Last night I was unlocking the front door of my building when our across-the-hall neighbor Janice swung it open. Surprised, I said hi then stepped aside to let her walk through. I saw she was heaving out two black garbage bags full of stuff as she apologized, saying her apartment was full of crap that she’d have to throw away since she was out of here by March 31st. This was all under her breath, and said quickly as I stood there dumbfounded.
“What?” I said. “No!”
I put down my groceries and went to grab her other garbage bag.
“Yep,” she said, sounding resigned. “Eighteen years here.”
“He didn’t!” I said, dragging the garbage bag out. “I haven’t heard anything about this!” Now that it’s winter, no one is hanging out on the stoop and I know 100 percent less neighbor gossip. Before the snow came, it was rumored that our landlord was trying to kick out Janice so that his son could live in her apartment. This is one of the few ways a landlord can refuse to renew a tenant’s lease in a rent-stabilized apartment in New York. He tried this with the guy upstairs already, and somehow he finagled his way out of it, and he’s been bugging the old lady who’s been here over 50 years, but since she’s well over 62 there’s no way he can get her out. But Janice couldn’t find a loophole in his loophole.
We both stood in our respective doorways shrugging. I felt awful.
“What’s fucked up,” I told her, “is that he never once tried this with us. He never told us he needed our apartment.”
“I think it’s because you’re married,” she said.
“Oh god,” I said. I didn’t bother telling her that we weren’t married yet. “That’s discrimination!” I was outraged on her behalf even though I suspected that the real reason he went to her and not us is that she has been there 18 years and we’ve been here two so thanks to the magic of rent-stabilization she presumably pays far, far less rent than we do.
“Yep,” she said. “He told me, ‘Oh you live here all alone, why don’t you go live with someone?’” I was born in this neighborhood! My boyfriend lives in this neighborhood! I’ve been in this place 18 years! Why would I leave? Then he tells me he wants me to vacate so he can ‘modernize’ the apartment. I told him, ‘Great, you can modernize while I’m still here.’”
“He’s so full of shit,” I tell her, “At least you won’t have to ever deal with him again.”
She agrees, says, “Exactly,” and tells me about the house she just bought in Forest Hills, how it’s all working out for the best anyway. This doesn’t really make me feel any better. I have to fight the urge to tell her we’ll leave, she can stay. It’s only fair. I feel young and too lucky standing across the hall from her. I want to know more about her boyfriend and her new house.
“So I sent him a letter and I told him this is what I paid for my security deposit 18 years ago, I expect it back with 18 years interest. And if not, there’s gonna be trouble.”
“Good!” I say. I don’t know how you can charge your landlord interest on a security deposit, but I support the idea in theory and hope it’s a ton of money somehow.
“So,” she says, “I’ll be clearing this place out in the next few weeks.”
“And then his son moves in?”
“Supposedly.” I don’t know how this will work, having the son of our building’s shared enemy living among us. No good can come from it, we both know.
We both stand there awhile, me feeling uneasy and powerless. Guilty. She thanks me for helping me throw away some of her stuff, and we say goodnight. I closed my apartment door and Googled “security deposit interest NYC.” Much to my surprise, according to the Attorney General’s Tenant’s Rights Guide, this is a real thing!
Landlords, regardless of the number of units in the building, must treat the deposits as trust funds belonging to their tenants and they may not commingle deposits with their own money. Landlords of buildings with six or more apartments must put all security deposits in New York bank accounts earning interest at the prevailing rate. Each tenant must be informed in writing of the bank’s name and address and the amount of the deposit.
Landlords are entitled to collect annual administrative expenses of one percent of the deposit. All other interest earned on the deposits belongs to the tenants. Tenants must be given the option of having this interest paid to them annually, applied to rent, or paid at the end of the lease term. If the building has fewer than six apartments, a landlord who voluntarily places the security deposits in an interest bearing bank account must also follow these rules.
For example: A tenant pays a security deposit of $800. The landlord places the deposit in an interest bearing bank account paying 2.5%. At the end of the year the account will have earned interest of $20.00. The tenant is entitled to $12.00 and the landlord may retain $8.00, 1% of the deposit, as an administrative fee.
Emphasis mine. Has anyone’s landlord ever actually paid them interest on their security deposit? Or even heard mention of it? These days of course the 1% administrative fee would far outpace any standard interest rate on a savings account. But I’m going to pretend it’s more, that Janice’s digging through tenant’s rights PDFs actually got her somewhere, that somehow maybe the interest on her 18-year-old security deposit covered her down payment on her house in Forest Hills.
I also have to sit with the fact that we didn’t, and we aren’t, going to volunteer to leave. I don’t want to pay $2,600 for a similar apartment down the block. I don’t want to move to Forest Hills. So I have to sit with that, and feel uneasy about it, and watch this woman who has spent her whole life in this neighborhood drag her old furniture to the curb. Dustin came home that night and told me to put on my shoes, that there was a desk sitting out in the trash that maybe we could paint and would work perfectly in our living room. I waved him off, turned around to walk back inside. I’m sure Janice would be happy for us to make use of it, but I don’t like the idea of dragging her stuff back up the steps and keeping it in our home, the place we get to stay in mostly because we only just got here, because to us it’s not really a home at all.