So, You’re A Couch Surfer: An Open Letter To Myself


My new (temporary) digs was considered by to be “classy as hell”

Hey, you.

(Hey, me!)

Well, this is a fine rut you’ve gotten yourself into; crashing on your girlfriend’s couch with all your furniture in storage, nearly 3 years after moving to New York. Who would have thought that after living here for 3 years, you’d be back to square one like someone who just came up here? Just how bad did New York kick your ass anyway?


Never mind, I don’t need to hear your version; I’m sure it’s self-pitying and depressing. Whereas my version will be all meta and self-aware! You like those things, don’t you?

(Hell yeah!)

So, from what I can tell, here’s what happened, going as far back as necessary to know the whole story: After about a year of shifting around from place to place in Brooklyn, roughly 2 years ago you found a “permanent” place in Greenpoint, a room in a hastily converted attic apartment on a month-to-month basis with no lease. It was pretty shady from the get-go–the landlords never fixed anything (in fact, you never even met them). As it turned out, they owed nearly a million dollars in back taxes. But hey, at least they never raised the rent!

Not to say I blame you for taking that place. Given the state of housing in NYC, it’s not like you had many other options available. Rents here are so stupidly astronomically high that you couldn’t hope to afford your own place unless you had an endless supply of regenerating kidneys to sell on the black market, and that’s not even taking into account the cabal of landlords’ absurd insistance that you have to make 40 times the rent. On top of that, even if you had roommates to go in with on an apartment, each of you would need to submit a Library of Congress-sized stack of personal documents.

No, what you had to do was to constantly scour listings for open rooms, which brings a set of obstacles all its own, namely the thousands of other people attempting the exact same thing. This leads to mountains of emails that may or may not be answered, followed by interviews that boil down to:

Hello, there. I am normal. I am asking you to trust me when I say that I am normal. I am not, however, too normal. I am not so normal that I am not interesting. Because I am extremely interesting.

Also I am not poor. I am so not poor that, as requested, I am bringing a large stack of documents proving that I am, in fact, not poor.

This process repeats until an interviewer decides that yes, you may grace their presence on a day-to-day basis. And that’s what happened at the month-to-month place in Greenpoint.

And it was great! And with each passing month, you forgot more and more of the shadiness of the situation, and grew more and more attached to the roommates who said they were so glad that you were a part of their community. But you knew in the back of your mind that it had to end eventually, and that end came quite a bit sooner than you had thought.

The new landlords bought the building, and took over as an LLC, with the express purpose of making money. They made that purpose clear when they came in and announced that the rent will be raised on the current tenants from $2200 for the whole apartment to $3000, an $800 increase (roughly 40%). That would mean that each tenant would have to pay $1000 per person to live with roommates. Somehow the thought of anyone paying $1000 to live with roommates always boggled your mind, but to these landlords it’s just day-to-day business, and what they expect you to accept unconditionally.

Now, the next step was important, and could have been handled a number of different ways, but a lot of your options dried up when your two roommates (the same ones who mentioned several times that they were glad you were a part of their community) selected a new third roommate and found a new 3 bedroom apartment somewhere else, leaving you behind to deal with the landlords.

But you were undeterred! After calling up an advocacy group to see what rights tenants have to protect them against massive rent increases from landlords (answer: tenants actually have no rights, and landlords can legally charge whatever massive hike their tiny, hardened walnut-hearts desire), you learned that all you could do was try to negotiate a fair price and fill the vacant rooms. You couldn’t fill the rooms without settling a price; it wouldn’t be fair to bring new people into such an unstable situation.

Sadly, no amount of Christmas carols made the landlord's walnut heart grow. Probably because it was a walnut.

Sadly, no amount of Christmas carols made the landlord’s walnut heart grow. Probably because it was a walnut.

Unfortunately, the landlords were simply uninterested in agreeing to an increase that was fair to the tenants who had been living in the building they had just purchased. After all, they had paid 10,000 whole dollars for that foreclosed building! There was money to be made! So you decided to put all this behind you, get some roommates, and find another apartment.

Well, apartment hunting wasn’t successful. After trying to find places with different-sized groups of people, and finally deciding to go in with 2 other people for a 3-bedroom apartment, one pulled out, and then the other. And then, for the last 10-or-so days of May, it was just you, looking for a room, trying to convince people that you’d make an acceptable roommate. This was the worst part, and also not successful.

So that’s how you ended up here. Moving Day was kind of a blur, and after a lot of bullying and harassment from the little guy who does all the landlord’s dirty work for him, you gave him the keys and delivered a sort of half-satisfying tell-off the following day. And now you’re probably wondering if leaving was the right choice, as the other tenants said that you should have stuck it out for longer. But as crappy as it was for your old roommates to leave you behind, they had the right idea to get out as soon as they smelled something fishy. Now that you’re couch-surfing and have a month or two to find a place, it’s almost as if you’re starting over in New York. Lots of people come to New York and begin their time here couch surfing, but in your case, you’ve already gotten a three-year head start. Put all those connections and experience to good use, and consider this your New York Renaissance!

It Was May

I really should have paid more attention. 90s ramen-noodle haired Justin Timberlake’s clarion call of “it’s gonna be May” shouldn’t have been read as celebratory; no, it was a warning. And I should have heeded the warning, just as Caesar should have bewared the Ides of March!

Maybe I’m being a bit overdramatic; it’s not like I was stabbed repeatedly by a bunch of treacherous senators, I just ended up without a place to live for a while. Most of the stuff I’ve accumulated over the past two years is in storage now, and the day that I moved it all into storage went by as such a blur that I can barely remember it in a coherent manner.


Stay tuned next week to learn how I got into this mess!