be, iconic Manhattan home. Set in the Upper West Side, Marshall, Lily and Ted rent a two bedroom, one bath, fourth floor walk-up situated above a trendy neighborhood bar. Again, the living room somehow looks large enough to fit my own two bedroom inside of it with room to spare. The apartment seems to come with a decorative, questionably operative, fireplace and a separate kitchen. Today that apartment would have cost our HIMYM friends around $5,000/month.
One of the most important rooms in this apartment wasn't even INSIDE the apartment. Every Halloween party, one fateful rain dance and an epic apartment jump, all take place on the roof. Rooftop access- it’s every New Yorker’s dream and a building’s legal nightmare.
Unfortunately, rooftop access is a privilege not a right. Even though, Ted and Co. make it look super glamorous and easy to get up to the roof, most buildings in Manhattan do not allow open egress to the roof. When you try to access the roof, what you will most likely find is a door at the top of your staircase with an alarm that sounds very loudly and for many more minutes than you thought possible. Rooftop access has to be available under NYC fire code, but that doesn’t mean it has to be available for you to throw a party with that skyline view. The same goes for fire escapes which also seem to double as a New Yorker’s favorite hang out. Now, while no landlord is going to evict you if you happen to find your way up on the roof, keep in mind you are doing so at your own risk. Unless your building has been cleared for rooftop access and has a roof deck built into it, the surface of the roof may not be safe to stand on or travel over. Don’t let this crush your dreams of finding your slutty pumpkin on All Hallow’s Eve, just step carefully and double check before inviting your 50 best friends to climb the stairway to heaven with you.
Even a superhero needs a place to rest her head and not all of them can live in Tony Stark’s lofty penthouses. On Marvel and Netflix’s new hit TV Show Jessica Jones, the protagonist, Jessica, runs her private investigation business, “Alias Investigations”, out of her one bedroom apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. Jessica lives and works out of a one bedroom apartment in an elevator building with an eat-in kitchen, built in fireplace, large office/living room and a separate bedroom. Today that would run our superhero upwards of $2,500/month to rent.
Not only does Jessica do a lot of drinking and a moderate amount of sleeping in her apartment, but she also uses it as an office out of which to run her P.I. business, “Alias Investigations”. Jessica takes working from home to a whole new level. But how legal is it to turn your apartment into a fledgling business? What about that Etsy store you’ve been dying to create, but can’t afford to rent a storefront? Just like everything else, NYC’s got some laws about this and they’re not as bad as you might think.
In New York City, like many other, there are a number of building and zoning codes that regulate the use of buildings. Currently for any kind of living/working situation there are two forms of zoning that exist- home occupation and live/work ordinance. Home occupation is what most of us do as we sit at our desk typing away at our laptop for hours and hours. It allows for us to use our apartment as a “home office” while not creating an actual commercial storefront in our apartment. A live/work ordinance, allows residential use to mingle with commercial activity. This is how we get our massage parlors, art galleries and P.I. firms inside a residential building. So, your Etsy shop dream may be alive just yet. Find the zoning code that presides over your building and if it allows commercial activity then you are a “go”. Now all you need is a Malcom by your side and a brand-new plexiglass window to fit into your front door.
We all know that some days New York City seems like a scripted dream and on other days, it’s an improvised nightmare. While the as-seen-on-tv apartments may still seem 400 sq. ft. larger than yours, you can rest easy knowing that you too could have some of that magical, tale-as-old-as-time NYC living experience!
Madison McGhee is an uptown girl with a down-home spirit. As an actor in the city, Madison moved to Upper Manhattan 4 years ago and has never looked back.