O’Grady and three roommates moved into the top-floor walk-up in 1955, when they agreed to sweep the hallway for a discounted rent of $16 a month.
This past March, an 84-year-old actress was struck and killed by a car just a few feet from her home in Greenwich Village, a neighborhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan in New York City and one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country. When she died, Patricia O’Grady was a beloved dance and theater professional and, unbeknownst to many, the extremely determined tenant of one of New York City’s few remaining “cold-water units,” a one-room unit with no heat or hot water for which she paid $28.43 a month.
O’Grady and three roommates moved into the top-floor walk-up in 1955, when they agreed to sweep the hallway for a discounted rent of $16 a month. Over the years, landlords raised her rates periodically by just over $10 until the current owner of the building used a rent control worksheet to raise her monthly payment from $26.45 by a $1.98. “I consulted with an attorney to find out if this rent was possible” when he bought the building in 2002, he noted. Upon learning that it was, the owner still attempted to install proper heat (the unit was heated only by two fully functional fireplaces), a pull-chain toilet, and a cast-iron stove. He was rebuffed on the first count, but O’Grady did permit the installation of the two latter “amenities.” Most acquaintances say that she did not want the renovations because “she felt guilty paying so little rent.”
At one point prior to current ownership, a landlord resorted to desperate measures to gain access to occupied, low-rent units and upgrade both the units and rent. O’Grady’s sister recalled that a fire was set in an attempt to remove the tenants and, at that time, “everybody else left except her.”
The current landlord reported he will gut and renovate the apartment completely to create a two-bedroom unit he believes will rent for about $5,000. The renovations are reported to cost between $50,000 and $100,000.
Understand your local market’s rent regulations and tenant protections, or you could end up “trapped” in a losing investment.