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Renters Regret Taking "Covid Deals"


In New York City, it’s said you’re either looking for a job or an apartment. After some residents left during COVID lockdowns, the New Yorkers who stayed were offered lower rents by landlords eager to fill units.


But while the pandemic hasn’t ended, the brief era of slightly cheaper rent is now over for most. Reporter Sarah Yokubaitis has more on the renters desperately searching for a deal.


Emily Russell and her roommate Remie Arena moved into their apartment last summer on Mulberry Street. It was a two bedroom for twenty-two hundred dollars a month. A great deal, they thought, but there were drawbacks.


Yeah. We were very surprised when we came in. It was a lot smaller than we thought it was gonna be.


I almost had a panic attack when we walked in, because it was tiny. StreetEasy photos lie to you


Yeah, one of the bedrooms that I’m living in right now…we thought it was spacious, but when you go inside, if I were…I'm like, 5’6, 5’7. If I lay down on the floor, I can touch all the walls.


Like starfish wise, you can touch all the ends of the walls.


Over the last year, they have grown to love their little place. There are exposed brick walls, wood floors and lots of sunlight. But when the lease ended, their landlord insisted on exercising a clause in their contract. The rent was going up –by 60 percent. That’s an extra 750 dollars a month each.


“I've talked to lots of people who are being priced out of their apartments, a lot of people I know. And just walking around the city, I literally hear people talking about moving. I don't know if it's, I'm more attuned to it or if right now, lots of people are moving. But it's hard to find an apartment right now. And everything is a lot more expensive, probably because everything was so much lower during COVID.”


They’re reluctant to leave the neighborhood they’ve come to love, but they can’t justify paying the increased rate.


It's super exploitative. That's the word that I keep coming to, out of my anger. (:05)


Rent hikes are a major problem right now for New Yorkers like Arena and Russell who took cheaper “covid rates” when the pandemic negatively impacted the city’s housing market.

Dr. Andy Beverdige is a Queens College professor and demographic expert. He’s been studying the city’s change of address data over the past two years to determine how many New Yorkers left during the pandemic, in addition to how many have returned to the city.


I think it's fair to say that based on the change of addresses, there is a people people do, people did come back. Whether everybody will ultimately come back, I don’t know. (:11)


Beveridge estimates that about three-fourths of the people who left during the first year of the pandemic have since returned to the city. But the number of people who have come back has made the local rental market even more crowded than usual. Broker fees recently crept back too. The additional fees of around 10 to 15 percent of the yearly annual rent were banned for a brief period in 2020 by a new state law meant to strengthen tenants rights. But the fees were made legal again by the state when the Real Estate Board successfully won a lawsuit against the law last year.

Even so, not all landlords are hiking their prices. Property Manager Marc Weber of Weber Realty Management says he’s capped rent renewals at ten percent in hopes of keeping tenants in place in the 250 rental units that his company manages across Manhattan.


Yes, I think if you're, you know, asking for a 50% increase, or doubling the rent, I think that's where it gets a little crazy. And it's just it's just greed, from what we're determining based off of inflation numbers and what the current market is. And it just doesn't make sense. If you're trying to renew apartments offer a 50% increase or you know, the goal is you want a building where people enjoy living there and there's good camaraderie and if you're dealing with everybody on kind of hot rocks thinking that their rents gonna double or go up 50 percent? That's just inhumane.


Weber says the ten percent increase is high enough to keep pace with rising inflation without going beyond average market price in most neighborhoods. And he says it’s smart business to keep turnover in his units low.

Meanwhile, Emily Russell and Remie Arena are sitting in their apartment on Mulberry Street and searching for a new home online. They’re hoping to stay roommates in Manhattan, but say they’d be willing to commute from Brooklyn, or even Queens for the right place.


I’m becoming kind of obssesive with going on StreetEasy…


They’re both hunched over a laptop searching the real estate sites for a two bedroom under three thousand a month.


Okay. Okay Remie, so I think we should…Oh, actually? Damn, that's pretty good. Let's...wait, that's really good! I will message them. Wow, this one’s actually great. East 82nd, twenty four hundred…I’m also assuming there's a fee here. Oooh, a showing!


So far, they said they’ve only found eleven apartments that meet their criteria, but they’re determined to find another new home in the city — for at least another year.

Sarah Yokubaitis, Columbia Radio News


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